The Board of Directors for Chicago Dramatists is thrilled to announce Carson Grace Becker is Chicago Dramatists’ new Artistic Director. She will begin her duties this week on a part-time basis and start full time in May.
“Carson has a history with Chicago Dramatists and a distinguished, national reputation,” said Ajitha L. Reddy, president of our board of directors. “She has a natural ability to relate to and nurture playwrights and other artists, no matter where they are in their artistic journeys. That skill, her formidable talent and networks, her warmth and authenticity, and her ability to bring people together led her to the top of the list of impressive candidates.”
As you may recall, Chicago Dramatists began its national search for a new Artistic Director in November 2018 and sought extensive community input throughout the process. The board reviewed scores of candidates and conducted intensive, multi-tiered interviews.
“Chicago Dramatists was my first artistic home and helped launch my career,” Carson said. “As a collective of playwrights and artistic associates, it nurtured and challenged my craft, provided collaborative opportunities, and gave me room to play, think, experiment, succeed and fail. Such spaces are more important than ever now in our American landscape. I’ve been many places since my beginnings at Dramatists. It is both an honor and pleasure to accept this position, and I can’t wait to return.”
Carson is a playwright, screenwriter, dramaturge and arts educator. She earned a master of fine arts degree in playwriting from the University of Iowa. She taught Playwriting/Screenwriting at the University of Chicago’s Graham School, Columbia College, Roosevelt University and Chicago Dramatists. She served as guest artist at New York University, Ohio University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Illinois and Oklahoma State University. She has worked as Literary Manager for Honolulu Theatre for Youth and as the program manager for the Educational Outreach and the Network Playwrights programs at Chicago Dramatists.
Currently a resident of Butte, Montana, Becker splits her professional and personal time between Los Angeles, Chicago and Butte. She is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College’s Theater Department and the program director for the Butte Silver Bow Archives. In 2014, she moved to Butte, where she founded The Root & The Bloom Collective, a non-profit arts and humanities organization, to combat the high rate of teenage suicides in Montana.
Becker’s awards, honors and achievements include:
SPOTLIGHT Series: Kristin Idaszak, Resident Playwright
Monday Night Drama gives me an opportunity to spend time with some incredibly talented and inspiring playwrights. With so many, I've seen or read their work before I ever get to meet them. So I figured what better way to get to nerd out on these playwrights than to interview them.
I want to get to know the person behind the play.
So I asked.
Tara Branham, Artistic Producer: What are 5 adjectives that describe yourself.
Kristin Idaszak, Resident Playwright: Cerebral, Ambitious, Tenacious, Arboreal, Blue
TB: (I definitely just googled "arboreal" and it means "of or relating to trees". So she's "treelike".) What made you decide to become a playwright?
KI: I started doing theatre when I was in grade school, and I've loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember. It seems inevitable that those two facets of myself would come together.
TB: If you weren't in theatre, what would you be up to right now?
KI: I'd be a private detective. Or a professional rock climber. Or a neurologist. But really I need to be a writer to have all the lives I dream about.
TB: Who are your theatrical heroes?
KI: Caryl Churchill, Naomi Iizuka, Young Jean Lee, Christopher Marlowe, 13P
TB: If you could eliminate one thing about theater, what would it be?
KI: I would eliminate class-based barriers to entry for both artists and audience members.
TB: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
KI: Figure out what you value and build your life and work in service to that. Cultivate a life outside of playwriting for moments when everything seems insurmountable.
Cultivate a life outside of playwriting for moments when everything seems insurmountable.
TB: What inspired you to write Tar and Feather?
KI: Tar and Feather was originally commissioned by Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and the director and I had discussed my writing a play that used Greek tragedy as its formal inspiration. So I was attuned to contemporary stories that resonated with a tragic structure. We knew we wanted to center the story on complex, deeply flawed female characters. I was thinking a lot about the intersection of shame and misogyny at the time. I was in Krakow, at MOCAK, when all the disparate ideas I’d been mulling over came together to incept the play.
TB: What was the last picture you took on your phone?
KI: We all contain multitudes.
Kristin Idaszak, Playwright
"We All Contain Multitudes"
TB: How has your experience at Chicago Dramatists benefitted you?
KI: A nexus. We can't make theatre without space to come together.
We can't make theatre without space to come together.
Join us 10/15 for Monday Night Drama:
Tar and Feather by Kristin Idaszak
Toni Stone by Lydia R. Diamond
09/17/2018 Run Time: 02:03:27
Lydia R. Diamond is kind of a huge name in Chicago. This I knew, but didn’t understand, until after our first reading. I’m a big fan of historical fiction. It’s the best way to retell history, in my opinion, and gives you a fuller version of the real person inside the historical figure. Granted, the writer fills in some of the blanks, but isn’t this what we do in our minds anyway, dear reader?
Smart, unequivocal, hilarious– Toni Stone is poetry, through and through. In fact, it was channeling W.E.B Du Bois to me, even before a character quoted him directly. But enough of my thoughts, here’s the casts original responses:
“Beautiful constant image of reaching”
“Redefining gender roles”
“The character’s own their own narrative”
Toni is one of the most engaging characters I’ve ever read. Too smart for her own good, she constantly required the help of other character’s to reign her in and remind her that life doesn’t follow the same rules as baseball (or any at all, really), and that she can’t just say aloud all of her astute observations. The characters of Millie (her close friend) and Alberga (her eventual husband) are ever present in Toni’s mind, and we get to observe Toni recalling advice they’ve given her, in real time, when she needs it. Cast member Xavier Roe said of Toni that “when she lets us into her world, we find it’s the most human of any character’s. She speaks to doubts, the past, checking in with people who aren’t even there. You get to see her, really see her.” Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The audience loved it. I know this because I often had to wait what seemed like a very long time to read the next stage direction, and sometimes, stutter nervously when I said it too early, as laughs would creep up after I thought they were done. From what I could hear of post reading conversations, the actors and show were well praised.
With a run time of about two hours and three minutes, the audience is given light on how much time Toni had to spend playing a game. Call it life, call it baseball, call it racism, call it love, call it reaching. Our cast was truly a joy to work with, and if you did not get the chance to see them in our reading, I implore you to find out what they’re working on and check it out. Furthermore, if you’re in New York, or going, Toni Stone will be going up at Roundabout Theatre with Uzo Aduba ("Orange Is the New Black," Godspell, The Wiz) as Toni, more details TBD.
Here’s photographic evidence of me wondering if I’m cool enough to approach these people and their stunning energy:
As a playwright and director, the stage management perspective lends itself to an education I never got in school or through reading. I get to be the observer, while keeping matters organized, running smoothly--I like systems that work. So, it was no surprise that I’ve found myself at Chicago Dramatists as the Producing & Stage Management Intern. My name is Sofia Fey and I am an artist of many mediums. I went to school for directing and playwriting and just moved to Chicago in August. Primarily I write poetry, plays, short films, cartoons, and short stories. It's helpful for me to connect all the dots and remind myself what I can take away from the experience, and extremely important to spread the word about playwright’s to watch. I'm proud to be a part of championing new work at Chicago Dramatists, and looking to bring you what I observe in the making of each reading.
SPOTLIGHT Series: Isaac Gomez, Resident Playwright
So I asked.
Isaac Gomez, Resident Playwright: Rigorous, Meticulous, Empathetic, Mentor, Mexican (it’s an adjective to me haha).
TB: Who are your theatrical heroes?
IG: Lynn Nottage, Tanya Saracho, Luis Alfaro, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel, Karen Hartman, so many... (See Isaac & Tanya Saracho on the right.)
TB: What made you decide to become a playwright?
IG: Can't see myself doing anything else.
IG: I'd be a talk show host. Or a lawyer.
TB: What was the last costume you wore?
IG: Uhhhh. I think I was Bianca del Rio from RuPaul's Drag Race? I can't remember haha.
TB: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
IG: Keep writing. Use any strange and obscure opportunity to hear your plays out loud when you’re just starting to make connections. Even if it’s hearing them around a living room table with friends and wine. Those are often my favorite table reads.
TB: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
IG: Accessibility. In every way – but especially financial. Artists should be paid well for their work, but theater should be free. How does the math work in that equation – no idea. I leave that up to the math people haha.
TB: What was the last picture you took with your phone?
IG: I was watching the latest Netflix documentary ROE (watch it) and there’s a whole section from the Wendy Davis fillibuster in Texas (my childhood best friend and I were there, protesting, all week.) There’s a clip where we show up in the senate chamber so I took it to send to Genesis, my childhood bestie.
TB: What's the first hook that gets a new play started for you? An image, a theme, a character?
IG: Usually an image, or an event. Then I watch and see how it spirals out of control, how people recover, how they make it worse, etc.
TB: What inspired you to start Throwaway Kids?
IG: For Throwaway Kids, it's always been about the youth on trains. I can still remember seeing them from my childhood. I grew up by a freight train track and a ditch and from time to time I would see these young people riding these trains and I'd think to myself, "Who are they? Where are they going?"
IG: In a million ways. But mostly, it was and is about having a home. I don’t have one, artistically, as a playwright. Ive had the unique privilege and honor to be a guest at other people’s homes (theaters), but not one to return to over and over again. Chicago Dramatists is that for me. It’s always nice coming home.
Chicago Dramatists is an artistic home for me. It’s always nice coming home.
Join us tonight at 7pm for Monday Night Drama!
Throwaway Kids by Isaac Gomez
SPOTLIGHT Series: Vanessa Bamber, Executive Director
As we approach a year under the stewardship of Vanessa Bamber, I really wanted an excuse to share adorable/incriminating photos...
I wanted to get to know the Disney kid behind the Executive Director.
Tara Branham, Artistic Producer: If I were to say to a bunch of people who know you, “Give me three adjectives that best describe Vanessa,” what would I hear?
Vanessa Bamber, Executive Director: Fearless. Direct. Kind.
TB: So…you’re the Executive Director. What is your favorite thing that you get to do in that role?
VB: I get to be responsible for the future success of a Chicago Dramatists. Now some may put up their hands and say “No way would I want that weight of responsibility,” but “responsibility” is the key word for me. My responsibility is to apply all that I know to keeping Chicago Dramatists around for a very long time. To do otherwise would feel less than I’m capable.
TB: In your time so far at Chicago Dramatists, what are you most proud of?
VB: I am most proud of being a part of something special. Every day I come to work is a day that I get to drink the energy of a space where new work is created, artists are engaging, and those around me pour their hearts into making it all go.
TB: I’m about 20 feet from your desk every day…and because of that I know you love Disney tunes (also Iknow you used to work at Walt Disney World). What’s your favorite Disney lyric? And why?
VB: I can't just give a lyric here, it demands the whole song: "When You Wish Upon A Star." I have immense faith in myself, that I can achieve anything I put my mind too, and I’ve proven that to myself and others many times over. But I still have many wishes left to fulfill. So I keep wishing and working towards those things my heart desires. To understand me is to understand that I am a Disney kid through and through. It’s my sanctuary, a place where anything is possible.
I believe in true love, that good overcomes evil, magic is real, and anything is possible with a bit of faith, love, and pixie dust.
TB: What are you working on right now?
VB: Strategic plans for annual and major giving, marketing, and operations. Oh, did you mean something creative? That’s on pause but when I can get back to it I’m working on 3 new musicals and one interactive play. Head over to spellcastentertainment.com for the goods on my creative side.
TB: What’s the best piece of management advice you ever received? Who was it from? Did it come from Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights? Be honest.
VB: I’ve actually never seen Friday Night Lights. Best piece of management advice is something I took out of business school and made my own, “Preparation is everything. Be so prepared there is no argument to make against your plan.”
TB: Who's your favorite employee? Why?
VB: My favorite employee is one who leaves their ego at the door, rolls up their sleeves and asks, “What can I do?” The work we do in the the arts is messy, emotional, often hard to manage, and takes a special stock of person to show up every day and do the work well.
TB: And at Chicago Dramatists that is....
VB: I believe that Glenn the Copier truly exemplifies the spirit of the team at CD.
(Follow Glenn on Instagram @Glenn_the_Copier)
VB: This is my 6 month-old puppy Maximus. He is part German Shepard and Labrador Retriever.
TB: What song would you sing at the top of your lungs at the office…if no one (::side eyes Tanuja, Operations Manager::) would judge you? (I’m still not allowed to play Norah Jones...)
VB: Bring on the judgement! I sing to music based on my mood; if I feel it large enough—I’ll sing it. Though mostly you’ll catch me singing, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey at full blast (especially on Fridays).
TB: There’s so many theatres in Chicago. And so many more across the country. What made you choose to move to Chicago and come to Chicago Dramatists?
VB: My choices have to call to me. When I read the job posting for the Executive Director position, it struck me in that psychic-pull sort of way. Having recently gotten into producing new work and book writing, working in a place that provides the training, space, and connections to create new work was a golden opportunity. I love the work I do and I want to be a part of a thriving theatre community, so what better way to combine my love of organizational refinement and growth with (in my opinion) the best theatre community in the US, than to come to Chicago!
I love the work I do and I want to be a part of a thriving theatre community.
Check out what Vanessa's been working on at Chicago Dramatists!