After five weeks of watching a lot of tennis and eating post-graduation, I left for the education internship at Chicago Shakespeare Theater just over a week ago. The most memorable first impression, as I was driven down the highway from the airport by my employer, Marilyn Halperin, was the Chicago Skyline. I have been ‘ordered’ to take an architecture tour soon; the city is filled with an array of towers and skyscrapers all of which are unique and overwhelming both in their size and in their arresting structures.
At my first day of work, I was very pleased that from my office floor I could see the entire skyline north to south. The theatre’s position on Navy Pier is like that of an artist studying streets full of people from a tenth floor apartment; it overlooks the diverse city from a place of quiet and meaningful contemplation. Their productions I have seen so far are both technically and descriptively world-class and answer boldly to the multitude of cultural needs of a modern American city.
An example of such production was ‘Othello: The Remix’. This was devised by two of its cast members who were originally part of a comedic hip-hop troupe in Chicago. They had rewritten the play in rap; Othello himself was a hip-hop artist and Iago a subordinate band member and so on. The four-member cast also played all of the characters. Staying true to Shakespeare through transgender costumes and its focus on words for meaning, it was a successful contemporary interpretation which spoke to a modern audience readily confronted with hip-hop culture and its related subcultures. It was nothing like I had ever seen on stage – it was a mix between 8 Mile, a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch and an RSC Shakespeare production. For those interested, the production is currently touring worldwide and will be in London at the Unicorn Theatre between 12 and 29 September http://unicorntheatre.com/othello-the-remix.
Most of my work has been facilitating education workshops so far, but the bulk of my time here will be spent working on education materials for the upcoming plays in the season. So far I have learnt essential administration skills, immersed myself in acting exercises (as part of the workshopping) and spoken to casting directors for research into Henry V, a forthcoming play. Something which was unexpected is that I am learning about the craft of theater while working ‘backstage’ on a whole other dimension of the theater’s work simultaneously.
The highlight of my work, and of the city so far, is therefore its theater/arts and culture scene (and the free tickets). The first week of full-time work in an alien environment without family and friends has been hard, but I cannot be more excited to spend the next seven weeks exploring the city. Fortunately, there is another Global Challenge intern at the Chicago British Consulate which means we have been able to uncover some of what the city has to offer together – including food.
It is clear why Chicago is partnered with Birmingham (UK). It certainly isn’t free of problems and is a big, industrial city, but it is incredibly accommodating with many hidden gems of places to spend hours of time in. I am looking forward to getting to know more lively Chicagoans while asking for directions downtown, for example, or buying jewellery from independent makers at vintage markets in my neighbourhood.