Big Conversations at Theater J

Grace here. I’m glad to be typing, and not talking, because I have a nasty cold, and seem to have lost my voice. Feel free to print out and distribute the sign posted to the right.

It’s been an odd week to be sans voce, because this has been the week of BIG CONVERSATIONS. On Monday evening, we had a public presentation of ‘Conversations with Mike Nussbaum,’ in which Ari took on James Lipton’s role and did an ‘Actors Studio’ style interview with Mike Nussbaum.  Ari uncovered some pretty shocking secrets regarding Mr. Nussbaum’s shady past!  Most people don’t know, for instance, that before Mike became an actor, he worked as a hired assassin…of bugs.

Ants Beware!

He’s directed on Broadway, played every great male role in the Western canon [Willie Loman, Teach, Shylock, the list goes on…], and refers to William H. Macy as ‘Bill’ There’s a passage from a Charles Mee play, Limonade Tours les Jours, that occurred to me as Mike invited the audience into his memories,

“with each person
you enter into their world
you live in their world for a while
to step into their lives for a while
it is to have another entire life for yourself”

After the interview, Ari and Mike joined the audience for a dessert reception, and I might have liked to linger a while longer in the glamorous life of Mr. Nussbaum, but it was time to get some rest and prepare for…


As part of the Lincoln Legacy Project, Ari, Shirley and I, along with a team of Ford’s folk, will be helping facilitate a discussion series following performances of Parade. Because Parade hits such deep emotional chords and deals with the sensitive topics of racism, anti-Semitism, vigilante justice, and a whole plethora of other thorny issues, it was important for all facilitators to have some pre-discussion discussions.

Howard Ross, the discussion leader pointed out that the most important element in facilitating a large discussion is to be aware of your own ‘buttons’ and what tends to push them.  To help us ‘know thyself,’ he introduced a concept called the Enneagram. It’s along the same vein as a Meyers-Briggs personality test.  Very fascinating, very fun stuff… definitely worth a google.  Shirley and I spent much of the bus ride back trying to figure out which Enneagram type Ari would be (we still don’t know!)  You can figure out your Enneagram type with the first test here!

Wednesday’s BIG CONVERSATION took place at the Council Retreat, as Theater J staff and Council asked what I (rather misogynisticly ) call the ‘nagging girlfriend questions:’ “Where is this going? Where do you see this in five years?” Rock-star Council Member Ellen Malasky moved all the furniture out of her living room, and replaced it with a huge circle of chairs. Then, special guest Carole Zawatsky hopped into the middle of the circle and delivered the only keynote-in-the-round I’ve ever witnessed.  If you’ve not yet heard our new CEO speak, you’ve got something to look forward to. She, like Mike, is great at inviting people to ‘step into her life for a while,’ and it’s a very smart, down-to-earth, and creatively nourishing place to visit.

Rick Foucheux

For Thursday’s BIG CONVERSATION, Rick Foucheux and I went to do a post-show talkback at Miriam’s Kitchen (you might remember them from the other blog entry I wrote about how they came to see Imagining Madoff).   At first, most of the questions people asked Rick centered on how he felt about Bernie Madoff, and the experience of playing him onstage.  One man exclaimed, “I read about an Amish scam artist who jilted other Amish people! A really good con man [and by ‘good’, I mean ‘bad, morally, speaking’] works the people he’s got an ‘in’ with.” Another noted, “You know what? Madoff had to have been a smart guy—if he had used his intelligence for good, think what he could have accomplished. But then again, maybe he wasn’t smart enough to realize the level of evil he had reached. Maybe nobody ever thinks they’re a bad person, because their psychosis won’t let them.”

When we finished discussing the play, we moved on to a conversation about acting in general. At one point, we broke up into partners, and each partner told a story. Then, we came back to the circle, and each person told their partner’s story from a first-person perspective. It was beautiful to look around the circle and see the swell of pride on a person’s face when someone else was telling his story. At another point, Rick demonstrated how the same line can be delivered in two different ways, and the whole circle burst out laughing at the second delivery.

Today, there’s a Tea@Two reading of Darrah Cloud’s play Our Suburb going on downstairs, followed by (can you believe it?) a  BIG CONVERSATION between the playwright and the audience!

Any day you happen to come by Theater J, there will be Big Conversations happening, and we want you to join in. No response is too weird (just try us!). And help me recover my voice, so that I can jump in right next to you 🙂

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