Those Secrets? There's more to them.

Cold Basement

Some Questions… for Thirst Playwright Jacob Cox

With Thirst coming right around the corner, (Tickets, anybody?) we thought it’d be nice for you to get a peek inside the minds of some of our creative team. We introduced you to our director, Scott Olson, yesterday. Today it’s our lovely playwright, Jacob Cox’s turn.

Thirst’s subject matter – men trapped in a mine – is really compelling and interesting to watch. What brought you to write about that?
I’ve probably been asked that question by fifty different people now, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I don’t remember. Maybe I should start telling people that it’s a true story about my own mining experiences in 1940’s West Virginia.  The fact is that I started working on Thirst back in the winter of 2007. That’s last decade.  My mind doesn’t go back that far. It’s possible I saw coverage of the Sago mining disaster (2006) and was curious about the drama unfolding below, but I couldn’t say for sure. I’m drawn to plays that take place in one location, so perhaps that was a subconscious prompt. There aren’t a whole lot of places for those boys to go once the roof comes down.

Tell us a little bit about how you write? What does your process look like? How best do you work?
First off, I am a very goal-oriented individual (read: crazy). I try to find time to write for at least a half-hour every day. If I don’t feel the ambition to write, then I tell myself to just get the 30 minutes in. What normally happens is that I quickly get enveloped in whatever project I’m working on and I end up quitting an hour or two later. Sometimes all the time I have is 30 minutes so that’s all I put in. Some days I don’t get anything written and I sink into a deep and comfortable self-loathing.

I am a very slow writer. I tend to write by hand and then type my pages later. This used to be because of personal preference, but now it’s mainly because I don’t own a laptop and I don’t always like writing from home (I’m the guy sitting in the coffee shop with three reams worth of paper stacked next to him.) With Thirst, before I wrote a word of the script, I wrote a 4-page synopsis of the play to help a). clarify that there was enough of a story there to warrant a full play and b). to help me work out the structure a little bit. I used to create elaborate outlines for every project before I even started on a script, but I’ve found that once I start writing, the stories go in much more interesting directions than what I put in the outline. So now I keep the outline vague – a beginning, a turning point, an end – let’s see where this ride takes us. BTW it often takes you down elaborate dead ends, which is one of the reasons why I am such a slow writer. Many of my second and third drafts are page one re-writes that bear little resemblance to the first draft. Thirst was originally a vaudeville-style musical set in the lost city of Atlantis deep below the sea.

That’s a joke (?).

What’s something you’d like to see more of in the Chicago theater scene? In the worldwide theater scene?
Besides my plays on stage? Uhm … I should probably say more female writers and writers from minority communities. I suppose that would be nice. There are more white guys at a gathering of playwrights than there are at a Tea Party convention. Must be because we’re all just so damned talented.

Oh! This doesn’t really answer your question, but I’m going to change your question to “What would you like to see LESS of on the stage?” My answer to that question is: scenes. I would like to see less scenes in plays. I feel like modern playwrights are constantly jumping from one scene to the next without giving them the time they need to develop. I’m talking scenes that are just a few pages long. I don’t know if that’s because we don’t trust that the audience has an attention span or if it’s because we’re too lazy to take the time and develop a twenty, thirty, or forty page scene. It annoys me. I’m tired of going to see shows that have light transitions every three minutes to denote the passage of time or the change of location. Whew! Good. I got that off my chest. Now that the world knows my opinion on this matter, things can begin to change. That said, I currently have a fifteen-minute one-act up at The Artistic Home that has four scenes in it.

When you write, do you have a particular audience in mind?
Not really. I do try to imagine who might go see the show I’m writing, but I don’t try to direct the play toward that audience in any way. I think I try to write plays that I find interesting and hope other folks will find them interesting too.

If you were trapped in a mine, how would you make sure you survived?
I’d be sure to make good friends with the guy with the most water in his canteen.  Oh! And lay down low. There’s more oxygen down low.

Do you have any advice for a playwright getting their piece produced for the first time? What challenges have you come up against in working this play through to a full production?
My advice for a playwright getting their first piece produced is to invest in Alka-Seltzer. Lots of Alka-Seltzer. I come from a visual art background where I always had complete control over the final presentation of my product. This whole collaboration thing is relatively new to me. You need to have a whole lot of trust and a whole lot of faith in your fellow creators. Working with the production team and the actors has been a wonderful eye-opening experience. Scott has adapted the staging in ways I hadn’t thought of and the actors have given me unexpected insight into my very own characters.

The biggest challenge for me in this process is to know when to speak up and when to bite my tongue. For the most part, I’ve been a silent observer in the rehearsal process. Not because I don’t have opinions (check, check, and check), but because the rehearsal room is the director’s realm. It can be hard to gauge when it’s appropriate to speak up. I tend to play it safe. If something is worrying me during the rehearsal, I’ll hold off until the end and talk to Scott. If I’ve forgotten what it was by the time rehearsal is over, then it clearly wasn’t important. Sometimes, over the course of the rehearsal, I find that the actor or director’s “worrisome” choice turned out to be a wonderful discovery.

And sometimes it turns out to be an absolute train wreck and I laugh and laugh and sit back in my chair bathing in the warmth of my self-righteous smugness.

Ah, collaboration.


THIRST runs from January 19th-29th at Stage 773 (1225 W Belmont).  For tickets, call 773-327-5252 or click here and order them online.  See you there!



Some Questions… for Thirst Director Scott Olson

With Thirst coming right around the corner, (Tickets, anybody?) we thought it’d be nice for you to get a peek inside the minds of some of our creative team. First up, our fearless leader, director Scott Olson.

What drew you to want to direct this piece?
I hadn’t finished reading it and already knew I wanted to direct this.  When you get a play as well written as THIRST is, you jump at the chance to work on it in any capacity.  It’s a very gripping play and you want to stick around to find out what happens to these men. The dialogue is terrific and sounds just like people speak; there are poetic sections of it that are just lovely.  Plus, there was a supernatural element in the script that I really wanted to bump up as well.

What do you find is the largest difference between directing a new play and an established piece?
Directing a new play is wonderful because there are no prior expectations that you have with an established piece.  With established pieces, people have certain expectations with them (I know I do) and if you don’t meet those expectations or if you really re-work and re-imagine a piece that is close to someone’s heart, you run the risk of alienating some of the audience.  With a new play, you are exposing it to the audience for the first time.  For me, whether as a director or actor, that’s a lot more fun.  Plus, you get to work with the playwright and help him or her work and define the piece.

What are some challenges you’ve run up against so far?
There are huge technical challenges with this piece which are tricky working with a smaller budget.  Often when we are working on it, I see the film version of this in my mind and then have to adjust it to the stage.

What are you looking forward to seeing on opening night?
The audience coming out of the theatre talking about the play and the show.  I won’t be in the theatre because I never sit and watch the show on opening.  It’s too nerve-wracking.  I’m usually hanging around backstage or in the lobby.

 Anything you think people should know before they see this play?
That it’s okay to laugh in moments you find funny even though the characters on-stage are in a very serious situation.  Sometimes audience members think it’s not okay to laugh during a “dramatic” piece.  I always try to find the lighter moments to balance the serious ones.

How would you cope with being trapped in a mine? What would your first move be?
This is awful to say but I would probably start making jokes because it’s what I tend to do to lighten the mood during serious moments.  I would probably do what one of the characters in the play does– but I can’t say it or it would ruin the play for anyone who’s reading this.


THIRST runs from January 19th-29th at Stage 773 (1225 W Belmont).  For tickets, call 773-327-5252 or click here and order them online.  See you there!

Children and Art

This past Monday night was the second in our Staged Readings Series, this time a play called Consensual Relations by Norman Simon, and directed by me, Liz Siedt. As with, I think, all of the plays in our season, it raises a lot of questions- definitely more than it answers. And the questions posed to the audience of Consensual Relations can push taboos to the forefront in a way that definitely can raise some hackles. They certainly challenged my own opinions and expectations.

Consensual Relations is basically three stories. To start, the story of Sue, an eighth-grade math teacher somewhere in the American southwest, and Brett, her struggling student with dreams (perhaps his father’s dreams for him) of being a star baseball player. Sue and Brett, button-pushingly, fall in love. Or is it love? Can it be love?

The story of Brett and Sue together sets off the rest of the play, as they try (and fail) to run away to Mexico together. Sue is incarcerated and becomes a subject of  a research study headed up by a clinical psychologist, Cara. Cara and Sue develop a relationship of their own beyond the clinical, and Cara is perhaps convinced that Sue’s love of Brett is real, and she orchestrates a meeting between the two that results in her resignation and Sue’s suicide.

Cara tells her story to a TV show host, whose idea of privacy and decency seems to be a little lax. But the TV show host speaks from what, I think, is often the audience’s perspective of Sue: this woman was a monster who preyed on a child. This wasn’t about love, this was about power. And I don’t think we’re wrong to feel that way. But…

In our discussions, the cast and crew at rehearsal and then with the audience after the reading, we talked about what consent actually means. It’s  a large part of this play- judging from the title alone you’d probably be able to tell that. Our country, to my knowledge, has an age of consent that varies from state to state, but mostly hangs around 16 to 18 years old. Brett, in the play, is 14. Two years separate him from the age of consent. In fact, his character in the play is sexually active with his girlfriend before Sue even enters the picture. Are these two years simply arbitrary? Are people capable of consenting as soon as they become sexually active? Legally, no. But, as one of our cast members mentioned in our discussion, it’s not like there’s a magical switch, that at midnight on your sixteenth or seventeenth or eighteenth birthday you suddenly become adult.  And yet, what I think I struggle with most about this issue is that these are children, just on the edge of maturity, that we’re talking about. I know, I know, I’m sounding a little pearl-clutchingly panicky- Think of the CHILDREN! And I think it’s a little cliched and naive to talk about preserving the innocence of children, particularly teenagers. But an adult’s role in a child’s maturation is a delicate one. Can it ever be consensual if a fully mature adult has relations with someone who is just coming to maturity?

This reading was unfortunately very timely, as recent news about the alleged sexual abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky came to light right around the same time we started working on this reading. In Sandusky’s case, if he is found guilty, it’s hard to see how it could possibly be consensual- the abuse he allegedly perpetrated was against young boys who were a part of a charity he had founded, children who were probably dependent upon him for support that they could not get in their homes or communities. And these children were very young.

So for Sue, a fictional math teacher in a fictional play, we are supposed to perhaps find some sympathy. (Another interesting question all on its own- the playwright chose for Sue’s character to be female expressly because he felt that a male character who makes the same choices her character makes would be impossible to have sympathy for. Why does a female who perpetrates an act of sexual abuse seem less offensive, more sympathetic?) But she is a teacher, whose student is dependent upon her to learn and grow into an adult. And this is where the wrong lies, and where it becomes an abuse.

The play also attempts to address whether there is any kind of rehabilitation possible for someone such as Sue. And that’s an important question as well. If we have established that this behavior is wrong, then the purpose of legally punishing her should be to reform and rehabilitate, right? (Although that’s yet another tough discussion we could have- the state of our prisons in America.) How do we reform and rehabilitate a sexual offender? There are some dangerous lines drawn in Consensual Relations between the desires of these offenders and homosexuals- their sexual desires are part of who they are, can’t be helped. But then I think that- and I’m certainly no expert whatsoever- it again comes down to power. There can be true consent in a homosexual relationship, where there probably cannot be in a pedophile relationship (for lack of a better term).

There are no easy answers to the questions Consensual Relations posed. I’ve been thinking about them since the reading ended, and I am still no further to any answers. But what a grand thing for a play to be able to do, to pull up such questions that can sometimes make our stomachs turn in thinking about what we value and what is the difference between wrong and right. It’s a lot to take in, for sure.

Thoughts, friends? I’m sure a discussion on this would be very enlightening.


Meet the Cast of Brief Looks: Elise Freiberg

Next up in our introductory series: Elise Freiberg!

Hey, you look pretty familiar. Where might I have seen you before?

Oh you know, cocooned and hangin’ from the rafters.
Tell me a little about your character in Brief Looks. No spoilers, please!

Well, I play a mute girl, traumatized into silence ( that’s not
spoiling right?). This is pretty funny because I talk more than just
about anyone I know. It’s neat playing a character that can’t say
anything, being a watcher is really different.
What’s different/challenging/exciting about working on a new play
versus an established one/a sketch show/improv/what you usually find
yourself working on?

It’s very cool getting to ask the questions that no one has ever asked
before, because we’re the first ones to ever play these parts. Having
the writer around to answer questions is also not something you
usually get to do and is a huge bonus.
How would you prepare yourself for events like what happens in Brief
Looks? How long do you think you, not your character, would make it in
similar circumstances?

I like to think Id be a trouper if it really cames down to it, but the
thing about disasters is that individual reactions are totally
unpredictable. I’d like to think I’d suck it up and do the best I
could, but maybe I’d crack after 24 hours and develop a totally
different disaster personality. It would be the inevitable and
permanent loss of any hope of  ever eating a Popsicle again that would
really break you. That would be pretty lame cos’ popsicles are pretty
Well, you’ve been really friendly, thanks! Anything you’d like to add?

You’re sotof a babe Liz Siedt.

(Oh goodness me! -Liz)

Meet the Company: Sam Hubbard

We finish introducing the 3 founding members with the loved and hated Sam Hubbard, our resident Violence Designer. Here you go!

Sam Hubbard
Age: 20
Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

What do you do?
Actor/Fight Director, in that order.

Favorite Play?
Hamlet.  More important the penicillin?  You bet ya!

What’s your favorite show you’ve ever seen or worked on?
That’s a tough one.  As far as shows I’ve seen I’ll never forget Patrick Stewart’s Tempest with the RSC in 2006, superb blending of genre and incredible performances. The original American God of Carnage with Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini will also always stick with me, just one of the most air-tight 2 hours I’ve ever spent.  Also, like just about any Chicago theatre-goer I was blown away by Steppenwolf’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  When it comes to shows I’ve been a part of Cody Estle’s The Normal Heart, George Lyon’s The Lonesome West and A Streetcar Named Desire with Pioneer Theatre Guild all stand out as particularly great experiences.

First Theatrical Experience: Seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at age 6 is probably the least appropriate introduction to the theatre imaginable for me but there you have it.  My first time getting my hands dirty with this acting thing was when I was 7 and got to be a part of Peter Pan with the Ann Arbor Young Actors Guild.  I sword fought, spend time around pretty girls and, as Michael Darling, “I flewd”. Much more up my alley.

Favorite quote: Its a long one.  It starts with “Hung be the heavens…” (Henry VI part I) and ends with “…Let your indulgence set me free” (Tempest).

Whats your secret?
Guess you’ll have to come see our shows to find out.

Meet the Company: Jack Bourgeois

Our next founder, Jack Bourgeois, is perhaps the reason Cold Basement has it’s name. Jack and his dad used to run lines in their basement – which was cold. Jack is the Artistic Director of Cold Basement Dramatics and is the reason our first show This Above All… was produced.

Name: Jack Bourgeois
Age: 21 this June
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

What do you do?

What is your favorite play?
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams – Williams flawlessly depicts the struggles of creating a new life to do what makes you truly happy while being haunted by the whips and scorns of nostalgia.

What’s your favorite show you’ve ever seen or worked on?

The Subject Was Roses, 2008. For years, my father told me that the summer I turn 18, he would direct me as the son in this post WWII kitchen sink drama. When the time came, I convinced him to play my father. It was the last thing I did in St. Louis before moving to Chicago and I will always remember it fondly.
First Theatrical Experience: My mother signed me up for a drama camp when I was nine years old. We mounted a production of “The Adventures of Lewis and Clark.” I dazzled audiences with my stirring portrayal of Soldier Number Two.
Favorite Quote: “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Polonius
What’s your secret?
If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret.

Meet the Company: Cassandra Rose

Cold Basement Dramatics was started in 2010 by 3 very ambitious people. We’d like to introduce you to those people starting with our associated artistic director Cassandra Rose. Here is everything you need to know about Cass

Name: Cassandra Rose
Age: 22

Hometown: Rockford, IL

What do you do?
I’m a playwright and dramaturg. What can I say? Stories make the world go ’round.

Favorite Play?
Equus by Peter Shaffer. It’s the perfect balance of mythology and psychology in a fluid world. Plus there are puppets.

What’s your favorite show you’ve ever seen or worked on?
Gatz by Elevator Repair Service, 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. From a simple premise came a transcendental show: over the course of nine hours (including two intermissions and an hour for dinner) a simple office drone read the entirety of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby out loud. Never before had I seen how much strength performance and design could add to words.

First Theatrical Experience: My father teaches a continuing education dixieland/ragtime band at the community college back in Rockford on Monday nights. At the end of each semester the band performs three nights only. As most of the members are in their senior years, my dad tells a lot of jokes in between songs to help people catch their breaths before moving forward. When I was four I helped my dad tell this telephone joke up onstage in front of everybody.

  • MAN on phone: Ring Ring!
  • Little GIRL on phone: Hello?
  • MAN: Hello there, little girl. Can I speak to your father?
  • GIRL: No, he’s busy.
  • MAN: Can I speak to your mother then?
  • GIRL: No, she’s busy too.
  • MAN: Oh. Is there anybody else in the house with you?
  • GIRL: Yes. The policeman.
  • MAN: The policeman? Well, could I speak with him?
  • GIRL: No, he’s busy too.
  • MAN: Okay. Is there anybody else in the house with you?
  • GIRL: Yes. A fireman.
  • MAN: A fireman! Could I speak to him instead?
  • GIRL: No, they’re all busy.
  • MAN: Busy with what?
  • GIRL: Looking for me.

I was adorable. My hair was in french braids.

Favorite quote: I have the simplest taste. I am always satisfied with the best. -Oscar Wilde

What’s your secret?
I won a Harry Potter costume contest when I was 12. As Harry Potter.