Jackalope Enters Its Second Decade a Leader in New Play Development

Jackalope Enters Its Second Decade a Leader in New Play Development

By Abigail Trabue

As the 2018-19 theater season begins in earnest, Jackalope Theatre Company is tripling down on its investment in new plays. “In our 11th season, I wanted to take the full force of the creative momentum that Jackalope Theatre is known for and throw it behind the creation of new work,” Artistic Director Gus Menary said.

New plays have always been Jackalope’s bag. Started by Menary and fellow Columbia College Chicago grads Andrew Burden Swanson, Kaiser Zaki Ahmed, and AJ Ware in 2008, the company quickly become admired for their searing, timely work. At a time when the whole idea of “storefront” theater was being re-defined by many companies, Jackalope took a page from the Chicago theater movement’s roots, focusing inward and on their work’s worth to the community. It paid off in spades, and though still small and scrappy, Jackalope has become one of the most respected small companies in Chicago, and their cohort of collaborating artists are some of the most sought after in the off-loop scene.

Nowhere was this more evident than with their 2014 world premiere of Ike Holter’s EXIT STRATEGY, inspired by the mass closure of forty-nine Chicago public schools, which displaced nearly 12,000 children—mostly African American and Latinx. It’s been a huge success for Holter, receiving productions across the country, and was just recently published by Northwestern University Press. More importantly, it was a connection between community and culture — a voice for the students — in the midst of a battle between the Chicago Teacher’s Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Now, Menary and Managing Director Nora Leahy have announced additions to Jackalope’s portfolio of play development opportunities, intended to cement the company as a leading developer of new work in Chicago. When the company’s forthcoming season was revealed in July, they announced the GroundWorks Series, which is a slate of staged workshop productions that get new works on their feet for the first time. Bent on cultivating “bold new theatre in Chicago,” the Groundworks Series kicks off with GIRL WITH GUN by Leahy, based on the life of Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, which runs the weekend of October 4th. “GIRL WITH GUN is a show that was first developed at The Greenhouse Theater Center as part of their 2018 Solo Performance Lab. In its newer, expanded incarnation, it touches on how Americans began consuming media after the Manson Family Murders, and how we view the women involved,” said Menary. “It reexamines the Free Love movement of the 1960s through a feminist lens and exposes the time period as something misogynistic and traumatic for many women despite the women’s liberation initiatives that we often associate with that time period.”

Three other works will be presented in workshop form as a part of the GroundWorks Series throughout the season, along with the company’s returning reading series, entitled “Circle Up!,” in collaboration with the Chicago Inclusion Project. All of the “plays in-process” will take place at Jackalope’s newly renovated storefront space, The Frontier.

In addition, the company is launching The Jackalope Playwrights Lab, an eight-week masterclass in playwriting facilitated by Company Member Calamity West. West, who teaches playwrighting at the University of Chicago and Webster University, has quickly become one of those sought-after Jackalope artists. Her HINTER received its world premiere at Steep Theatre Company earlier this year. Her ENGINES AND INSTRUMENTS OF FLIGHT: A FANTASIA IN THREE ACTS, originally commissioned at The Goodman Theatre, had its first New York reading at The Roundabout in January where it continues to be developed, and her newest play IN THE CANYON is currently in development at Jackalope.

“With these three new initiatives, and commissioned plays, Jackalope can now say we are shepherding new work at every stage of development for the first time,” said Menary, “making it one of the most thriving homes for play creation in the Midwest.”

A full listing of developmental works slated for the upcoming season follows, with play descriptions provided by Jackalope. Applications for the Playwright’s Lab will be available soon via an announcement on the company’s website and social media.

The GroundWorks Series is Jackalope’s newest initiative to cultivate bold new theatre in Chicago. A series of staged workshop productions that get new plays on their feet for the first time. Beginning with Girl With Gun by Nora Leahy, based on the life of Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme, this new development initiative seeks to put action to words by adding staging and production elements. Tickets are $10 and available at www.JackalopeTheatre.org and at the door.

by Nora Leahy
October 4th-7th, 2018
Christmas Eve, 1987. Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme has escaped from prison and is trying to find her way back to the only man who ever understood her. Inspired by true events, GIRL WITH GUN offers a new take on the life of the most notorious member of the Manson Family and attempted assassin of Gerald Ford. A play about girls, and what we make of them.

by Nate Whelden
December 14th-17th, 2018
It’s the dog days of summer, somewhere on the outskirts of the southwest side. Opera music floats through the dining room. In the basement someone smokes a cigarette, irons their shirt, telling a story about how things used to be. Louis has been asked to rejoin the waitstaff for one night. Charles is thinking about how he can get ahead. George is hoping everyone can forget about the past. Because if everything goes right, tonight he will put his restaurant on the map and maybe get the respect he and Armonica’s truly deserve.

by Paloma Nozicka
by Kaiser Ahmed
(one-act double bill) May 3rd-5th, 2019

ENOUGH TO LET THE LIGHT IN – As a new couple finds love and comfort in one another after a lifetime of failed relationships, a disturbing revelation threatens to derail their connection. Funny, poignant and unsettling, this new one-act by company member Paloma Nozicka explores faith, secrets, and the ghosts that we can’t let go.

THE ITINERANT – Walking amongst us are those who were never destined to stay still, who journey by some necessity and search for their countries’ borders, but find only humankind’s. THE ITINERANT looks at these strangers throughout time.

Jackalope Theatre Company, in collaboration with the Chicago Inclusion Project, presents CIRCLE UP!, a collection of new play readings fresh to Chicago. CIRCLE UP! is dedicated to amplifying diverse stories of scope and providing safe harbor for evolving work. Each reading includes a post-show discussion, encouraging our audience to share and engage with the play over drinks and light fare. Admission is free and reservations can be made at www.JackalopeTheatre.org.

“cullud wattah”
by Erika Dickerson
October 14th, 2018
It is Thanksgiving week & Flint, Michigan has been without clean water for 936 days. While Marion, a third-generation assembly line worker, agonizes over impending layoffs at the Flint Engine Plant, the catastrophic effects of lead poisoning flood her home. When her sister, Ainee, seeks restitution, her efforts reveal the underbelly of Vehicle City’s complex relationship with General Motors, causing the family to wade through the precipice of collapse.

by Emma Stanton
February 25th, 2019
When devoted veterinary technician Ruby witnesses one stranger’s tragedy, she finds herself drawn to a new path, making precarious pacts with co-workers, a police officer, and an elegant
dancer named Tsunami. Populated by pet-devotees and set in a city by the sea, EXOTIC ANIMALS explores how unexpected tragedy can expose the beautiful and ugly truths about who we are.

by MJ Kaufman
May 13th, 2019
Alex has just finished a summer of dissertation research in the Minnesota woods and is eager to get back to school when he finds himself trapped in the surreal world of Elk Kingdom. The Elk need him to complete a strange and specific task before he can leave: tame the wolf that is threatening their herd. Alex wrestles with what the Elk ask of him and the implications for both the ecosystem and his journey home.

About author

Abigail Trabue

Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue