The Auditorium Theatre’s Department of Creative Engagement presents “Brave Face Project,” a new work commissioned by the theatre that explores social justice issues surrounding women and celebrates their diversity. In honor of the Auditorium Theatre’s 125th Anniversary and to highlight the Auditorium’s mission to promote equality in theatre, we collected 150 community submissions for a devised theatrical piece to be presented in our Katten-Landau Studio.

Brave. Face. Project.  Seemed like the perfect title for what we wanted to accomplish, and as I sat across from Annie, it seemed to all congeal and fit perfectly.  But before we get there, let me back the proverbial train up a little.

Fall 2013, and conversations have been going on for a little while now regarding our 125th Anniversary Celebration. We have a pretty fabulous season of main stage performances planned with an International Dance Series, “Made In Chicago” Dance and Music Series, and a myriad of other offerings.  Topping it all off, we were planning a show stopping evening to showcase the Auditorium Theatre’s history, and, to that end, tag-lined our stellar year of celebration, “We Live the History.”

While doing research on the theatre’s history and planning the Department of Creative Engagement’s contributions to this season of celebration, I became quite fascinated with the dream that propelled the Auditorium’s construction and the woman who later took on its restoration.

Did you know the Auditorium Theatre was founded on the principles of democracy and social equity?

I didn’t.  As a native of Chicago, in all my years as a student at Roosevelt University, and even in my early years as an employee of the Aud, I had no idea, that this bastion of architectural genius was created to be a haven for ALL people to come and enjoy the best of the performing arts world in answer to what Ferdinand Peck saw as a social and cultural need in the city of Chicago following the Hay Market Crisis.

The Auditorium Theatre’s history as an amazing architectural gem is well known and documented.  The importance of this structure to the cultural fiber of the city of Chicago and beyond is often discussed and lauded in conversations, articles, and in our own tours.  However, its position as a beacon for social justice and democracy is often overlooked and rarely discussed…Why?  Well, I think it’s easier to talk about the amazing stars that were born and performed on our stage because it’s easy to see and recognize.  Who can forget the Avant-garde comedic genius of Richard Pryor as he pushed the boundaries of racial ideologies in society, the lilting beauty and precision of voices like Beverly Sills, the wall shaking power of bands like The Grateful Dead, or the amazing musical theatre performances with shows like Phantom of the Opera?  We talk about them often, as we should, but all too frequently forget the other weighty task we have been charged with…to shine a light on social issues and encourage discussions that enlighten while providing a space and place for people of all backgrounds, welcoming them to the progressive theatre scene that is today.

The Auditorium’s history is rich with stories of the social unlikely going against institutionalized norms to achieve amazing, though unlikely, accomplishments.  One such person is Beatrice Spachner who was the main force behind the Auditorium Theatre’s 1967 restoration and reopening. I mean, here is this woman who almost singlehandedly raised three million dollars to restore a rundown old theatre at a time when the city was tearing down old buildings for more modern structures.  And, not only did she raise the money needed for restoring the building, she also garnered the help of famed architect Harry Weese to volunteer his time and talents to oversee the restoration of the theatre to its original glory, and established the Auditorium Theatre Council to continue the fundraising efforts and govern the operations of the theatre; a committee for which she was the chair.

Did I mention she did all of this in the 1960’s?

Amidst comments that she was “stepping out of line” and needed to “get back in her place,” she continued to work towards a project that meant so much to her, and has in turn meant a great deal to all of us in the city of Chicago and, quite literally, millions of people around the world.  When everyone was pointing fingers and trying to shame her into not following through and to give up on this building because it wasn’t a woman’s place, she continued….she pushed…she fought…and she succeeded.

As a professional woman who finds herself working at the Auditorium Theatre, I am inspired by Mrs. Spachner’s legacy and the strength of women like her as I am challenged by the sometimes cacophonous rhetoric of what it means to be a woman.  Talking to other women— friends who are mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters I found that I wasn’t alone.  Women of all ages, stages, and walks of life understand this pressure to measure up while not standing out; This crazy ideal of perfection and femininity that just doesn’t add up or make sense.  This idea that you must suffer what ills exist in silence and just “eat the cake Anna Mae” because the world doesn’t want to hear, see, or acknowledge your struggle or the demons you may have to exorcise…daily.

And suddenly it all just clicked.

Sitting across the table from my friend and colleague, Annie Rezac, and now “Brave Face Project” director, I haltingly shared an idea.  Not even really an idea…more like an unformed thought bubble… but she listened graciously, even nodding in the appropriate places.  What better way to celebrate the Auditorium Theatre than to create theatre that acknowledges the progress we have made towards free and freeing theatre, but helps us talk about and deal with the elephants that are still in the room? In an establishment that prides itself on being a theatre for the people, let’s tell the people’s stories.

Thus the “Brave Face Project” was born.

The idea was that through time we see that from a place of shame, oppression, and confinement due to their gender, race, sexual orientation, social standing, education, etc. people are rising, overcoming, and able to present themselves bravely to the world, but we still have a ways to go. In honor of Beatrice Spachner, we decided to focus our project on the brave face of women.

The “Brave Face Project,” this brand new work being produced by Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, explores the shame, insecurity, and fear women feel from the pressure of societal expectations regarding what it means to “be a woman.” The project aims to examine the roots of these feelings, why the expectations of women are so often unattainable and unrealistic, and the resiliency that is necessary to overcome such obstacles. Issues like mental illness, sexual assault, workplace inequality, and even aging are dramatized to expose the blame and shame discriminatorily attributed to the feminine fellow. The project involved 3 phases to arrive at a work that we hope will inspire and help us rethink the ways we shame and tear down ourselves and others, as well as encourage people to reveal their own unique truth.

Playwright Scott Woldman took the 100+ community submissions from anonymous women across the city of Chicago and beyond and developed their real-life experiences into the dialog of what has become an amazing script. Our cast of incredible talents features Chicago actors Angela DeMarco, Becky Blomgren, Daria Harper, Katrina Richard, Mo Allen, and Sindy Castro who bring these stories to life. For more on the “Brave Face Project,” the creative team, the cast, click here. For performance info, click here.

We Live the History is the refrain (slogan even) of our 125th anniversary celebration.  At its simplest, it’s an acknowledgement that every performance and person that comes into the theatre helps us continue to tell the story of the importance of this amazing space.  At its more complex, it is an understanding that we must live up to the ideals and dreams of those who founded this storied building because their legacy should and must be seen, felt, and honored through the work that we do. While repetition is often what we seek to avoid, there are those things we can learn from and listen to as voices that echo to us from beyond to keep moving forward. .. To be okay with one’s own weaknesses and strengths, and silence the naysayers and confines that try to shame and force one into silence and conformity. Remember.  Live the new history. #Revealyourtruth

 

Christina Bourné
Director of Creative Engagement