This week, Laura and Joelle are joined by Raven Theatre’s Artistic Director, Cody Estle and YEN actor Reed Lancaster. Raven Theatre tells stories of today and the past that connect us to our cultural landscape. Its commitment to modern drama in all of its forms, as well as its first-class educational programming, have helped it remain a cultural cornerstone on the north side of Chicago for 35 years and counting. You can find Raven at 6157 N. Clark.
“There are many writers out there today who are the next Tennessee Williams. . . I think making sure that we continue to produce revivals of well known plays as well as exploring new works is my priority.” – Cody Estle
Listen to Episode 53 with Cody and Reed!
Here are some references from Episode 53 that you may want to check out:
- Cody Estle is Raven Theatre’s current Artistic Director. His first theatre experience was when he played Ichabod Crane in his 5th grade production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. From then on, Cody knew that he wanted to have a career in theatre. He went to Columbia College to become a director and right out of school he was hired by Raven to direct. He was also an assistant director at some other theatres in town.
- Reed Lancaster comes from a theatre family living in a theatre city. The first time he came across theatre was in his sophomore year at LaGuardia High School in New York City. He never expected to care about theatre, but after he auditioned for his first show he started to care and enjoyed seeing his friends succeed as well. After graduation he attended Northwestern University, met Cody through a program he was teaching at, was called in to audition for YEN, and is starting his professional career at Raven.
- The Raven Theatre space was a grocery store until 2002. It may seem odd, but this space has worked well for the Raven team. The space is substantial and open, and the beams are still there – it was a shell that has been transformed. Inside the former supermarket, there are two stages: the eastern stage seats ninety-nine guests, the western seats fifty-seven. The biggishness of the building also allows for the Raven offices to remain on-site (right above the costume shop, actually)
- Raven is a theatre of revivals, meaning they take classic scripts and give new life to the old words. This is still an important mission for Cody, but he is working to find space for old and new playwrights underneath Raven’s roof.
- YEN, by Anna Jordan, is one of the new shows that Cody has brought to Chicago after seeing it in New York where one of his former students was performing. The story is about two young brothers at the ages of sixteen and thirteen never having been truly exposed to love, and what happens when something – or someone – comes in and disrupts that. To read about the show and the cast, visit the YEN page on Raven’s website.
- Reed plays the older brother, Hench. YEN takes place in London, so they are doing the show in the Modern London English dialect – MLE for short. MLE is a dialect spoken by young, working-class people, most commonly in neighborhoods with a variety of ethnic and multicultural backgrounds. According to Reed – who actually lived in West Hampstead from ages one to ten – it is a very difficult accent to replicate; the cast has worked with a dialect coach to get it right. Learn more about MLE here.
- YEN has been in production for almost a year – Reed was cast as Hench in May of 2018; production meetings to decide things like the lighting, the costumes, the dialect, and the set, started in December; and rehearsal starts about five weeks before the show premieres.
- Cody’s favorite production of all-time is one of his own shows: The Gentleman Caller (pictured above), the story of Tennessee Williams and William Inge’s meeting before they both rose to fame. Concepted by himself and his friend Philip Dawkins, they worked on this show for about two and a half years before bringing it to the Raven stage. It ended up being the second highest selling show in Raven Theatre history. A great deal of effort went into it, but it was extremely rewarding and successful altogether.
- Aside from the opportunity to successfully translate Hench, an extremely emotionally turbulent character without the means to express his emotions constructively, to the audience, Reed’s favorite production is South Pacific. He saw the show in high school, and respected that Rodgers and Hammerstein could discuss such deep and real issues in a musical.
- Outside of their main stage shows, Raven hosts educational courses for kids through school and community partnerships as well as summer camps. Camps start as soon as the season ends – tech camp kicks off the summer with kids learning to build an effective set that stays up all season. They also perform in shows they write themselves with the help of volunteers. Many of the kids go on to participate in shows at Raven or in the Chicago theatre community.
- Reed’s advice for young actors is twofold: find a way to focus on telling a story, and find a way to be a greater collaborator rather than focusing on your own performance. He learned more about active storytelling as opposed to acting technique at Northwestern, and it has served him well.
- Raven is a proponent of the Year of Chicago Theatre, and would love it if every single member of Andersonville, Edgewater, and other surrounding neighborhoods were to come to their theatre to see a show. Even if you can’t make it to Raven, attend another show somewhere else. There are lists on the Andersonville Chamber and 48th Ward sites.
- Don’t worry if you can’t make it this season, Raven just announced their 2019-2020 season! Click here to check it out.
- If this week’s guests could swap with any Andersonville business for a day Reed would choose the Middle East Bakery & Grocery (1512 W Foster Ave) for their lovely grocery store and heavenly food, and Cody would swap with FOURSIDED (5061 N Clark S) because it’s his favorite store in the whole city and framing things for a living seems like a pretty awesome job.