Archive for Performers

This ‘n’ That Way Madness Lie

By Jared McDaris

In celebration of our upcoming Twelfth Night, here’s a quick re-publishing of what I learned a few years ago.

The year was 2008. It was a more innocent time. I was wearing blue stockings, oversized pants, an oversized white shirt, and an oversized… I wanna say jerkin, but I know I’m wrong.

Still wearing glasses. What a tool.

Still wearing glasses. What an amateur. (Volpone, 2008)

The play was Volpone. I was playing Voltore, a greedy lawyer who gives a slanderous speech in court. I had to tell a story to the audience, an untrue story, involving several characters who were onstage, but with whom I’d had no interaction. I had to remember who was whom based on what I’d already seen that day, get those people close to each other, keep the action downstage, and move quickly enough to keep the energy high.

On top of all that, I had a challenge that, at the time, had never been addressed.

Most of the basic rules of Unrehearsed Shakespeare are simple verbal interpretation, and none of these is simpler than the this/that rule. Simply put, when you say “this glass,” you must be touching the glass; when you say “that glass,” you must not be touching the glass. Easy as pie.

But there was another issue. It’s easy enough to grab a sleeve or point to a shoe, but what about “this argument,” “these illusions,” “that vile deception,” or my personal favorite, “these deeds?” How do you touch, or point to, an abstract idea? How do you indicate a thing that is no longer there?

Eventually, these would come to be known as “Abstract Thises and Thats,” but at the time, I just saw words highlighted in yellow and orange, which meant I had to touch something or point at something. So, not knowing what else to do, I grabbed the air. I pointed at the sky. I patted the ground. I gesticulated wildly. It was cray.

This was somewhat tenebrous ground at the time. We had been given clear instruction not to “interpret” our characters unless the text said so. I couldn’t “gesticulate wildly” unless someone described me as doing so, or if I described myself thusly.


But on the other hand, there were those words. I had to grab something. I had to point at something. So I did.

What I didn’t know was, later in the play, the two leads come on and comment on my character. In essence, they say: “That guy sure was crazy. He was shouting and gesticulating wildly.”

BAM!! Shouting (I had a lot of exclamation points, a rarity in original Elizabethan copies), and gesticulating wildly! Bam! Nobody told me I was flailing my arms about, and Voltore sure never describes himself as an amateur windmill. How could I have possibly known to do that?

That’s the greatest thing about Unrehearsed Shakespeare: it works. We’ll probably never know if this is really how they did it back then, how carefully Shakespeare (or in this case Ben Jonson) chose his words, or how strongly cod-pieces figure into the phrase “my willing love,” but we do know that when we apply these guidelines to scripts from the era, any scripts from the era, it creates dynamic performances that are always new! Exclamation point!

Twelfth Night is a play I have worked on eight times, both in Unrehearsed productions (this is our fifth annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night, and my seventh Unrehearsed performance of it) and in more conventional shows (like in Milwaukee couple Summers ago). But it took me until now to realize: this script has more Abstract Thises & Thats than any other I can remember working on. And what’s really cool is, most of these Abstracts are spoken by Olivia and Malvolio. What do these two have in common?

Besides the fact that they’ve both been played by Danny Pancratz, looking ridiculous.

Malvolio (Danny Pancratz) is released from prison '12

Malvolio (Danny Pancratz) is released from prison 2012

Chad Tallon (Malvolio) and Danny Pancratz (Olivia), 2013

Chad Tallon (Malvolio) and Danny Pancratz (Olivia), 2013

Well, there’s another chapter in the Volpone Voltore story. Shortly after his first impassioned lie in court, the lawyer’s situation reverses. He’s betrayed by a confederate and has to go admit his folly to the court. He does this (at the suggestion of the title character) by pretending to be possessed. He goes mad, convulses on the floor, pretends to vomit up needles (that was fun) and otherwise acts stereotypically insane (all at the direction of Volpone). In a way, his wild gesticulations were a prelude to the coming comic madness.

Voltore, being told to vomit up pins... yikes

Voltore, being told to vomit up pins… yikes (Volpone, 2008)

So what does this have to do with Olivia and Malvolio? In a play about repressed passions exploding forth, they are the two characters who are most often called crazy. Olivia is simultaneously called a madonna and a mad-donna, both madam and mad-dame. Most of these epithets are hurled by Feste, liberally; and shortly after she proves him right by madly lusting after the young Caesario. Malvolio’s madness is more straightforward: falsely accused of demonic possession, he is locked up and driven mad (or nearly there), also by Feste.

Sydney Ray as the dame of questionable stability.

Sydney Ray as the dame of questionable stability.

It rocks my world that these two different authors, in these two different comedies, would assign such a heavy amount of Abstract Thises & Thats to characters who have the label of ‘insanity’ attached to them.

We’ll never know if Unrehearsed Shakespeare is historically accurate, but it works, and even after eight years, it continues to yield new and fascinating ideas for me, and new ways to apply those ideas to performance.

Be sure and check out our fifth annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night, and judge for yourself.

January 17th (Tuesday) and 25th (Wednesday)
The Rugby Club, 3614 N Damen Ave
Doors open at 7:00, show starts at 7:30
$5 at the door
Come be something great… the Audience!


Mike Speck is the Storm

Mike is an Unrehearsed veteran of ten years who has performed in such plays as Antony & CleopatraAll’s Well that Ends WellHamlet, and Merry Wives of Windsor. You can see him as a special guest performer in King Lear on Monday and Tuesday, December 12th and 13th.

Q: What first turned you on to Shakespeare?
MIKE: We can credit Bill Kincaid for this one. I did some Shakespeare classes – both acting and literary – in undergrad, but really never got into Bardiness before working with Bill at WIU. As soon as he introduced SVO, my game brain latched on and I was hooked.

Q: How has your approach to Unrehearsed altered over the years?
MIKE: I’ve become more and more comfortable using the audience as a buddy or a sounding board. Earlier on I spent a LOT of effort on keeping the text onstage and actively tried to keep my focus off the audience…but frankly, they’re the ones paying to see the show, and in shared light they KNOW I can see them, so why not engage?

Q: What, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
MIKE: There’s so much factional interplay – your casting breakdown gave instructions for 5-6 different costume colors based on allegiances – but it all comes back to the personal. “How loyal is this person to me, and how do I know?” becomes a key question for every character I can think of, especially the ones who get it wrong.

Q: How would you compare Unrehearsed to conventional theater?
MIKE: I’d quibble and say that it’s still conventional theatre – just with a different set of conventions. And those conventions are a huge part of the fun: playing the Unrehearsed game, following the Unrehearsed rules, and accepting the results. I don’t know WHY this speech switches from “thou” to “you” in a single sentence, but I don’t have to know why; I just need to follow that coded instruction in an observable way that the audience can follow. Maybe my scene partner and I will find a purpose for it, or maybe we’ll stay confused, but the audience doesn’t need our comprehension, only our acting.

Q: Has Unrehearsed influence your teaching techniques at all?
MIKE: Yes – Unrehearsed has really hammered in the importance of observing what’s actually happening in the room, focusing on students rather than on curriculum. That’s been an immensely useful lesson in teaching performance (stage combat in particular; I think those two disciplines reinforce each other nicely), and anything else: all my prework says I need to be across the stage from the speaker, but she’s got a crown and she just said “we,” so I guess I’m over by her now. OK, now what? My plan said today’s class was going to start choreography, but half the class is still cutting incorrectly? Choreo gets pushed back a bit, and technique gets more time. What’s next? Unrehearsed trains you to acknowledge where you ARE, not where your notes said you’d be.

Q: What’s your favorite Unrehearsed role to date?
MIKE: Malvolio is the only role I’ve done twice, and it was a blast both times. Of course, there was something like 8 years between iterations, so…

Mike as Gremio in Taming of the Shrew (2011)

Q: What else is coming up soon?
MIKE: Chicagoans should know about two stage combat opportunities in January: the Winter Wonderland Workshop and its associated Intensives (, and Destruction in Decatur, a downstate two-week workshop that offers skills tests (


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Eyes on Actors: Lana Whittington

lwhittingtonLana is a new Apprentice, debuting with King Lear. You can also see her this December in EDGE Theatre’s A Steampunk Christmas Carol as the Mad Madam Fizzlewig. Lana will be performing in Lear on Tuesday, Dec 13.

Q: How were you first introduced to Unrehearsed Shakespeare?
LANA: I first heard about it through my good friend Charlie Baker. We went to school together and he has been a part of Unrehearsed for a few years now. Then I was cast in Countess Bathory written and directed by Jared and I knew I needed to work with this guy more.

QHow does Unrehearsed differ from other acting experiences for you?
LANA: It is completely different from what I am used to. In college mostly I worked with many directors who blocked us to a tee and gave us our characters’ motivations. Though Unrehearsed has set rules you should follow to make it interesting there is much more freedom to do what feels natural and to find your own motivations even if they might not be perfect. I’ve never been in a show where I didn’t have weeks of rehearsals and had no idea who was playing who until I was on stage. This is a little frightening, but mostly exciting.

Q: What, if anything, is your biggest challenge with this technique so far?
LANA: This technique relies massively on listening skills, and that has been a challenge of mine in the past with shows that have rehearsal time. It’s easy to become complacent when you know what will be said and when your next cue is. Unrehearsed keeps everyone on their toes which is what I like most about it.

Q: One of the defining attributes of Unrehearsed is the lack of a Fourth Wall. How do you feel about this? How does it affect your work and/or prep?
LANA: Well in many of Shakespeare’s works we often see actors performing their soliloquies to the audience, but Unrehearsed gives you more opportunities to use the audience outside of those monologues. It’s almost like the audience is it’s own character in the show. While I’m rehearsing my sides, I try to look for instances where I can use the audience even when my character doesn’t have speeches or asides. It’s also interesting to use the audience for story telling purposes, so I keep an eye out for chances to use the audience as characters for that purpose as well.

QWhat, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
LANA: It’s quite interesting that it takes Lear so long to discover that the only people who love him and have his best interests in mind are the ones that he banished just because they did not tell them what he wanted to hear. It’s strange how not getting our way can skew our judgment and our trust in others.

Lana recently appeared as “Jane” in sister-company We Three’s production of Countess Bathory

Q: If Lear asked you to flatter him, would you answer more like Cordelia or more like Goneril and Regan?
LANA: I’d probably be similar to Cordelia. I don’t like to play games with people and I prefer to be honest to other people rather than let them hear what they want to hear.

Q: So what’s next for you?
LANA: Come see Steampunk Christmas Carol; you will see many Unrehearsed actors and it is tons of fun. I’ve been in/seen many productions of Christmas carol but this one is special. You will be on the floor laughing with Christmas joy by the end.

Click here to see Lana in the upcoming A Steampunk Christmas Carol (with EDGE Theatre), or here to see photos from her recent performance in Countess Bathory (with We Three).




JJ Gatesman is the Storm

JJ is an Unrehearsed veteran of seven years who has helped to spread the technique as far west as Las Vegas. He is currently working with the Milwaukee Rep’s The Foreigner, playing until December 18th. Also keep an eye out for upcoming productions of Henry VI part 1, an unrehearsing of the traditional play using the first folio technique;  and Blade of the Child, an original play by JJ, coming to Milwaukee this summer.

You can see him as a special guest performer in King Lear on Monday, December 12th.

Q: What first turned you on to Shakespeare?
JJ: I’ve always been interested in poetry. I learned about Shakespeare in high school and almost immediately got to perform it. The second show I ever did was Merry Wives of Windsor. I was drawn to the visceral energy that one can feel speaking in iambic pentameter and I’m constantly in awe of the different metaphors that pop up in Shakespeare.

Q: How has your approach to Unrehearsed altered over the years?
JJ: One of the best parts of Unrehearsed is giving and receiving stage directions, and I’ve become better at spotting the places for them. It creates a great spontaneity that you don’t typically see in more traditional performances of classical pieces. Also, I’m hoping that the more I use First Folio Technique the more grounded I can become while using it. It’s easy to get caught up in the hullabaloo and forget to breathe or flail around making gestures that aren’t supported by the script. I’m hoping that in King Lear I’ll have a bit more economy of action.

QWhat, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
JJ: The multi-tiered story that provides us with no specific protagonist, but instead we have arguments for any and all of the characters to be the “main” focus. It gives the opportunity for an ensemble to shine as a whole rather than some of Shakespeare’s other plays like Hamlet or Macbeth.

Q: How would you compare directing or teaching Unrehearsed to performing it? For that matter, how does Unrehearsed directing compare to more conventional productions?
JJ: It’s akin to driving a car. When learning there are so many individual things that have to go right (i.e. I have to shift into gear, put my foot on the gas, oh I forgot to adjust my mirrors, etc.). When you’re performing, there isn’t time to focus on these individual parts and instead you have go with the flow of how things are happening in the “now”. I think it takes performing in the actual shows to really understand how everything fits together, so when you’re teaching/directing one of these productions you have to accept that students new to the technique are going to miss some steps until they have the opportunity to make some mistakes in a performance.
I’ve only recently started directing traditional theater projects, and I find that whenever I’m stuck, I always go back to unrehearsed Shakespeare. Who’s speaking to who? How close or far away from each other do these characters need to be? Could any part of this be to the audience? These are questions we’re always asking ourselves while looking at our tracks in unrehearsed and I think they are excellent starting points for scene work.

Feste (Jared McDaris) & Sir Andrew (JJ Gatesman) party it up '12

JJ as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in our annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night (2013)

Q: What’s your favorite Unrehearsed role to date?
JJ: Proteus, nothing beats winning a crowd over that is actively booing you.

Come see JJ try to win over the crowd Monday, December 12th!




Kevin Johnson is the Storm

Kevin Johnson Headshot 1 (1)Kevin is a recent Apprentice who debuted this season as Sylvius in As You Like it. He’s also appeared in Hamlet as Guildenstern and as Balthazar in our Comedy of Errors with Janus Theatre in Elgin.

Q: What first turned you on to Shakespeare?
KEVIN: In 2013, I saw the Q Brother’s production of Othello: The Remix, which is a four-man show of Othello, told entirely through hip-hop (similar to Hamilton, though O:TR came first.)  I wasn’t into Shakespeare or rap before seeing that show, and afterward, I was a fan of both.

Q: How has your approach to Unrehearsed altered during your first year? (or is it too early to say?)
KEVIN: I don’t know if it’s altered that much, but I’ve worked on cutting down on and specifying gestures.

Q: What, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
KEVIN: It seems with most tragedies, the main character is introduced as a pretty decent guy (even Macbeth starts as a hero).  Lear enters in the first scene, immediately banishes the only two people who are honest with him, and then has to get the audience on his side from there.

Q: If Lear asked you to flatter him, would you answer more like Cordelia or more like Goneril and Regan?
KEVIN: I’d probably plan on being honest, and then as soon as he asks I’d panic and say he’s the best thing ever.

Q: What’s your favorite Unrehearsed role to date?
KEVIN: Sylvius.  Getting to lead the infamous (at least among Unrehearsers) “What ’tis to love” scene was an honor.


Kevin retires the guard in the opening scene of Hamlet, 2016. Photo by iNDie Grant Productions

Q: So what’s next for Kevin Johnson?
KEVIN: Performing February 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg is a truly life changing production of The Lion King with the special needs inclusion based program, Ups For Downs.  I’m playing Scar on the 2nd and 4th.




Eyes on Actors: Sarah Franzel

sarah-franzel-headshot-2Sarah is a recent Apprentice who debuted this season in Hamlet as the First Player and Fortinbras. You can catch her TONIGHT in the Conspirators’ The Resistible Rise of Her Helmut Drumpf, running these two weekends before the election. You can also see her this December in EDGE Theatre’s A Steampunk Christmas Carol as the Engineer. Sarah will be performing a leading role in King Lear on Monday, Dec 12, and a supporting role on Tuesday, Dec 13.

Q: How were you first introduced to Unrehearsed Shakespeare?
SARAH: I went to see friends in Richard III, attended several performances after that, and finally took the Unrehearsed technique class this summer!

QHow does Unrehearsed differ from other acting experiences for you?
SARAH: One of my favorite things about performing is the rush of adrenaline you get right before you enter the stage. After so many shows, so many performances, it’s easy to lose that feeling and slip into autopilot. Due to the nature of Unrehearsed, it’s always there.

Q: What, if anything, is your biggest challenge with this technique so far?
SARAH: Keeping gestures relevant and specific to the text, rather than flailing about if I get lost (though that’s better than doing nothing!) Also, you may go into a scene knowing exactly what you intend to do with it, and then your scene partner throws you a proposal that completely shakes things up and you have to adapt to what’s actually happening, rather than cling to what you planned. It’s times like that where Unrehearsed can be the most fun!

Q: One of the defining attributes of Unrehearsed is the lack of a Fourth Wall. How do you feel about this? How does it affect your work and/or prep?
SARAH: It’s so much fun! (Especially because Unrehearsed audiences tend to react enthusiastically). The lack of a Fourth Wall can be especially helpful during a soliloquy when you have no one else onstage to interact with.

QWhat, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
SARAH: The frequent references to the natural world and how the chaos that springs from Lear’s banishment of Cordelia is mirrored by the storm.


Sarah performs the Pyrrhus Monolog in Hamlet, 2016. Photo by iNDie Grant Productions

Q: If Lear asked you to flatter him, would you answer more like Cordelia or more like Goneril and Regan?
SARAH: Gah, what a question. I’d like to think that I would answer with Goneril and Regan’s positivity but with Cordelia’s genuineness so we’d all live happily ever after. End of play.

CLICK HERE to see Sarah in our recent production of Hamlet, or HERE.





Jessie Mutz Returns for Hamlet

The famous Jessie Mutz is back! (Soon!) Jessie will be joining us for Unrehearsed Hamlet this coming Monday the 25th, at BlackRock Pub (3614 N Damen Ave, 7:30pm, $5 at the door).

Here’s a thing I wrote about Jessie when we first learned of her departure to grad school.


Jessie Mutz, Managing Director of the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company, is picking up and moving back to Florida to further her education. It’s an exciting future, and I (like everyone) wish her the best. Parting is such sweet sorrow, though.

Jessie first met the Unrehearsed World in Summer of 2010. She attended and observed our ReUp, then watched our Chicago debut: Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. She immediately expressed interest in spreading the technique, fostering classes, and performing more.

This was a dark time for Unrehearsed Shakespeare. Virtually every aspect was managed by one man: me. I had all the company props and costume pieces in my car, since I was homeless. It was a full year before I had the security I needed to produce another show (Shrewthello: Taming of the Shrew and Othello). Jessie was onboard from the get-go, spearheading our advertising, discussing recruitment opportunities, and very happy to finally perform the technique onstage after waiting a full year.

Jessie in her debut as Curtis in Taming of the Shrew

Jessie in her Unrehearsed debut as Curtis in Taming of the Shrew, with Danny Pancratz as Grumio. Photo by John McDaris, Jr.

Most of us were introduced to Unrehearsed via the annual Bard in the Barn festival in Macomb, IL. Even though we’d performed four additional shows in our final year of Grad school, we were still used to getting to perform Unrehearsed just once a year.

Without Jessie Mutz, things may well have stayed that way.

Both our 2010 debut and our 2011 Shrewthello had insular audiences. We weren’t reaching new people (we didn’t even make Facebook events!), and even some of our base was dwindling. In 2012, thanks in no small part to Jessie, we finally started to grow.

Collaboration is how companies thrive, and we kicked that off with Blunt Objects’ Shakespeare I Love You. We worked with four other companies to produce Pericles, each of us handling one of the five acts. Thanks to Jessie, we greatly expanded our notoriety in Chicago with this single performance.

Then we went on a Pirate Ship! With the Tall Ship Windy, we got to perform an hour-long cutting of Comedy of Errors at Navy Pier.

Jessie as Luciana in Bard on the Boat! Opposite her friend and mentor Tiza Garland as Adriana

Jessie as Luciana in Bard on the Boat! Opposite her friend and mentor Tiza Garland as Adriana

It wasn’t until Comedy of Errors that we became a real company, I think. We started having regular meetings (often hosted by Jessie), responsibilities were divvied up and assigned (often to Jessie), and the freedom of delegation allowed us all to thrive in our specific areas of expertise. Imagine producing a show with no design budget and little-to-no control over a cast of 12-to-16 actors, and you can imagine the frustration that was magically lifted from my shoulders, thanks to Jessie.

Along with all these heavy responsibilities (she consistently handled the most mundane and arduous tasks), Jessie has also performed major roles in many of our shows. And deservedly so: there are few actors who so quickly take to the rapid pace, powerful energy, and deep commitment that Unrehearsed requires; or at least, that good Unrehearsed requires.
Probably my favorite photo. Jessie and me at a ReUp before Bard in the Barn 2012

Probably my favorite photo. Jessie and me with Brian Elliott at a ReUp before Bard in the Barn 2012. Photo by John McDaris, Jr.

In 2012, Zack Meyer and I took over a flagging Bard in the Barn festival in Macomb, and Jessie was cast as Rosalind in As You Like It: the largest female role in a single play and the largest Comedic lead in the canon. Preparations for As You Like It were frequently eclipsed by Antony & Cleopatra, the other show in the festival. Despite all this, and despite scheduling and managing text sessions for two shows at once, and despite hosting and managing track proofing sessions, she still managed to deliver a powerful and dynamic performance.

Jessie as Rosalind/Ganymede in As You Like It, assertively interacting with an audience member

Jessie as Rosalind/Ganymede in As You Like It, assertively interacting with an audience member

Oh! and later that year we staged Comedy of Errors again. TheaterRED in Milwaukee put up Bard in the Bandshell, and Jessie performed her first male lead: Antipholus of Syracuse, where (among other things) she got to beat up a Dromio that outweighed her by about a hundred pounds of muscle.

Jessie as Antipholus of Syracuse, practicing some violence with Christopher Elst as Dromio of Ephesus

Jessie as Antipholus of Syracuse, practicing some violence with Christopher Elst as Dromio of Ephesus

2012 was a good year for us, where we sowed and reaped a lot from our new friends in the biz. But in 2013, things really started to explode.

The low overhead of Unrehearsed shows makes it easier to put up productions, and in 2013 we produced nine shows: productions both in Chicago and Milwaukee, small staged readings of new verse plays, and even a high school workshop in Carbondale that Jessie and I ran. In 2013 alone, Jessie played Viola, Hipolyta, Beatrice, the Host of the Garter (AND Anne Page), AND Lady MacBeth. All in a single year!

Jessie as Hipolyta in Midsummer Night's Dream

Jessie as Hipolyta in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Corey DiNardo

2014 is a bit slower, but she still managed to knock Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Julius Caesar, and Juliet herself off the ol’ Shakespeare bucket-list.

"Ay me..."

Jessie in the Balcony Scene. Photo by Jill Meyer

I’ve frequently said that genius exists in small moments. Jessie’s “Banishment” Monolog in Romeo & Juliet was one of those moments. Her combination of physicality and psychological gesture, her commitment to emotional truth without sacrificing technique, her language, her refusal to judge, and her connection with herself and others, is a rare privilege to observe in Theater. And this was at least 90 minutes in, just when exhaustion starts to set in (and after the crowd-pleasing Mercutio and Tybalt are gone), and less experienced actors might start to flag or fail.

The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company is suffering a serious loss, but we have grown so much stronger because of Jessie, that we will continue to flourish and grow stronger. And while I hope deeply that she will still be able to attend and perform in some of our shows, I am heartened by the ever-increasing number of actors who show a genuine interest in the technique and freedom and personal growth we can offer. None of this would have been possible without her, and I wouldn’t be the artist I am without her.

Jessie Mutz is a gift to any person or institution that meets her, and I hope Florida appreciates what it has.

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah! thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought
I must attend time’s leisure with my moan,
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.

-Sonnet 44

By for now, Jessie!

Bye for now, Jessie!

Zack Meyer returns for Hamlet!

Zack Meyer is returning one night only for Unrehearsed’s performance of Hamlet. Here’s a thing I wrote around this time last year for Zack’s last official performance with us in Richard III.


Zack Meyer, Fight Director and founding member of the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company, will be leaving to pursue his graduate degree very shortly. He has deep roots here in Chicago, so it’s not likely that we’ve seen the last of him, but it goes without saying that he’ll be leaving a noticeable chasm in the Unrehearsed community.

I first saw Zack perform in a studio show at Western Illinois University while I was earning my MFA. His natural charisma, ease with elevated language, and (most importantly) his genuine connections with other actors were immediately palpable. Although I allege without hesitation that he is one of the greatest conventional actors I have yet met, it is in the realm of Unrehearsed Shakespeare where he remains unique.

Zack has been doing Unrehearsed longer than I have. He played Archidamus in The Winter’s Tale, the first first production of the Bard in the Barn Festival, which means Zack spoke the first Unrehearsed words in Illinois and probably in the Midwest. He also portrayed a hilarious Lucio in Measure for Measure, and Romeo himself, all before achieving his degree. Most topically, he played Richmond in Richard III, 2008

Somewhat ironically, Zack and I never interacted onstage while at WIU. We were never cast together, and even when he returned in 2009 for Unrehearsed King Lear, we were scarcely ever onstage and barely spoke to each other.

Zack as as dying Mark Antony, with Tiza Garland as Cleopatra (2012)

So it was a bit of a surprise even to me when I realized that Zack has been one of the most influential artists in my development, and that there quite literally would not be an Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company without him.

Like many school theater societies, WIU held an annual award show managed entirely by the students: in this case the Grannies (a nod to Irene Ryan awards). Being the president of WIU’s theater society in 2009, Zack gave a short speech at the award show’s end. I’m paraphrasing of course, but essentially he said: “No matter how many opportunities you have here at WIU, no matter how much you do, when it’s time to leave, it still won’t have been enough. So take advantage of every chance to get to make some art.”

Zach Roberts and Zack Meyer as Don Pedro and Count Claudio

Zack’s brief speech inspired me to get more out of my final year at WIU. Despite some noticeable and (in some ways) almost fatal attempts to do so, this eventually led to my throwing together an Unrehearsed production ofMacBeth. It went well enough, and led to further productions of Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet, all before getting my degree in May of 2010.

Things were rough after that: jobless, directionless, often homeless (both of the couch-surfing and the genuine variety), clueless but never without ideals. Despite having no income and no idea where I was going to sleep next week, I helped bring Unrehearsed to Chicago with Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. Zack played Claudio in Much Ado; he’s never been a creature of ego, despite his abilities, so he also played Adrian in The Tempest.

I had extremely limited means, so we were only doing one or two shows a year, usually at the same time (next year was Shrewthello, which brought us Jessie Mutz and a slightly wider audience). It wasn’t until Orion Couling (coworker and friend of Zack) brought us on the Tall Ship Windy for Comedy of Errors, that things had the chance to take off. This was early 2012, and I had resolved to quit Unrehearsed Shakespeare for good as soon as Comedy of Errors was over.

Zack as Antonio in Twelfth Night (2014)

By complete coincidence, Zack and I crossed paths while walking to the performance early, and so had a quick lunch together. During this lunch, he commented several times on how great it was that Unrehearsed was catching on, and the powerful sense of creative autonomy that having our own acting technique afforded us. Once again, Zack had inspired me, unintentionally and without agenda.

It was shortly after that (again, thanks to Zack) that a team was assembled to help produce shows, and a proper Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company was formed: Jessie Mutz, Danny Pancratz, Brian LeTraunik, and Zack Meyer. There was an immediate upswing in the number of shows we could produce, and the fate and direction of the company was no longer linked to my (often mercurial) financial/housing condition. Now, we have regular seasons and produce four to eight shows a year. Despite the limitations of our esoteric acting style, we are always trying new things and discovering new insights.

Zack as the First Player (Hamlet, 2010), which led to the revolutionary Story-Telling aspects of Unrehearsed.

Zack has delivered some stellar performances in the last few years: Mark Antony (twice), Benedick, Henry V, and the director of Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo & Juliet. But I will always be most grateful for the sincere words he offered to his classmates at Western Illinois: no matter how many opportunities you get, they will never be enough.

Tonight, Zack is performing in Hamlet. Seeing him perform is a rare treat, and I urge everyone to take advantage of this artistic opportunity, while you can.

July 19 & 25, August 2
@ Black Rock Pub
$5 at the Door

Unrehearsed Hamlet Comes to Chicago

hbTO BE OR NOT TO BE? Unrehearsed Hamlet finally arrives in Chicago! Featuring a completely different casts each night, this “The greatest of Master Shakespeare’s works” is presented in the wholly unique fashion of Unrehearsed Shakespeare!

July 19 (Tuesday) @ 7:30pm
July 25 (Monday) @ 7:30pm
August 2 (Tuesday) @ 7:30pm

3614 N Damen Ave
$5 At the Door

CAST, July 19 (Tuesday)
Carolyn Baker Biery
Alexandra Boroff
Erin Caswell Brutscher
Nathan Ducker
Megan Gilmore
Kevin Johnson
Zack Meyer*
John Mobley
Izis Mollinedo
Danny Pancratz
Jack Sharkey
Lisa Tosti

CAST, July 25 (Monday)
Alexandra Boroff
Erin Caswell Brutscher
Bill Daniel
Christopher Elst
Sarah Franzel**
Megan Gilmore
Dawn MT Haley
Deanne Haywood
Gaby Labotka
Kathleen Lass
Jessie Mutz*
Kaelea Rovinsky
Lisa Tosti

CAST, August 2 (Tuesday)
Robbie Bersano
Adam Betz
Bill Daniel
Marcee Doherty-Elst
Christopher Elst
Sarah Franzel**
Gaby Labotka
Jared McDaris
Kamron Palmer
Stephen Rowland
Jack Sharkey
Mike Speck*
Aiyanna Wade

*Special Guest Artist
**Student Performer

Feel free to browse some photos from our last production of Hamlet, 2010.

Alexandra Boroff Flees into the Forest of Arden

tree pictureAlex Boroff is the Managing Director of The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company. She joined the company in 2012 playing (fittingly) Phoebe in As You Like It. She now returns to the Forest of Arden tonight at Uncommon Ground.

Alex will be stage managing Annie Jr. in Tinley Park with E.D.G.E. Theatre and Down in the Southland, a production featuring typical functioning kids and kids with Down Syndrome. For tickets, email Alex at

Q: If you were banished by your dukely uncle, where in the world would you flee?
ALEX: I would be banished to the mansion that Richie Rich lived in. I was always really jealous of his basketball hoop in his room.

Q: What is your most recent journey?
ALEX: I went home to Massachusetts for a week at Christmas. I WILL be going to Virginia and Mexico this year for some friends’ weddings!

Q: If you were banished to the Forest of Arden, what three things would you take with you?

1. Iphone with a solar charger
2. Water
3. A good bra. I hate it when it’s not well made and the underwire pokes you. If that had to be forever? I’d just end it all.
Q: There are lots of people in the Forest of Arden: Lovers, Wrestlers, Shepherds, Nobles, Clowns, Cross-dressers, and Real Estate Enthusiasts. How would you fit in? Which of these would you be?
ALEX: My first instinct is to go the Noble route (heh…heh…puns), but being a Noble in a Forest would not be fun. I’d rather be a Noble in a castle. Cross dressing would be fine for me because I’m sure the men in the forest of Arden wear more comfortable clothes, but I’d rather wear a skirt so it’s not so hot. I don’t like wrestling, shepherding, clowning, or real estate…..Lover. Let’s go with that. Rawr.

Rawr it on up with Alex!

April 19th & 26th
Uncommon Ground
1401 W Devon Ave
Doors open at 7:00, show starts at 7:30