Chicago-rooted playwright-improviser finds joy in her ‘Burden’
BY MARY HOULIHAN June 25, 2013 7:46PM
‘THE BURDEN OF NOT HAVING A TAIL’
When: Previews begin Saturday; opens July 2 and runs through Aug. 4
Where: Sideshow Theatre at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago
Info: (773) 809-4782; sideshowtheatre.org
Updated: July 27, 2013 6:26AM
Back in 2001, Carrie Barrett moved to Chicago to study long-form improv at iO. For the next 10 years it would become her creative home where she would study, perform, direct and teach improv and sketch comedy.
“That was my life,” recalls Barrett. “With improv its all about the group mind. I had never done anything on my own, and I started to want something more.”
That desire was the beginning of Carrie Barrett, playwright. She would go on to be mentored by playwright Rebecca Gilman at Northwestern University’s graduate writing program where she started out thinking she wanted to write for television. Gilman reawakened her love of theater.
“I wrote some really weird plays in grad school trying to find my voice,” Barrett says with a knowing laugh. “Rebecca helped me work through it all to find what I was good at.”
Barrett’s comedy-drama “The Burden of Not Having a Tail,” which was presented as a staged reading at the 2010 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut, is having its world premiere at Sideshow Theatre under the direction of Megan A. Smith. The solo piece, starring ensemble member Karie Miller, is about a woman, holed up in her secure underground bunker, who gives the audience a tutorial on preparing for the coming apocalypse.
The genesis of the play began about six years ago after Barrett read a New York Times piece about avian flu and clicked on a link that took her to an online forum that ran the gamut from the sensible to the way-out-there preppers.
“My first reaction was to laugh,” recalls Barrett during a phone conversation from Los Angeles where she now lives. “But then I studied more, and it was terrifying but people on this forum were completely isolating themselves. I began to wonder what it would take for me to become like them.”
The play is often hilarious, sometimes morbid, and occasionally startling. Of course, as the story unfolds, more is revealed about the woman (she is never named) and what brought her to this situation.
“I think ‘Burden’ portrays a woman who is trying to cope with a personal trauma,” says Smith, “and how lonely and difficult it is to try and do that alone. The play explores what someone might do when pushed over the edge.”
Adds Miller: “I love the playfulness of the language. The woman I portray is chatty and funny. But the charm is not overdone but genuine and belies the deeper thing that is going on here.”
There also is a fair amount of audience participation (all volunteer) during the course of the play. While the play remains the same, different scenarios are bound to unfold each night as audience members come on stage to interact with the woman. Audiences were invited to rehearsals in order to get a feel as to how this would play out.
“It’s amazing what people will do on stage,” Smith notes. “Those interactions have helped us clarify and be more specific in those moments. Who they are and what they decide to say, or what energy they give off, will certainly affect the play each night.”
Holding it all together will be Miller, who has a background in improv and has a knack for making people feel comfortable. The unpredictability of having different audience members on stage each night could be unnerving but Miller is taking it in stride.
“I’ll be prepared for whatever each night brings,” Miller says. “I have the road map. I have the steering wheel. I’ll shimmy my way through anything that happens.”
Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.