In Search Of: The Lookingglass Theatre Company

STEPHEN COLBERT: Hey everybody,
Stephen Colbert here. I really wish I could be there, but I can’t. So instead,
I’ve placed a bucket on Phil Smith’s head and I’m just going to talk to you through
an iPad glued to the front of the bucket. Phil’s essentially my meat puppet right
now. Anyway, this is exciting. STEPHEN: I’m standing outside the place it
all began years ago. It was November 1988. The setting, my alma mater, Northwestern
University and its landmark storage shed, Shanley Pavilion. This is the place where
the now-renowned Lookingglass Theatre staked its claim to its professional
beginning. STEPHEN: Right here, fresh out of college,
yet still on campus. Joy Gregory is Alice and Ensemble Cohorts Catlin, Distasi,
Barr, and Cox presented the company’s inaugural production, a Dave Kersnar
production of Lewis Carroll’s THROUGH THE LOOKINGGLASS. What made these
founders believe that starting a theatre company was in any way a good idea. STEPHEN: Why didn’t they follow my
employment route post-graduation? Making futon frames in the basement of the house
I still lived in at the corner of Ridge and Foster? And how is it they have won a
Tony Award – ANDY WHITE: Thank you, and good night! (STEPHEN): – When I haven’t? Come with
me now as I travel back in time in search of the Lookingglass Theatre company in… “In Search of the Lookingglass Theatre
Company.” (STEPHEN): To begin at the beginning,
months earlier several aspiring artists who would be among the Founding Members
of the Lookingglass Theatre Ensemble had gathered for a public performance in
Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. These reverse pilgrims crossed the vast
Atlantic backwards bringing with them a David Schwimmer stage production of
Lewis Carroll’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Apparently after four years of liberal
arts education, they only knew one author. And it was there on these time-worn
cobbled streets, in the moonlit shadows of the celebrated Edinburgh Castle that
the big formative conversation took place. A night into morning conversation of how
to build a new theatre company or more importantly, how to build the idea of one
that they themselves would pay to go to back home in Chicago. And as they were
cheap as all-get-out, they quickly realized that they would need a really big
vision. A vision as wild, surprising and unwieldy as Wonderland itself and thus,
Lookingglass was born-ed. And dear listener, oh how desperately did old
Chicago thirst for the big gulp of yet another not-for-profit, thesbian startup.
The Second City of course, was and is first in theatre and therefore, all the
more difficult to make a mark. But these early explorers proved resistant to the
trappings of those harder realities, by avoiding established artistic paradigms
as envisioned in Pre-don Scotland. They aim to smash the mold with each newly
staged narrative and in doing so, forge a place for themselves in the city’s rich
and wonderful cultural community. (STEPHEN): From the get-go, Lookingglass
didn’t produce plays pulled from the theatrical cannon. Stories that fit the
bill were mostly internally generated events, conceived anew, and often from
heretofore thought to be unadaptable texts. New works and adaptations like THE
VANISHING TWIN, and HARD TIMES. All had outsized impact, made possible by
being custom built around the collaborative, physical, and imaginative
skills of the upstart collective and its growing body of brilliant associates.
With an infusion of live music or original composition of heart-stopping imagery,
dance, acrobatics, circus, and ample amounts of sweat into the live theatrical
event, Lookingglass generated a wholly new brand, defying brand of theatre. STEPHEN: In the 15 years prior to the
unveiling of their permanent home in the Water Tower Water Works, Lookingglass
presented 40 plays in 22 locations across Chicago. As the company roamed from the
south to the west, to the north, and then the northwest, southeast, northeast, and
southwest, a wide and diverse, local and national audience was forming. Shortly
after Mary Zimmerman’s METAMOUR-… Shortly after Mary Zimmerm-, (joking)
Zimmerman’s METAMORPHOSES, is really not easy. Mary Zimmerman, Buddy be burgle,
Debi be Berman. Shortly after Mary Zimmerman’s… METAMORPHOSES landed
on Broadway and David Schwimmer’s FRIENDS on must-see TV, and halfway
through its first 30 years, June 2003 marked the date of the opening of the now
iconic and transformational black-box theatre on Michigan Avenue. This new home
ignited an explosion of creativity still reverberating today. Maybe your first show
here was LOOKINGGLASS ALICE? I was lucky enough to catch that show. MOBY
DICK, didn’t catch that one but then again neither did Ahab. 1984, so ahead of its
time it could be called 2018. TRUST, trust me it was another play I didn’t see, but I
heard great things. (STEPHEN): A race AROUND THE WORLD
AMERICAN OBSESSION, take your pick. Or take CASCABEL, how does that idea, 30
waiters, a five-course meal, a hundred and fifty handcrafted margaritas, eight
acrobats, acclaimed Chicago chef Rick Bayless, and all that, wha-hamole
even fit into a 200 seat house? EASTLAND, a musical about one of the
gravest disasters in American history, makes me want to get up and dance. [Music from EASTLAND] (STEPHEN): SITA RAM, two words, the
bomb! DAVID SCHWIMMER: Okay, will you please. STEPHEN: Oh, hi David. You should come
back on THE LATE SHOW sometime. Call me when you have a job. DAVID: Ha! Stephen, that is so… (STEPHEN): LIFE SUCKS, though life might
on occasion, that show certainly did not. And for a brilliant meditation on life
that DOES suck, BEYOND CARING anyone? The theatrical tapestry of hits goes on
and on and on. Lookingglass is more than a theatre. It’s practically destined that it
should reside in the castle like Water Tower Water Works. Reminiscent of the
ancient one in Scotland where the conversation began. What better home than
one used for channeling a life-giving element to Chicago, with its behemoth,
ever vigilant, ever churning machinery. Lookingglass is a utility, as important to
Chicago and beyond as water, electricity and roads. Let’s take a moment now to look
back on what we’ve uncovered in search of Lookingglass. To this company and all who
make it what it is the artists, teachers, staff, board, funders, and most
essentially, the students, patrons, and you and to this community, Lookingglass is
a state of mind limited only by whatever limits imagination. STEPHEN: With Stephen Colbert’s bucket on
my head. I’m Phil Smith. Or am I?? Is it magic or Lookingglass?! BUCKET: Mary Zimmerman.
STEPHEN: That’s how you say it!

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