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Chicago production "Merchant On Venice" received a Jeff Recommendation.


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Alumni and Students Gain Experience with Chicago Theatre Company

Alumni and current students part of Chicago production recently recommended for "the Chicago version of the Tony awards."

Chicago production "Merchant On Venice" received a Jeff Recommendation.

by Elise Goitia '18

Knox alumni and current students are part of the production team of a Chicago theatrical production recently recommended for a Joseph Jefferson Award, which Director Elizabeth Carlin Metz calls "the Chicago version of the Tony awards."

"Getting Jeff Recommended says that the professional theatre community recognizes the caliber of the work," said Carlin Metz, Smith V. Brand Endowed Chair in Theatre Arts at Knox. "It helps with spreading the word about the play and raising the visibility and prestige of the company."

The play, Merchant on Venice, is a South-Asian re-imagining of Merchant of Venice. Vitalist Theatre is a co-producer of the show. Philip Sidney Post Professor of English Robin Metz and Carlin Metz founded Vitalist Theatre in 1997.

In the 21 years Vitalist Theatre has been in operation, working alongside Chicago professionals, more than 150 alumni and faculty have worked on productions. Current students have also been involved through independent study projects, internships, and as volunteers.

"Robin and I wanted to help Knox establish more of a connection to Chicago, where the largest body of our alumni live and work and where the professional theatre offers the best entry-level opportunities to our graduates," said Carlin Metz.

"From their first professional experiences with Vitalist, graduates have gone on to work with other Chicago companies and have established professional careers in and beyond Chicago."

The other co-producer of Merchant on Venice, Raska Theatre, is the only exclusively South-Asian theatre company in Chicago and the United States. Written by Shishir Kurup, the production is set on Venice Boulevard in present-day California. It focuses on the historical rivalry and hatred between Hindus and Muslims, exploring the marginalization of a minority within a minority community through rock-and-roll and Bollywood-influenced music, blank verse, and present-day pop references.

Photos of the production, above and below, taken by Scott Dray.

"Though this is a co-production, this is a South-Asian play and cast, and I am deeply gratified to know that my contribution to the collaboration has helped to earn this professional coup," she added.

Receiving a Jeff Recommendation means that all members of the committee for the Jeff Awards, about 100 people, will attend the show. They will then collectively vote on which categories or aspects of the play may be nominated—from technical to performance and directing.

While Vitalist Theatre has received Jeff Recommendations in the past, this is the first time it has been nominated in the Equity wing of the awards, putting it in the same category as decorated theatres like Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, The Court, and The House Theatre.

Alumni involvement in the production includes Associate Professor of Theatre Craig Choma '93 (set design), Rachel Sypniewski '01 (costume design), Marty Helms '09 (master carpenter), Emily Antoff '15 (assistant director/assistant producer), Kathleen Dickinson '09 (production manager), and Theresa Murphy '17 (master electrician).

In addition to alumni, a number of Knox students also worked on the set for the play, which was built at Knox and then trucked to the theatre in Chicago.

Nominations for the Jeff Awards will be announced by the end of April, with the awards ceremony in May.

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Printed on Saturday, May 25, 2019