The Road to a World Premiere

by Rachel Ramirez

The Polarity team eagerly awaits the opening of the world premiere of Miracles in the Fall (Saturday, 9/6/14). For playwright Chuck O’Connor, Miracles in the Fall has been a labor of love for the past four years.

The play began as a writing project in a class with Chicago Dramatists, and has grown, with the influence of a variety of theater artists, to become the World Premiere ready to launch September 6.

The work with Polarity over the last 15 months, between the play’s acceptance in the 2013 Dionysos Cup and into the pre-production and rehearsal process has helped clarify the story’s context and deepen its themes.

Much of this work has come from a mutual respect with Richard Engling, Artistic Director, Polarity Ensemble, who, as a fellow writer, has helped encourage and challenge Chuck’s writing, so the work could meet its potential. The shaping of the script has continued with the influence of Director, Richard Shavzin. “It’s been an exciting process,” Engling said. “Chuck has written entirely new scenes. We’ve seen almost daily line changes in rehearsals. A really good script becomes so much better.”

Miracles Dream Team: Stage Manager Jamie Crothers, Playwright Chuck O'Connor, Director Richard Shavzin

Miracles Dream Team: Stage Manager Jamie Crothers, Playwright Chuck O’Connor, Director Richard Shavzin

Collaboration with a dedicated and visionary director is essential for a world premiere. When asked about his collaboration with Director Richard Shavzin, O’Connor had many wonderful things to say: “[Richard] has been a selfless leader in the theatrical unions and has lobbied Congress in support of the arts. He is a mensch who seems to put his community above himself. He is a talented director but his personal character is probably more beneficial to me than his technical expertise. Knowing him has inspired me to be a more generous collaborator and I hope to follow his lead in becoming a servant-leader to our theater profession.”

Shavzin and O’Connor share a similar history as actors and have worked very hard to ensure that the talented cast of Laura Bern Taylor, Riann Jarrel, Mickey O’Sullivan and Fred Wellisch have a sound basis for making creative choices. “As the play moved into the Greenhouse for the final rehearsals, it has been a revelation,” Engling said. “We saw the actors thundering the climatic scene. Electric. And you think: ‘Yes, bring on the audience!'”

Fred A. Wellisch and Mickey O'Sullivan

Fred A. Wellisch and Mickey O’Sullivan

O’Connor began to fully focus on Miracles in Will Dunne’s class at Chicago Dramatists from 2010-2012, though the idea for the story had occurred to him several years prior. He then joined the Chicago Dramatists Network, taking advantage of their Script Lab program and worked closely with Resident Playwright Margaret Lewis, who offered an in-depth, dramaturgical analysis of the script. Both Dunne and Lewis were instrumental in helping O’Connor find his voice as a writer. Says O’Connor, “The process of writing Miracles in the Fall gave me permission to call myself a writer. I had written many plays, poems and stories that had been produced or published over my life, but always felt like someone playing at writing, not writing. The intensive work of writing Miracles, taking constructive criticism, and applying the technical wisdom I was receiving, gave me a personal craft. My work on Miracles made me a writer.”

After much work on the script, O’Connor began submitting the play. It was well received and was offered Actor’s Equity staged readings with The Performance Network Theater in Ann Arbor and The Williamston Theater in Metro Lansing.

A turning point for O’Connor and the script occurred when Miracles in the Fall was then submitted to Polarity Ensemble Theatre, where it was accepted into the 2013 Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays, and was awarded that year’s prize.

This began the process that O’Connor and the play have enjoyed over the balance of the last year-plus.

Benjamin L. White

Lighting designer Benjamin L. White at technical rehearsal

Polarity has been an ideal environment to expand his writing because at the company’s heart is the spirit of collaboration. Collaboration is key for O’Connor.

This spirit is most powerfully evident in O’Connor’s personal life where his greatest inspiration comes from his family—particularly his wife. “She also happens to be my best friend and is a talented artist. She has a depth of knowledge in philosophy, history and theology. We often wrestle with what it means to be a good person. This question has become even more important since we have started growing our family. I’ve found that becoming a father has afforded me a second childhood where I guide both my kids towards self-knowledge, and by doing that I get to know myself better.”

Miracles in the Fall has been dependent on the insights and generosity of many smart and insightful people. There is one more addition to this process of collaboration to be added – the audience, which will bring even more life to the story O’Connor, with the support of a multitude of friends, has envisioned.

Miracles in the Fall runs at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago 60614 from September 3 through October 5, 2014. To learn more about the show, visit our Miracles in the Fall page.

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