Photo by Alex Hand
**This article first appeared on TimeOutChicago.com on July 9, 2013
Jackalope Theatre Company’s latest production took a while to gestate. It was after nearly two years of back-and-forth on a shared document, a summer of workshops and a full rewrite that co-authors Andrew Swanson and Chance Bone were able to create what Swanson describes in a joint phone interview as “a text message play.” The two are now able to complete each other’s sentences on and off the page. The pair’s work pays off this week as The Casuals, an original drama about a troubled 1955 family, makes its debut at the DCASE Storefront Theater.
Actor-playwright Swanson, the director of development at the five-year-old Jackalope, teamed up with actor-musician Bone to craft the production, which encompasses themes like secrecy, paranoia, government transparency and family relations. They were particularly struck by the 1950s, Bone says, because of the unusual amount of trust the public had in the government following the Second World War.
“The ’50s are [viewed as] idyllic in [the] modern day,” says Swanson. “We see them as Technicolor and sterile. But there were plenty of problems. And that happened interpersonally too, with secrets in families.”
Perfecting the period-appropriate family dynamic presented its own challenges, says Swanson, as they were not writing “archetypal ’50s characters” but rather finding a medium between caricatures and modern-day personas. The pair did a lot of preliminary work to create authentic characters with real voices, adds Bone.
“None of us actually lived in the ’50s, so there’s a reaction to base that time on films and advertisements,” he says. “But there are different pieces that come into play. If you try not to think of it as a piece about the ’50s, but think of it as about individuals, it’ll be easier going.”
The production fits along the lines of Jackalope’s mission, which is to “cultivate theatre that manifests the adventure deeply rooted in the American mythos.” The small, Edgewater-based theater company is able to fulfill that mission with the help of the Chicago Cultural Center and a supportive community of artists, says the writing team. A recent Indiegogo campaign raised $7,265 for the show, much of which went toward paying the artists’ wages, Swanson says. Adequately paying actors is important to the company, he notes, because their work is worth “more than a cast photo.”
The demonstrable support had a positive effect on the entire production team, Bone adds. “We were there every day building the set—I think I got a total of ten hours of sleep last week,” he says days before The Casuals‘ opening night. “The financial support just makes you want to work harder, to give them back a little of what they’ve given us.”
The two say they have plans to collaborate again in the future, referencing their complementary personalities and shared interest in history as reasons to stick together beyond The Casuals. Swanson says he “couldn’t have created someone in a lab” who’d make a better writing partner than Bone.