Dawn Gray represents many of the city’s most recognizable acting talents, responsible in part for getting Chicago actors into roles in movies such as The Dark Knight, television series like Prison Break and numerous high-profile stage productions at home and abroad. Known for her hands-on, personal approach to representation, we asked Dawn about her career, her take on the local industry, and the common pitfalls of actors looking to move into on-camera work.
Artists in Conversation:
In your book, you write that "A proposal is a creative act like any other." Can you expand upon this comment?
Proposal writing takes time away from all the other things you should be doing like making art, marketing, and grocery shopping. For this reason, I encourage my students to ensure they will benefit from the process of writing a proposal or grant application, even if they don’t win.
In many ways, the world of script development is like Gold Rush-era California: thousands of prospectors looking for the best way to identify rich veins and extract theatrical pay dirt. Artists, theatres, arts organizations, and foundations have spent decades and millions of dollars to develop programs that will in turn develop new scripts for the stage, focusing variously on individual playwrights, specific scripts, particular topics, fostering creative teams, and so on.
Sometimes you come up with a great idea, and sometimes a great idea happens to you. This is a story about the latter. In 2004, I was director of the Guild Complex, and we’d received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to produce a festival of poetry theater. Festival was ambitious.
In 2009, Kris Vire became only the second Theater Editor of Time Out Chicago when inaugural editor Christopher Piatt decided to step down. Since its debut in 2005, TOC has become a major source of reviews and news for Chicago's theatre community, quickly earning a reputation on par with much more established publications for its breadth of coverage.
How can an artist combine his or her art practice with giving back to the community and, at the same time, make a living? It’s a question many artists face, and it's one answered by few organizations.
For many aspiring theatre directors, Kimberly Senior's career is a model for success: an East Coast transplant, she moved to Chicago in the mid-’90s with no friends or family nearby and no information about the city other than what she had learned about “this Steppenwolf place” from Broadway press clippings. Fifteen years later, she has become one of the most prolific directors in Chicago.
For many theatre artists, the role of a critic is perpetually bipolar: They’re either the ever-dissatisfied foil or the angel from on high, in either case wielding the power to make or break a show or company in 250 words or less.
Keith Parham's career has all the hallmarks of the classic Chicago theatre success story: an East Lansing, Michigan, native, he moved to Chicago to attend DePaul's Theatre School, cut his teeth in the city's storefront and regional theatres, rode the wave of a prominent hit (Next Theatre's 2007 musical adaptation of The Adding Machine) to a run in New York and a raft of awards, and is now enjoying the sometimes frenetic life of artist-in-demand. What makes Keith's story unusual is his role: lighting designer.
Artist-in-Residence (AIR) programs provide unique opportunities for artists to expand their creative practice and broaden their professional networks in ways unimagined while sitting in a studio. And that’s the point: to shake up perspectives and disrupt work habits in pursuit of new inspirations and influences.
When I started my first two businesses in the arts, I had no idea what I getting myself into. When I created the TV show "Fear No ART Chicago" and, inadvertently, a production company, I couldn’t have been further from understanding what was involved.
In the 19th Century, the dominant form of theatrical production was the actor-manager system: A seasoned actor would form a company, play the leading roles, and take on the financial and organizational responsibilities as the troupe toured the country. The 20th century favored a model where business and art were handled by separate staff. Recently, though, the artist-manager system has experienced a resurgence via the rise of artist-driven “independent” or “storefront” theatre.
I am a classical musician: a clarinetist. I’m also a writer, an actress, a visual designer, and an almost 30-year serial arts entrepreneur. If you Google my name or go to any of my websites, it might appear to you that I am more of a business owner than an artist.
Molly Brennan is a singular performer—both in her animate, physical presence onstage and in the unique swath of Chicago theater experiences she has amassed. Though many know her name from her much-talked-about (and to some “controversial”) turn as Harpo in the Goodman’s staging of Animal Crackers,
The first inklings of the Chicago Fringe Festival (CFF) started in the fall of 2008. I had just returned from the Minnesota and NYC Fringes with Tantalus Theatre Group. By November, I was incredibly enthused about starting one in Chicago.
It’s my five-year anniversary of self-employment as a documentary filmmaker and digital media artist—a time period during which I’ve worked the hardest I ever have in my professional life—and yet I don’t feel that I’ve worked a day. I excitedly stay in on weekend nights to tinker with a project.
Why do we artists
struggle to categorize our work and, by extension, ourselves? Am I an actress
or a theatre artist? For years, I have shamelessly called myself a “theatre
artist.” Perhaps I grew tired of saying “actor” and having to dodge the
question, “You mean ‘actress,’ right?” But what did I really mean?
About two years ago, I began to grow restless as a Chicago actor. My career resembled that of many others in the city. I was working regularly at the smaller houses and, on occasion, was invited to play by the bigger Equity companies. I had an agent, but was only booking about one or two well paying gigs per year. In other words, I was doing better than some,
but worse than many.