Friday, June 4, 2010

Rolling Stones Stories, part 3.

Hello, dear readers. Here's a great one from the early days. Enjoy!

Rock on,

Aaron Snook


My wife Judy tells the story of seeing the Stones in early 1964 (we grew up in the UK).

They were playing at the Birkenhead Ballroom across from Liverpool. It was a SRO event, no seats. She and her niece charged the stage and were one of these "hug the band" types. Our niece ended up with a handful of Brian Jones' hair, which she mixed with her own (she's blonde) and sold at school the next day!!
We saw the Stones several times in the sixties. When they were at United Center a couple of years ago we went to revisit them. Mick Jagger was still doing the same dance steps from the sixties!!

Enjoyed Aftermath enormously. Great show!

Glyn & Judy; Oak Park

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rolling Stone Stories, part 2

Hello again.

This one just came through the pipeline. We'll call this one a younger generation's take on the Stones. Keep em coming!

Rock on,

Aaron Snook


I saw the Rolling Stones on October 11, 2006 at Soldier Field. It was 30 degrees and windy. Really that should be all I have to say about this particular concert.

But they were great! I've seen them three times now and although I think the Stones are amazing and I will forgive them anything (the lame new songs, the funny hats, the turquoise for chissakes) the concerts are pretty much a light show with a skinny guy running around a lot singing some songs that you know. In fact, my boyfriend put it best when he said it's like seeing a Rolling Stones cover band except that it's actually the Rolling Stones. So, okay, fair enough. They're old, they're bajillionaires, and they frankly don't need to do anything but phone it in every night because even if they suck they're still the fuckin' Stones man. Yeah!

Except on this cold windy night snuggled up on the lake shore in the not in any way cozy confines of Soldier Field, they sorta didn't phone it in. And I think, looking back on it, it might have been my favorite concert. There are the obvious incongruities that made it neat: the muted sound of thousands of gloved hands clapping, the realization that this may be the only time you'll drink hot chocolate at a rock concert, and the wonderful crazy ridiculousness that made us all spend upwards of a hundred dollars to sit in a bad seat and watch senior citizens on a giant TV. So there's all that. Which was weird and fun and totally worth it as a notch on the belt of fandom if nothing else. But the coolest thing was that I got to watch my favorite band shivering onstage right along with us. All the between song banter was about how friggin' cold it was and how they appreciated us coming out. And I sorta believed it. I watched Keith blowing on his hands so that he could rip out his solo in Sympathy for the Devil and I suddenly felt actually connected to them as people for the first time. Not just as these icons that I've always heard playing in the background of my life, and not as these classic rock signposts of my late adolescence. (Sidebar: I have very distinct memories of when I finally realized what a lot of their songs are about. It's like when you're ten years old singing along to Like a Virgin and then one day you realize what you've actually been singing. With me, I had that with Brown Sugar. And I totally remember the first time I realized that one of the lines in Start Me Up is "You make a dead man come." Nice.) On this night I saw them as humans and it made it mean so much more to me. They really seemed to be trying to do their best to put on a great show instead of just relying on the lights and the inflatable tongue. They did some longer versions of a couple of classics, they got a little country on some older songs, and they thanked us for being there after every tune. And there were moments of actual greatness: Mick wailing on his harmonica for an extended Midnight Rambler, Ronnie backing up Keith with some pretty beautiful acoustic guitar work on You Got the Silver (one of my favorite songs which I've never heard live), and the huge crowd pleaser Start Me Up, which, you know, say what you will about the Stones, but I don't think there's a song that sounds better in a huge stadium with thousands of people shouting along.

So yeah, they don't sound as good as they used to, and the show is far more about the show than it is about the music, and god knows that the weather is probably the least of Keith's problems, but they're still pretty great. Living legends and all that. And by the end of the night everybody was finally on their feet, momentarily forgetting about the cold and just basking in whatever immediate nostalgia happened upon them.

Given their ages, I may have seen them live for the last time. Of course I'll be sad if that's true, but I'll also feel pretty content. Yeah, I'm out two hundred bucks for the tickets, and I was sore the next day from shivering. But the whole thing was so ridiculous and wonderful and subdued and quirky that I would have paid more and stayed longer for them that night.

--Nick Lewis, New York

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rolling Stones Stories

Hello there, dear reader.

If you've been to our current show, Aftermath, you may have noticed a sign at the box office asking our audience for their favorite Rolling Stones stories. Simone Roos, our Guest Liaison, had the idea after listening to many priceless anecdotes from our ticket buyers while working box office. These ranged from a woman who actually had lunch with Mick and Brian back in the sixties to another who was fired from her job for mourning the loss of Brian with a black armband.

The following is the first installment of what we hope will be many, many more.

If you have your own, please feel free to contact me at: and note whether or not I can mention your name.

Rock on,

Aaron Snook


I used to be an Andy Frain supervisor and I was lucky enough to see The Stones three times! I worked the VooDoo Lounge tour, and since I was a supervisor I had all access at Soldier Field. Right before they took the stage I would sneak off by Bear's Alley. The Bears locker room was converted into The Stones' dressing room. Myself and about thirty other workers (Chicago Cops, Soldier Field Security) STOOD 5 FEET FROM MICK AND THE BOYS! No one took pictures, no one talked, no one breathed - it was one of the most awesome moments, I'm sure, of all of our lives. We were star struck!

--Janette, Chicago

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Five Questions with Simone Roos

"Five Questions" is a SignalEnsemBlog project that will post short interviews of our ensemble members and artistic associates. General or artist-specific questions are submitted by members or friends of the company, and will be posted every few weeks. In addition, if you the reader have anything you'd like to know about a member of Signal Ensemble, or about the company in general, please leave your query in the comments section and we'll make sure it gets answered in this space.

Simone Roos has been a Signal Ensemble member since 2008, and also serves as our Guest Liaison. She has appeared in Signal's productions of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (Amelia), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Sandy), Six Degrees of Separation (Elizabeth), Fool for Love (May) and Hamlet (Player Queen). She was named one of NewCity Chicago’s Top 5 Female Performances of 2007 for her performance in Fool for Love. Other Chicago credits include the currently running Dancing at Lughnasa at Seanacha√≠, The Melville Boys & Noises Off! with Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, Hamlet & A Midsummer Night’s Dream with First Folio Shakespeare Festival, and the Chicago premiere of Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Love with Circle Theatre. Also with Circle, Simone performed the role of Gilda in Design for Living, for which she was nominated for a Non-Equity Jeff Award. She also starred in the short film, My Lover’s Moods, which screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and which garnered her a Best Actress nomination from the Midwest Independent Film Festival. Simone holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Illinois Wesleyan University. She can be seen as Anita Pallenberg in Signal's upcoming production of Aftermath.

1.) Who is the person that has influenced you most as an artist?

Okay, I know that this is going to sound terribly cheesy (please forgive me!), but the most influential person to me as an artist has been (fellow ensemble member) Aaron (Snook). There are many people whom I admire and hope to emulate (actors, directors, former professors), but Aaron has had the most direct impact on my recent artistic life. I feel like I have grown the most as an artist during the past three years, which (non-coincidentally) is when I joined up with the Signal crew. During those three years, more than half of the shows I’ve acted in have been with Aaron. He has shown me what it’s like to feel completely trusting of and comfortable with a fellow actor, and that has allowed me to go places physically and emotionally that I may not have otherwise. Aside from being on stage together, we have been able to share so much in our theatrical journey—helping each other prep for auditions, reading plays together, sharing articles and information, seeing countless plays together and discussing them afterwards, etc. Additionally, I think it’s only natural to draw from your deepest relationships when creating a character, so all of the emotions I experience in my relationship with Aaron—love, joy, excitement, anticipation, frustration (naturally, you need the yin with the yang)—eventually make their way into my character work.

I must also give credit to my parents here for their role in development as an artist. Had they not instilled in me early on the loves of music, dance, theatre, nature, etc., I may not have developed the natural curiosity that leads one to become an actor in the first place. The support, encouragement, and love of culture that they conferred on me over the years have played a huge part in my artistic life. When my parents told me “you can do anything” they may not have had acting in mind, but they helped me develop a confidence and drive without which it would have been very difficult to pursue a life in theatre!

2.) How do you warm up for a show? What's your process, if any?

To be honest, I know that I need to make this more of a priority. It’s tough with the Signal shows because I’m often a bit preoccupied beforehand with box office logistics & set-up. By the time I am able to shift into “actor mode”, I usually have just enough time to get in costume/makeup, do fight call, and check my props before curtain. However, regardless of the circumstances, I do need to make warming up a part of my regular routine, because it really does make a difference in both mental and physical preparation. I have about a ten-minute physical/vocal warm up I developed in college that I like to do. Also, I often find it helpful to run lines with fellow actors (especially between Sunday and Thursday shows), either to smooth out trouble spots or just to re-familiarize our mouths & minds with the dialogue.

As I mentioned above, it can be a bit tough for me sometimes to separate “actor” from my other responsibilities/concerns, so I try to do something the day of a show to help me relax and re-focus my energies. That may include taking a bath, doing yoga, reviewing my lines out loud etc. But I think it’s important to take a step back, breathe, and clear my mind of any mental clutter that has nothing to do with the show.

3.) What is your greatest passion outside of theatre?
Outside of theatre, my greatest passion is travel. I have been lucky enough to both study and work abroad in London, and I have traveled to over a dozen countries in Europe and South America. This summer, Aaron and I are taking a three-month road trip through the western United States, and we couldn’t be more excited! Although it’s often hard to schedule big trips around theatre commitments (and life in general), travel is an integral part of my life. Not only do I find it fascinating to experience different sights and cultures and meet people from all over the world, but I have also learned a great deal about myself during my travels and developed a strong sense of independence and self-reliance through them.

4.) You come into rehearsal with a great deal of preparation. Tell us about what kind of homework you do before the first read-through.

Well, I am a firm believer in the idea that you can’t really begin “acting” until you have the memorization part out of the way, so I immerse myself in the script at much as possible before rehearsals begin. While doing a production of Macbeth right out of college, I recorded my lines for the first time, a practice that I have utilized with various roles since. As advertising studies have shown, people are much more likely to remember something after having seen it and heard it rather than just one or the other, and I have found that this can be applied to learning lines as well. By listening to my lines repeatedly and spending time with my script, I have been able to go into rehearsals mostly memorized.

In terms of specific character work, I save most of that until rehearsals begin. When I was studying in London, the approach to acting that I was taught was much more literary- based than I had been used to up to that point. My acting professor there had us focus on the text/language of the play (and more specifically that of our characters) with the idea that everything we needed to know was embedded in those words. Of course it’s important to establish a character’s history, objective, tactics, etc., but by really focusing on the text, I’ve found that the answers to those questions are revealed much more readily.

Of course, playing Anita Pallenberg will be a bit different, as this is the first time that I’ll be portraying a real person. I will definitely make a point to do some research on her (and her fascinating Italian/German/British accent) before rehearsals begin. Then again, I live with the show’s dramaturg, so maybe he can do some of that research for me!

5.) What play, or style of play/project do you think would challenge you the most? And what type of show would you like to see Signal take on, that we haven't touched yet?

I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to play such a variety of roles during my relatively brief career. I am thrilled that Signal is planning more comedies, as this is one genre I haven’t done much of and I absolutely love! There are several specific roles I’ve always wanted to play (Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hedda in Hedda Gabler), but I have found that the most rewarding roles for me are those that I wouldn’t necessarily be considered for at first glance, the ones that require a significant transformation from my usual self. Miss Amelia in Ballad was one such role, and it was definitely one of the most challenging and gratifying roles that I’ve played. I would also love to do more absurdism—I played Estelle in No Exit in college, and it remains one of my favorite roles to date.

In terms of Signal, I would like us to continue to produce a wide variety of plays, including more original works (which I know we have already made the commitment to do). I also think it would be great for us to take on some projects that are unlike anything we’ve ever done—perhaps a piece that is movement-based and somewhat abstract, something that would really challenge everyone involved in the artistic/production process and give us the opportunity to hone our skills in a new way. And I think it would be a lot of fun for us to do another musical at some point, selfishly speaking so that I might have the chance to sing on stage again (the last time I had that opportunity was in my high school production of Fiddler on the Roof)! Finally, I would love for Signal to produce more works by female playwrights, such as Caryl Churchill and Rebecca Gilman.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Five Questions with Vincent Lonergan

"Five Questions" is a SignalEnsemBlog project that will post short interviews of our ensemble members and artistic associates. General or artist-specific questions are submitted by members or friends of the company, and will be posted every couple of weeks. In addition, if you the reader have anything you'd like to know about a member of Signal Ensemble, or about the company in general, please leave your query in the comments section and we'll make sure it gets answered in this space.

Vincent Lonergan has been a Signal Ensemble member since 2003. He has appeared in Signal’s productions of Much Ado About Nothing, She Stoops to Conquer, Hamlet, Old Wicked Songs (Jeff Nomination, Best Actor), 1776 (Jeff Nomination, Best Supporting Actor – Musical), Six Degrees of Separation and The Ballad of the Sad Caf√©, where he also served as Assistant Director. He has appeared with Porchlight, Vitalist, Quest, Pegasus Players and Bailiwick. Vincent is also a well-respected vocal coach, with a Masters in Music from Indiana University.

1.) You went to school for music and singing. What drew you to acting?

This is an interesting question, as my whole life I have had a dual path between music and theater. When I attended Indiana University I was a music major, but I would also go to the theater auditions and did Mame and Guys and Dolls with the theater department. My third year there I got cast in Man of La Mancha, and at the music school I was cast in a Mozart opera called The Abduction from the Seraglio. Much to my surprise they were in the same time slot. The dean of the music school called me into his office and told me that I needed to do the opera as, after all, I was a music major and I had a music scholarship. So from then on I did opera and of course went on to do my Masters. So, as you see I always had a bit of the theatre bug from the very start. The real change came after I moved to Chicago. At one point I lived near Center Theatre and I went and saw a couple of productions and I was bitten by the bug so to speak. As much as I loved music and opera I knew I could explore much more in straight theatre. There is more room to play when you don't have to stay within the structure of the music. Also for those who have done opera you know the conductor has total control and he or she is at every performance. In theater the director leaves you alone to continue your work as the performances go on. In the end I think that I will always have a place in my heart for music but I enjoy the process of theater more. In performance of straight theater I love to see the gentle discoveries I find right up to the last show. I think in some ways I was lucky to do the music thing first because it taught me good habits in discipline. Here in Chicago I have taken a number of acting classes and like the freedom that has given me and in a way I am glad that I don't have a degree in theatre. So in the end it has been a great journey and this dual path continues to amaze me.

2.) In your role as a vocal coach, you must teach breathing exercises. How do you find breath work differs between singing and speaking on the stage?

As most of you know I have been teaching vocal work for over twenty years now. This question comes up a lot. I could go on for hours but I will try to give you the simple version. I think what is most important in not to talk about how breathing is different for singing and stage work but to work from an angle of how to make all vocal work come from a natural approach. Think of a baby who can gently coo one minute and wail the next. Do you honestly feel that he thinks there is a different way to breath for these two experiences? In my teaching I always tell students that all vocal work is based on balance and hearing. I tell them these are sense memories that were developed in the womb before we even started to breathe. No one stands over the infant child and teaches them breathing exercises. So the real problem is as adults we have developed bad habits which always result in muscular tension. A simple way to try to breathe more naturally is what I always go for in teaching. Always start with balance and hearing then gently receive an aroma through the nose. This of course helps us with sense memories of smell and taste. This is a very Italian thing, but I believe in it. The Italians can make an art form out of any experience. So as you see I start by finding the common, natural approach to vocal work. It is always clear to me that bad habits in speech and singing are usually the same, it’s just that in singing you extend the habits for a longer duration and in speaking the habits are for a shorter duration. I always tell a student that vocal work is about having resonance. We are in a sense the instrument and we need to function in a complete way. There is of course the fear that it takes more to sing than to speak. This is true but you start with the whole recipe before you increase it, just like in cooking. We as Americans should take this more to heart. Acting is all about listening and natural vocal work. It is the same with singing, only for longer durations.

3.) Who is the person who has most influenced you as an artist?

This one is fairly easy for me to answer. However, since we have been talking about by dual path, I have a person for singing and a person for acting. The person in singing is a man by the name of Giovanni Battista Lamperti. He was a singing master who lived in the late 1800's. He wrote a little book called Vocal Wisdom which was translated by William Earl Brown. This is my bible of vocal production. I learned more from this little book about singing than I did from all my college teachers. It helped me become the teacher I am today.

The person who most influenced my acting is Mary Ann Thebus. I have others that gave me things, but she changed me in a way that no one else had. Through working with her I realized acting was first about process and then product. She knew my bad habits and helped me become more natural in my work. Marry Ann is a rare person in that she is as gifted in teaching as she is in acting. She sets the bar for me in both areas.

4.) What is the most powerful theatrical experience you have had as a participant? As an observer?

The first part of this question is very easy for me to answer. I have been so blessed and have had many great theatrical experiences in which I have participated. The one that I am sure I will never forget was a production called Old Wicked Songs. This play was a chance for me to integrate so many parts of my life on stage that I could have done it forever. I cannot say that about any other production. It brought together for me my love of music, acting, and teaching in such a way that I felt completely alive and had no sense of time or space. Having Shawn (Pfautsch) as a partner in this production was a blessing. He brought magic to the stage every night. I must also thank Chris (Prentice) for his direction, and his vision allowed Shawn and I great freedom in performing this play. This theatrical experience will always hold a special place in my heart and soul.

As an observer I have had many great experiences as well. But the one that comes to the front of my mind is the Signal production of Waiting for Godot. I have seen other productions of this work and always found it interesting but what stood out for me in this production was that suddenly it was human and oh so visceral. I found myself laughing one moment and crying the next. Ronan (Marra)'s direction was physical and from the gut, and Aaron (Snook), Chris, Joe (Stearns) and all the others lived this direction throughout the production. It was a production that was simple and glorious all at once. I left the theater that night and knew why I loved theater so much.

5.) You are certainly most experienced member of Signal. What drew you to the company (i.e., how do you put up with these kids all the time)?

Again this one is easy to answer. First and foremost I am drawn to this theater company because this group of people have a passion for what they do. This group can bring passion to any experience whether it’s a production, a party, a play reading or a BBQ. Yes, I am the oldest and sometimes feel it but it is the Signal Ensemble that keeps me young at heart. This is actually the third time I have joined a company and for me the third time is the charm. I feel I have found my home. As a company we may be young but there is a soul to this ensemble that is old and wise. You know it’s not an accident that my most influential moments as a participant and as an observer in theater have come with Signal Ensemble. The other reason I am so drawn is because this company is, in truth, not just an ensemble in name. Signal gets what this word means. That is a great plus. So from my point of view I feel blessed that this younger group of talented people puts up with me and my crap. Signal Ensemble has been there for me in the most glorious moments of my life and in the most tragic. What is so clear to me is that I feel loved at all times. Viva La Signal.