How much is that playwright in the window? On view now: the Storefront Playwright Project | Bleader

Friday, December 14, 2012

How much is that playwright in the window? On view now: the Storefront Playwright Project

Posted By on 12.14.12 at 03:05 PM

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Emilio Williams
  • Emilio Williams
Tired of sitting around watching paint dry?

Then get yourself over to 72 E. Randolph, where, thanks to the League of Chicago Theatres and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, you can watch a real, live writer at work.

The Storefront Playwright Project is putting 27 authors on exhibit this month in the big front window at Hot Tix/Expo 72.

Never mind that writing is right up there with sleeping as a potential spectator sport, so stimulating that the writer him- or herself often has to bring the action to a complete stop in order to check e-mail, clean a closet, or book a flight and get the hell out of there.

The idea for this project was cribbed from New York, where something called "Write Out Front: A Playwright Happening" was staged last summer, apparently with great success. And if they can do it, well, you know. As League executive director Deb Clapp (I am not making that name up) noted in an announcement about the program, "Chicago is the home to more world premieres than any other city."

Guessing that dramatists would be more dynamic at work than, say, novelists (readily observed in deep rumination at most any coffee shop), I stopped by last week, when Emilio Williams was on display.

The playwrights each take a four-hour shift. Williams was a couple hours into his afternoon stint, gamely focused on his laptop, which was perched on a small white table and hooked into a large screen mounted in the window. The big screen faces outward, allowing passersby a look at the creative product the instant it emerges from the writer's brain.

Brain to fingertips to screen, in real time: What pressure! And what excitement!

Oddly, the passing throng didn't seem to notice. Hundreds of them rushed by as I stood alone in front of the window, reminded briefly that it's been a long time since I visited the Shedd.

Behind the glass, Williams pursed his lips and crossed his ankles.

He pulled at his beard.

He blinked.

He leaned his chin on his hand and scrolled through several pages of dialogue that went something like this:

Mar: Done?

Ted: Yep.

Mar: You don't sound very enthusiastic.

Williams paused.

He blinked.

He scrolled again.

And then, it happened!

On the big screen, before my very eyes, the cursor hesitated. It stopped. And it backed up, deleting as it went, wiping out "tucitcennoC" and replacing it with "Lake Geneva."

It turned out that Williams, who says he writes in coffee shops all the time and is perfectly comfortable in the aquarium, wasn't actually writing.

He was editing, which everybody knows is a noble but even less sexy activity.

Williams was tweaking his "unromantic comedy," Tables and Beds, for a production in March at Stage 773. It'll be mounted by the brand-new theater company he launched this week, the Chicago Theater Sweatshop. Another Williams play, Your Problem With Men, is scheduled to open the same month at Teatro Luna, the first play by a male author that company has done.

A U.S. citizen born and reared in Spain, Williams moved to Chicago last year, drawn by the great theater scene, the affordable environment, and the "terrific critics who actually go to the fringe companies." He says the Chicago Theater Sweatshop will specialize in new comedies, bicultural work, and, especially, actors with accents, who Williams says often have trouble getting cast.

The Storefront Playwright Project continues Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 AM to 6 PM, through December 22. Sarah Gubbins and Greg Allen are among the playwrights who'll be there next week. Williams will be back for the afternoon stint December 20. Here's the schedule.

If you can get there, my suggestion is this: walk right in and strike up a conversation. Chances are the writer will be thrilled with the interruption. As for attracting more of the passing throng, the League should take it to the next level and hook the playwrights up to one of those nifty brain-scan machines, with all the pretty colors.

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