Theater in this community will soon have an exciting new company jumping into the mix. I just chatted at Eastgate Cafe with a talented young director and educator. His plans are thrilling.
"I've had experience with theater since my teens, almost 20 years ago," said Brian Fruits, clearly brimming over with enthusiasm. "I love this community and I'm so excited to be back here where my roots are. It's going to be wonderful doing shows here. I can't wait!"
Though he's only 35 years old, Brian Fruits' bio is full of extensive accomplishments. He is, for instance, an alumnus of Hephzibah Children's Association, having survived a very challenging childhood in the 1980s.
"I came from nothing. I don't even have any photos of myself as a child. But the fine folks at Hephzibah launched me and gave me such a solid start. They were truly wonderful. I will always be indebted to them for their unfailing kindness and their focus," says Fruits. "I went to Concordia University too. So I am really invested here. I'm totally committed to the theater and to this area. My fiance and I moved back from Memphis and are living in Oak Park now. We're totally plugged into the community. It's already home sweet home."
Brian Fruits' troupe, the Saltbox Theatre Collective, is producing their first show at the Madison Street Theater, 1010 Madison, in September.
"Our focus or theme this first year will be Identity. Our initial production will be The Bacchae, a Greek tragedy by Euripedes," Fruits explains. "This show will run for four weekends. The opening weekend will be a celebration for those who have helped us and believed in us."
The Bacchae focuses on what the Greeks thought were the two aspects of human nature: the civilized, rational side and the sensual, instinctive, beast-like side. The conflict is between Dionysus, the amoral god of wine, a virtual party animal, and a humorless, puritanical young king of Thebes who denounces the lusty religious fever sweeping his kingdom and denies the god's divinity. Dionysus is integrated into the plot as a character — he's not some remote presence. As you might imagine, Dionysus is angered by the blasphemy and there is a showdown.
The tragedy was written hear the end of Euripedes' life about 406 B.C. It's an undisputed classic, yet few of us have had the opportunity to experience the great work in performance.
"I think audiences will find this play quite thrilling," Fruits says. "We're having a full Greek chorus and we're creating Greek costumes and ceremonial masks. In addition to being an emotional powerhouse, this production will be a knock-out visually. We're incorporating all the arts. And the cast will reflect the diversity of this community as well."
Fruits, who has a bachelor's degree in education and a master's in fine arts in theater, has been teaching and directing for quite a while. He is also an instructor in the theater department at Concordia University Chicago, his alma mater. But he is especially full of excitement to be launching his first production here in two months with Saltbox.
"I grabbed 12 friends and we did a 'think tank' on our possibilities and potential," he explains. "Our brainstorming got a lot of good results. We're going to be a 'collective,' which means we'll collect artists and talent — everyone from service-types to performers.
"Even though we're a not-for-profit, we need to pay our rent and royalties. Our board members are seeking seed money through the Kickstarter program. We are looking for $3,871, but we are already almost at 70% of that goal."
"I tend to pick shows about family and home," Fruits adds. "Perhaps this stems from my background. The Bacchae is a potentially disturbing work but it reinforces our theme of identity. Artistic vision is so critical. The play is over 2,000 years old, but it still has much to say to us. It even has echoes of the recent Ferguson [Missouri] crisis. We are intent on doing dicey, cutting-edge work.
"The Saltbox Theatre Collective is very happy to be planted in this community," he said. "We're a cooperative created by individuals acting as a group to create some amazing theatrical experiences for our audiences."
Answer Book 2018
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