When Chicago playwright Laura Jacqmin got word that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble would produce the world premiere of her drama Look, we are breathing, there was only one person she wanted to helm the productionlesbian director Megan Shuchman.
"I just love working with [Shuchman]," Jacqmin said. "I think she's one of the smartest directors in Chicago."
Shuchman previously directed Jacqmin's plays Dead Pile, Pluto Was a Planet and Dental Society Midwinter Meetingthe latter to such acclaim that it was given a quick revival by Berwyn's 16th Street Theater in 2011 just a year after its world premiere at Chicago Dramatists. Shuchman had also directed two previous readings of Look, we are breathing in 2009 for Chicago Dramatists and in 2010 for Theatre Seven, so it was only natural for Jacqmin to return to her frequent collaborator.
"We've really become deep collaborators over the past seven years, and I'm always hopeful that I can direct Laura's work," Shuchman said. "I think that it's really unique to find an artist that you mesh so well with and you really kind of speak a similar language and it makes the whole process feel really collaborative and that you have a teammate."
With 11 years in arts education working primarily with teenagers and her current day job as an associate education director for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Shuchman hopes that her experiences prove particularly helpful to Jacqmin's Look, we are breathing, since it focuses on how three women react to the death of Mike ( Brendan Meyer ), a teenager killed in a drunken-driving accident.
"There's a 17-year-old boy who is in the play, but you learn from the very beginning that he has died and it's flashbacks and a series of memories that have to do with the women in his life dealing with his death and kind of grappling with what it means because he's not particularly a nice kid," said Shuchman, noting that there are scenes with his mother Alice ( Rivendell Theatre founder and artistic director Tara Mallen ), his English teacher Leticia ( Lily Mojekwu ), and his "girlfriend" Caylee ( Brenann Stacker ), that all show Mike in a very unflattering light.
"This play is sort of looking at the very private nature of grief, and sort of what you go through when the person really was a mixed bag," Jacqmin said. "How do you mourn someone who maybe you didn't like all that much?"
"How do you still memorialize this person and think about them?" Shuchman said. "It's really more about the potential that he had rather than the person that he was."
Shuchman feels her working relationship with Jacqmin is unique since they spend so much time in rehearsals together. It's very different from some directors who prefer to banish the playwright practically from the entire rehearsal process.
"I'm just so used to working that way with her that it feels comforting rather than, 'Oh my gosh, what is the playwright going to come in and say?'" Shuchman said. "Laura did a ton of rewriting on this play, almost every day that she was in she would be tweaking something. And even going into the process, we knew that there would be things that we still wanted to work on in the script, so it was really important that she be there frequently to make those changes."
With Look, we are breathing, both Jacqmin and Shuchman are happy to be working for the first time with Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in large part for what the company represents. Now in its 20th season, Rivendell is the only Equity theater company in Chicago dedicated to producing original plays created by and about women.
"I'm a longtime fan," Shuchman said. "It's a theater that promotes women who are often underrepresented still in the theater. That could be with a feminist agenda, or one could just look at it as we need spaces that make sure they dedicate work to womenplaywrights, actors, directors, designers and it's been a very purposeful part of the conversation with the company from the beginning when I said who I wanted to work with as designers, they said let's make sure we have women represented."
As for Jacqmin, she's glad to be collaborating with Shuchman again and specifically at Rivendell.
"To make the commitment and say, 'I want to work with playwrights and world premieres, I want to do stuff that hasn't been done before'I just think that's tremendous and that's one of the reasons that Megan and I continue to work with each other," Jacqmin said. "It's just been a dream from beginning to end of being able to do the play in the right city, with the right people and the right company."
The world premiere of Look, we are breathing continues through Saturday, May 16, at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Ave. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and at 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets are $32-$35 and $22-$25 for students and seniors; call 773-334-7728 or visit www.rivendelltheatre.org .