Theater, Critics and Perfomers: A Kill Your Darlings/3CR Night of Live Lit and Improv

The Darlings rehearse. Lou Leonardo, Nancy Fast, Allison Ungar and Dan Oliver.
The Darlings rehearse. Lou Leonardo, Nancy Fast, Paula Skaggs and Dan Oliver. Photos courtesy CSz Theater.

Last night was the fourth night of seven Kill Your Darlings events this season. We celebrated by recounting theater stories, lamenting the current critical environment and telling personal stories about our lives as performers.

The night at ComedySportz Theater also featured literary libations (such as the Bukowski Boilermaker and the Gin Fitzey, named for Charles Bukowski and F. Scott Fitzgerald), free pizza (thank you, Giordano’s) and lots of improv around the theater stories.

I was the host and organizer of the evening and I started things off by telling a story about a play that roused lots of criticism–and criticism of the same criticism. It was Steppenwolf’s This Is Modern Art (based on true events), staged last year for the theater’s young adults series. The play generated several rounds of critiques of the play and its critics. My story was accompanied by readings from various reviews by The Darlings, our inhouse improv team.

Our guest reader was up next with a story titled “Did We See the Same Play?” Kerry Reid is a freelance theater critic who has written about theater for the Chicago Tribune for 14 years. She built on my story by lamenting the lack of diversity in the theater critic community and in theater itself. She also told of her own experience receiving two diametrically opposed views for a play she wrote. We need defiance, passion, messiness, anger and vitality in theater criticism, she said.

Kerry also noted,

“No one ever sees the same show. Oh sure, we may all be sitting in the same theater at the same time watching the same thing. But what you will see is going to be filtered through a complex array of lenses, including but not limited to your age, race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, family background, educational background and plain old indefinable personal taste.

With – yes – a soupcon of “how am I feeling today and can I avoid letting it get in the way of what I’m reviewing?”

Kyle Biemiller rehearses.

Aaron Sanchez related his own stories of seeing prize-winning plays that he experienced as dreadful and Kyle Biemiller described his first acting training and experiences and how he learned to deal with stage fright. He closed by saying, “Thank you and excuse me while I go backstage to vomit.” Kyle and Aaron are both Chicago writers and performers.

Karin McKie, director of the KYD series, told a story that linked steps in her own theater career to the life of a serial killer. Yes, really, it worked. Emily Drevets, a writer and performer, told a very meta story in which her inner critic reviewed one day in the life of Emily Drevets. It was titled “Emily Drevets Reviews ‘Emily Drevets’ Monday.’” She closed by saying, “This episode of Emily Drevets’ Life lacked motivation, plot, strong characters, resolution, or any higher meaning or import.”

Emily Drevets and her Inner Critic.
Emily Drevets rehearses with her Inner Critic.

Kim Campbell, Third Coast Review stages and food writer, told a story her children still ask her to repeat—about her experience seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the 1980s and trying to start up a recalcitrant 1973 Beetle with the help of Flea, the bass player.

Ada Cheng, a recovering academic and sociology professor, showed her storytelling chops in “Slut Shaming.” Ada left teaching to become a storyteller, improviser and standup comedian.

Stages night concluded with The Darlings performing an improv riffing off Ada’s story. The Darlings are Dan Oliver, Nancy Fast, Lou Leonardo, Paula Skaggs and Allison Ungar.

Kill Your Darlings runs for three more Wednesdays through September 14. See details here.


Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.