Adventure Stage Chicago is fighting for good again, in this 15th season of its existence, by working to eradicate hunger specifically, and to disrupt generational poverty. Everyone loves a theater with a mission, but the mission of lessening poverty, and particularly hunger, is of immense importance in a region where an estimated 12% of the population is living under the poverty line (according to a Chicago Tribune article in 2017).
Enter The Adventures of Robin Hood (adapted by BBC writer and playwright Oliver Emanuel) as the season premier for ASC, directed by Adrian Danzig, and you have a good case of art mimicking real life once again. Hopefully, the swashbuckling tale will help us feel things and think things through more carefully this time, especially by capturing the ears and hearts of the theater’s primary audience, children and young adults. Danzig’s aim is wide, thanks to his background working as a clown, co-founding 500 Clown and teaching physical theater over the years. “I’m interested in what they call a circus audience, which is actually age 6 to 96, and creating an event that actually holds meaning for all of those different age groups and different people based on what their experience is.”
Every adult knows this medieval story, which is at its heart a questioning of the class system. Corruption, high taxes, danger, anarchy and archery are all important features then as now in any good tale, but in this version, three principal players (Felipe Carrasco, Carlyle DePriest and Gabriel Fries) will be performing the roles of over 20 characters, putting their physical theater skills to the test, and reaching a new audience who may not have heard of Robin Hood’s derring-do and may not care much about taxes. But Danzig knows the messages of justice and fair play are both timeless and timely. “The idea of the haves and the have-nots is very, very culturally relevant right now, ” Danzig admits. So one way to engage audiences is by asking questions with art, which Danzig says is empowering, “What are the actions we can take in the current political climate? What are the things we can do if we can’t vote?”
On Robin Hood himself, Danzig has a deep understanding of the hero and his flaws, flaws he thinks are important to recognize. “In order for a hero to rise, in fact, there needs to be a problem. Robin Hood is just a dude who is hungry. He has never been very good at sharing. He just happens to have a couple of skills. He is really sneaky. He’s great with his bow, but he’s got some things that people could call problems—like he says stuff when he should be quiet, and he thinks he can outdo anyone. But things affect him and he becomes somebody who represents something.”
When I asked Danzig how his clown background informs his directing, he goes right to the heart of the matter. “The most important thing is that my actor’s relationship to the audience is a clown relationship to the audience. We are in love with the audience. We need them. We want to be onstage because they’re there. There’s nothing to do if they’re not there. They are as smart as we are, as caring as we are, as intelligent as we are. They’re our mirror. So we play at the top of our intelligence, but we play to them.”
One way you can help disrupt hunger is by attending the show and talking to your students and/or family about the topic. Danzig agrees, saying, “As I get older, I get more interested in what I call the third act, which is–how long does the show stay relevant in your mind, in a conversation or with your friends after the show? People need to feel empowered.”
Another way you can help disrupt hunger directly is by bringing along canned goods for the Settlement’s Food Pantry which ASC will be collecting during the run of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Audience members who bring in a can will receive a voucher for $1 off tickers to a future production at the theater.
The Adventures of Robin Hood by Adventure Stage Chicago is at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St., until November 24. Performances are at 4pm on Saturdays with two shows on Friday, November 23. Tickets range from $12 to $17.