Thursday, February 5, 2015

You Don't Jack? Well, I do kind of...

See that photo above? The one with Jose Lopez smiling and laughing with Melody Jefferies...? They are so cute together even though the man he played wasn't so cute by the end of the play.  The play was performed at the first ever Elgin Fringe Festival in 2014 and was called Thinking of Her Made Him Think of Her by Jack Helbig.

I wanted to direct that play for years. I submitted it to other festivals, tried to produce it through Janus, looked to find the right opportunity, but for some reason it never happened. When the Elgin Fringe came along it looked like providence was with us, so we auditioned, cast, and constructed the play. 

That good fortune is taking us to a trip to New York later this month, but before I get into those details, you will see - take a look to the right of the webpage - that we are presenting a show called You Don't Jack: The Helbig Plays. These are series of short plays by Jack Helbig along with a performance of Thinking of Her to help raise funds for our travel expenses to NYC. 

But first, a little about Mr. Jack Helbig. He was the first critic that really took an interest in The Janus Theatre about 17 years ago. He came out and saw us present Feydeau's Folly at the long ago defunct Vail Street Cafe. He was in the front row with his wife and saw all the action unfold in our little tiny space. I still remember longtime company member Joseph Schuman baring his chest right into Jack's face during one of the scenes. There was no place to go, so Joe took it to him, and from that point on our relationship with Jack was sealed.

Jack covered us for the next decade by writing reviews and feature articles. Back then I was a mail man and he always seemed to like that storyline: delivering messages by day and night. 

And the great thing about Jack was that he always seemed to understand what we were doing and why. He enjoyed our scrappy existence, dubbing us the "gypsy" troupe and he seemed to savor my bravado whenever we talked on the phone during interviews. I appreciated his approach because some publications seemed to think we were "cute" in what we were doing, but Jack knew we were following a long tradition of storefront, cafe style theater.

And after so many years performing in bigger and bigger spaces, I find myself still thrilled to go back to cafes and put on some plays. And it gives me great pleasure to produce Jack's plays next weekend at Blue Box Cafe. They are all wonderfully odd in their own way and the one we're taking to NYC has become a constant companion with me for years.

I think it's fitting that after all these years, Jack and Janus are still collaborating on something interesting. It's a long way from our uber serious days getting the theater going with my co-partners, trying to prove how relevant we were, and getting critics (Jack included) to come out and review our work. Jack hasn't reviewed us in years and that makes sense because of our producing partnership. And what's exciting now is we get to perform his plays not only for the audience, actors, and Janus, but also for Jack, so he can see what works and what doesn't. 

It should be exciting moving forward, so stay tuned as Janus Theater begins its 17th year...



Summer Auditions for Original Play by Chicago Critic/Playwright Jack Helbig

Janus Theater Company will hold auditions for an original comedy by Chicago critic/playwright Jack Helbig. The play will be presented as part of the Elgin Fringe Festival, running September 11-14.

Auditions are scheduled for Sunday, May June 15 at 1:00pm at the Side Street Studio Arts, 15 Ziegler Court in downtown Elgin. The audition will consist of readings from the script. Seeking men and women between the ages of 20-40. All parts are available. There is some pay.


Appointments are by email only. Email to request an audition time at janus.auditions@gmail.com. A headshot and resume is welcome but not required.

Jack Helbig is a journalist and playwright living in Chicago. His musical adaptation, Hotel d'Amour, written with Gregg Opelka (and based on Georges Feydeau's farce A Flea in Her Ear), was first produced by the Buffalo Theatre Company in Chicago and has since been done around the U.S. He has written two plays, Thinking of Her Made Him Think of Her, first produced by the Talisman Theatre in Elgin, Illinois, and Kitten With a Whip, produced at the Cafe Voltaire, Chicago, and three ten-minute musicals (The Adventures of Princess Snapdragon, Dry Ice and Dinner with Douglas) (New Tuners, Chicago). He and Gregg Opelka also collaborated on My Night at Jacques', a modern translation of two one-act comic operettas by Jacques Offenbach. Helbig is a theater critic and arts writer for various publications, including the Chicago Reader and the Daily Herald. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois, with his wife, Sherry, and his spunky daughter, Margaret.