- About the Play
- Behind the Scenes
- Photo Gallery
- Study Guide
In addition to the interview with playwright Paula Vogel below, take a further look into the world in which A Civil War Christmas takes place:
- Civil War Era Cooking and Recipes - Did you know that a "jill" was a unit of measure, or that browned okra seeds were sometimes used in place of coffee? Find out more about the cooking of the period, including authentic recipes!
- The Emancipation Proclamation - Read the original proclamation that declared the freedom of slaves.
- Union States vs. Confederate States - View some of the basic differences between North and South, strictly by the numbers.
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Visit our Events page for upcoming A Civil War Christmas-related events, all FREE for Northlight Subscribers and Civil War Christmas ticket buyers.
Interview with A Civil War Christmas playwright Paula Vogel
with Northlight resident dramaturg Kristin Leahey
October 19, 2010
Kristin Leahey: How did you decide to write A Civil War Christmas?
Paula Vogel: It was in my head for a very long time, since 1997. I listened to Christmas Carols and spirituals, picked up a book when I could, and I wrote in my head when I drove, especially long distances. I finally sat down to write it in 2006. I like to write things simultaneously, as I did with this work and Long Christmas Ride Home. I was interested in writing about a family's private trauma while writing a play about the midst of a public trauma. There's a lot about hope in this piece - how a family breathes together. I thought about how I would write something communal, that all the members of my family could come see. And, I wanted to write for a company with a span of ages and people. I wanted to be as inclusive as possible, in terms of cast and for the audience.
KL: What is Civil War Christmas' and your relationship to Washington, DC?
PV: I was born in Washington, DC. The first part of my childhood was in Northeast DC. I'm a beltway baby! I think we moved primarily for the public schools. I grew-up with field trips to the battlefields and forts, to Ford's Theatre, and on our dates in high school we would go to a Naval-Medical Museum. And the thing to do there, as a teenager, was to see if you could get through the display without being grossed out. They had amputated legs from the Civil War in a curio cabinet. I thought it was fascinating, while my boyfriend was horrified. Washington is really one big public 19th century drawing room. The Smithsonian did 19th century costumed dances. I remember my brother taking me to one; there was this remarkable moment where I was in this 19th century hall, dancing with my brother, swirling around with couples dancing in 19th century gowns - that is childhood in DC!
KL: How authentic are the characters in the play?
PV: I could not read everything on President Lincoln's life in my lifetime. And Doris Kearns Goodwin (noted historian and author) was thrilled with how I captured Mary Lincoln and how I brought out President Lincoln's humor. Another historian I consulted read the second draft of the script and loved my inclusion of Elizabeth Thomas, although little has been written about her. She was this remarkable woman who yelled at Lincoln, "Tell that fool to duck his head down!" because he was about to be shot at a battle. It's who I imagine her to be. I figure people are people. I'm not trying to offend historians or descendants but to put our American family onstage. I think it is more a question of does it feel true to us in 2010, would we have dinner with these people?
KL: Although it is a play that is set in 1864, it's a new work. What are some current themes that appear in the musical?
PV: One of the themes that I'm very anxious about is the growing xenophobia about immigrants, about people crossing our borders. It interests me because we had guards at the river crossing of the Potomac keeping African Americans from crossing into DC. I think one of the themes is how much (or little) the government took care of us with Hurricane Katrina. I'm concerned that we are using the word family values rather than community values. I don't have children, but I consider myself as everybody's aunt. I would never look at a child and think, "That is not my child." I assume we are an instant community. The play is about what is our responsibility to each other; there are lines in the play about whether the president is going to feed us, house us, which I wrote right after Hurricane Katrina. I feel we have broken a basic American contract and that we need to be each other's families.
KL: What is the role of community in terms of the casting of the play?
PV: Northlight is a brave place to bring different communities together! It's admirable that a company - a troupe of actors - is going to spill forth 80 different lives that are going to intersect throughout the night. We have 12 people up there that are an army of one. I think that theatre should be intergenerational. If you have a master artist, like Felicia P. Fields, it's wonderful to have college-aged actors collaborating with her as well, in addition to children watching from backstage and onstage. We are creating a community in the Theatre itself. It's central to Northlight and the Theatre's mission. It's what Chicago does very well. I like to be in a place where so many younger writers I've worked with are thriving, and I'm thrilled to be in a part of the country that was central to the Civil War.
KL: Why did you set the play during Christmas?
PV: During Christmas in 1864, it was a peaceful time. There was a lot of starvation and siege but not battles because the roads needed to thaw in order for the carnage to continue. It was a time of year in our country that we still needed to celebrate. It was a hope of peace in the Civil War ballads and the hope of Christmas that brought people together.
KL: What is the importance of new play development?
PV: It's why I get up in the morning. It is a costly mistake for us to not support new play development, new work, and theatre in this country. There is a way that young artists tell us what America feels like, Chicago feels like, this very neighborhood feels like. They tell us in a way that we need to listen to. It is a political and social necessity.
KL: Can you talk about academic institutions partnering with professional theatres?
PV: I love that I get to talk with young artists at Northwestern University in classes, many taught by former students of mine. Chicago changes people in that it is the theatre capital in the United States. My working on this piece will change my artistic DNA, because I've been taken into a vibrant and generous community.
Will Clinger is understandably pleased to be working with Northlight Theatre and his old friend Henry Godinez. He recently played Versati in The Underpants at Artists' Ensemble in Rockford, and prior to that appeared in Romeo and Juliet and Comedy of Errors at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. Chicago area credits include Noises Off (Theatre at the Center), his one-man show Dr. Harlon's Keys to Better Living (Royal George), Measure for Measure and Hamlet! The Musical (Chicago Shakespeare), Stones in His Pockets and Fuddy Meers (Apple Tree), The Siddhartha Project and The Lurker Radio Hour (Collaboraction - Best Play, Sketchbook '08), Two for the Show (Theater Wit - After Dark Award, Best New Play), The Apple Cart and The Doctor's Dilemma (ShawChicago), Eric LaRue (A Red Orchid) and A Dublin Bloom (Irish Repertory Theater). Love to Grace.
Kevin Douglas is very excited to be making his Northlight debut with A Civil War Christmas. He was most recently seen in his fifth run of Lookingglass Alice! Kevin is an Artistic Associate of Lookingglass Theatre Company and a company member of MPAACT (MA'AT Production Association of African Centered Theatre). Regional credits include appearances at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Baltimore Centerstage, Kansas City Rep and Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Kevin is also a teaching artist, writer and a sketch comedian. He is one half of the sketch duo kevINda (www.kevinda.com). He also holds a B.F.A in acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University. Kevin would like to thank Henry, Northlight, the cast and crew, and most of all God.
Khori Faison enrolled in Northlight Theatre Academy's Summer Camp program in 2006 and was an ensemble member in the NTA production of Ghost Stories. She then starred in the award-winning films My First Tooth; Desertion; Monster Love; Peer Pressure, which premiered at the 2009 Chicago International Children's Film Festival; and the upcoming film drama Alleged with Brian Dennehy, Fred Thompson, Nathan West, Ashley Johnson and Colm Meany. In Chicago, Khori appeared as the Narrator in the 2010 Lookingglass/Silverguy Production Hephaestus at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Heidi Stillman and Tony Hernandez. Working on A Civil War Christmas has been an amazing experience and she thanks BJ Jones, Lynn Baber, Henry Godinez and her agency, Gray Talent Group, for making this possible. Thanks also to the talented cast and crew and finally her mentor, Ms. Janet Louer. www.khorifaison.com
Felicia P. Fields is happy to be back at Northlight Theatre where she was last seen in Low Down Dirty Blues (Jeff nominataion). Ms. Fields earned a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway. Her performance also earned her a 2006 Theatre World award, A Clarence Derwent Award, two Broadway.com Awards, an NAACP nomination, a Denver Post Ovation Award and she was a 2006 Drama League honoree. Felicia has received many Joseph Jefferson award nominations and has worked throughout the Chicagoland area including Jammin' with Pops (Ella Fitzgerald), Hot Mikado (Katisha), Show Boat (Queenie), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Ma Rainey), Ain't Misbehavin' (Nell/Amelia), Dreamgirls (Effie Melody White), The Amen Corner and The Rose Tattoo. Felicia's stellar performance in Chicago's Drury Lane production of Sophisticated Ladies earned her the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress in a Musical. TV/Film: Early Edition, Save the Last Dance, Knights of Prosperity.
David Girolmo has performed in forty-six of the contiguous forty-eight states, appeared on Broadway in Candide directed by Hal Prince, is a multiple Jeff nominee and a Jeff Award winner, and a veteran of more than twenty years in Chicago theatres. Previous Northlight appearance: Sideshow. Film and TV appearances include: D.O.A.P (Death of a President, Hospital Spokesperson Dr. Grimes), E.R. ("Bloodline," Officer Gaines), Guiding Light and numerous commercials. He is a Councilor and proud member of Actors Equity Association and is married to actor Heidi Kettenring, who hung the moon and the stars. Many thanks to BJ, Henry, and the amazing Lynn Baber for bringing me in!
Alex Goodrich is excited to spend the holidays back at Northlight where he was last seen in She Stoops to Conquer. He was most recently seen at Court Theater in The Comedy of Errors. Other Chicago credits include: The Emperor's New Clothes, Taming of the Shrew, Aladdin, Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night's Dream and How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back? (Chicago Shakespeare); Gutenberg! The Musical! (Royal George); It's A Wonderful Life (American Theater Company); The Misanthrope (Greasy Joan); The UN Inspector (Next Theatre). He is a member of Barrel of Monkeys and loves his wife!
Derek Hasenstab is pleased to make his Northlight Theatre debut. Chicago credits include: Oedipus Complex (Goodman); Sunday in the Park with George, Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night's Dream, Aladdin (Chicago Shakespeare); A Streetcar Named Desire (Writers'); subUrbia, Was, Orestes, Ecstasy, Dealer's Choice, Disappeared, Phyro Giants! (Roadworks Productions); Hitting for the Cycle, Pride's Crossing (Famous Door); A Home at the End of the World, Cloud Nine (About Face - After Dark Award); The Buddy Holly Story, A Christmas Carol, I Hate Hamlet, The Foreigner (Drury Lane Oakbrook - After Dark Award); High Fidelity (Route 66 Theatre); Scientific Romances (Next). Regional Credits include: The Glass Menagerie (Kansas City Repertory), Metamorphoses (Mark Taper Forum). Broadway National Tour: The Lion King. Derek is a proud member of Actors' Equity Association.
James Earl Jones II This is James' Northlight debut! James recently sang the "Moonshine Lullaby" alongside the great Patti LuPone in Annie Get your Gun at Ravinia and is currently playing Charlie Brown in Snoopy the Musical! at Northbrook Children's Theater. His work has garnered Black Theatre Alliance Awards & African American Alliance Awards. Regional credits include Ragtime (Drury Lane Oakbrook), Porgy & Bess (San Francisco Opera & Lyric Opera of Chicago), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Drury Lane Watertower & Mason Street Warehouse), Full Monty (Marriott), Black Nativity (Goodman/Congo Square), Dessa Rose (Apple Tree), Rigoletto (American Opera Group), and Aspects of Love, I Pagliacci, On the Town, The Gondoliers, Patience, H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance. Upcoming: Spamalot (Drury Lane Oakbrook) and the role of Crown in Porgy & Bess (Court Theatre). You can hear his voice on various radio & TV commercials! For Semaje...
Bethany Jorgensen is happy to make her Northlight debut with A Civil War Christmas. For the last six years she has been a proud cast member of the Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol. Other credits include Helga in Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's critically acclaimed M. Butterfly; Emily in Our Town with Wing & Groove Theatre; Francesca in Live Bait Theater's Jeff Award-winning Blind Tasting; as well as work with First Folio Shakespeare, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Door Off Broadway. She has worked with Imagination Theater for 9 years, where she is the Development Coordinator and directs and performs with Senior Spotlight, an outreach program that provides drama therapy for seniors in nursing homes. A violinist since age 4, she is a registered violin teacher with the Suzuki Association of the Americas.
Mildred Marie Langford is blessed and excited to be back at Northlight Theatre where she was last seen in the Interplay Series reading of Saturday Night/Sunday Morning by Katori Hall. Her other Chicago credits include; Zulu Fits (MPAACT), War with the Newts and The Overwhelming (Next) The Twins Would Like To Say (Dog & Pony/Steppenwolf), 12 Ophelias (Trap Door), The Crucible (Steppenwolf), The Ghost of Treasure Island and The Blue House (Adventure Stage) and Professions for Women (Bailiwick Director's Festival). Mildred is a graduate of George Mason University and The School at Steppenwolf. She can be seen next in In Darfur with Timeline Theatre and Sinbad: The Untold Story with Adventure Stage in the Spring. THANK YOU God for continued blessings. Thank you to family and friends for unwavering support. And thank you to Lynn and Henry for this amazing opportunity. Let your light shine!
Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. is an actor/writer graduate of Howard University. He is very excited to making his Northlight Theatre debut. Roberson has been seen on the stages of Congo Square, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Penumbra Theatre, The Children's Theatre Company, The Pillsbury House Theatre, Illusion Theater, Imagination Stage, Source Theatre and The Studio Theatre. He was a 2007 Jerome Many Voices Resident through the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, as well as a 2008 Cultural Community Partnership Grant recipient through the Minnesota State Arts Board. He is also President and Founder of the Make Me A Match Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the lives of patients with blood related diseases. He thanks his family, friends and his wonderful wife for their constant support and motivation.
|Paula Scrofano was last seen this fall as Muriel in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Theatre at the Center, where she has also appeared as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! and Mama Rose in Gypsy. Past roles include Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Mille and Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century (Jeff Award) at Drury Lane Oakbrook; Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, Marmee in Little Women, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Jack's Mother in Into the Woods, Eva Peron in Evita (Sarah Siddons Award) and the title role in Victor/Victoria (Marriott); Desirée in A Little Night Music and Dot/Marie in Sunday in the Park with George (Sarah Siddons Award) at the Goodman. She's performed at Court Theatre in Hay Fever, James Joyce's 'The Dead' and Putting It Together (Jeff Award). She has also appeared at Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Royal George, Skylight Opera, the Ravinia Festival and The Kennedy Center
Northwestern University Student Ensemble
|Allie Brodsky||Gil Ghitis||Matt Kuyawa||Kara
|Natalie Miller||Patrick Weber||Maggie Wolf||Kevin Woodrow|
Allie Brodsky is excited to be making her Northlight Theatre debut! She is currently a junior theatre major at Northwestern University and in the Music Theatre Certificate Program. This past summer she continued her theatre studies while in London with Duke University. She was most recently seen in Waa Mu: Keeping Time at NU under the direction of Dominic Missimi. Some favorite roles include: Maureen in Rent, Babe in Pajama Game and the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods. Allie would like to thank Henry, Lynn and Chuck for this incredible opportunity, and her family and friends for their continued support and love. She would like to dedicate this performance to Ella.
Matt Chappelle is happy to be back at Northlight Theatre where he has appeared in NTA productions as Edgar in Edgar and Ellen, Cat in The Hat in Seussical and Rev in Air Guitar High. He is an 8th grader at Haven Middle School in Evanston where you could see him in last year's production of Fiddler on the Roof and Haven Help Us, their skit/parody show. When he is not performing, Matt loves snowboarding, skateboarding, reading and playing video games. Matt would like to thank his family, friends, Devon, Lynn, Henry and the whole cast and crew for this amazing experience.
Gil Ghitis is very exited to make his debut at Northlight Theatre! He is currently a sophomore theatre major at Northwestern University, where he appeared in a Wave production See What I Wanna See. Other roles include Joseph in Joseph and the Amaizing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun and Harry in Lucky Stiff. Gil would like to thank Henry, Chuck, and Lynn, for this invaluable opportunity, the cast and crew, and his family and Seren for their unwavering love and support.
Matt Kuyawa is a student at Northwestern University, where he is pursuing a degree in Theatre, a minor in Business Institutions, and is a part of the Music Theatre Certificate Program. He was also a student in Northwestern's National High School Institute (the Cherub program) in 2007. This is his first production with Northlight. Recent productions include Six Characters in Search of an Author (Director), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Puck), Reefer Madness, Side Show, Grease (Danny), The Rimers of Eldritch (Walter), and Les Misérables (Marius). He can next be seen in The State(s) of America, a project directed by Regina Taylor at Northwestern. He would like to thank his family, Henry and Chuck for this incredible experience.
Kelsey MacDonald is a sixth grader at Northbrook Jr. High where she enjoys playing cello in chamber orchestra, singing in the chorus and playing on the volleyball team. She studies ballet, tap, modern and jazz at the North Suburban School of Dance and is a member of their Dance Company. She has performed with Northbrook Theater's Babes on Broadway and Creative Drama programs, and with Kidstage, Inc. Her favorite roles were Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka, Jr. and the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. She loved the Northlight Summer Performing Arts Camp and is thrilled to be a part of A Civil War Christmas.
Natalie Miller is an 8th grader from Wilmette. She is very excited to be in A Civil War Christmas. Recently, she played Annie in Annie Jr. at Wilmette Junior High; Jojo in Seussical Jr. and Ellen in Edgar and Ellen at the Northlight Theatre Academy. She is also part of an Improv troupe at Actors Training Center. She is a huge fan of holiday music and the #1 fan of Holiday LiteFM. Natalie would like to thank Mom, Dad, Claire, and all of her friends and relatives; and Devon, Kristin and Lynn at Northlight for many years of training, memories, fun and the opportunity to be in this show.
Kara Weisenstein is a senior at Northwestern University studying Theater, Musical Theater and Political Science. She's thrilled to be making her debut at Northlight Theatre. This past summer, she was lucky enough to take her love of theater across the pond to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she assisted on American Myth Theater Company's production of All The Happy People, directed by Cat Miller. She most recently appeared in Northwestern's production of In Trousers, directed by Jessica McLeod. Other recent productions include MASS (dir. Dominic Missimi), Seussical, and King Lear. She would like to thank Henry, Lynn and Chuck for inviting her to be a part of this wonderful experience. She's also extremely grateful to Melissa and Dawn for their guidance and faith. Much love to Mom, Dad and Rose for being the most supportive and loving family a girl could ask for.
Maggie Wolf has appeared in three shows with Northlight Theatre Academy - Once Upon a Pandora's Box (Angella, Star Warrior), Skokie Detective Charter School (Ladonna Wirt), and The Enormous Crocodile (Marcy Snickerdoodle). She is a fifth grader at Washington School in Evanston, and her favorite subject is drama. When she's not acting or rehearsing at Northlight, Maggie enjoys gymnastics, writing, soccer, animals, and directing small films on her computer and camera. When she grows up, she hopes to be an actress, a director of major films, and a teacher. A Civil War Christmas is Maggie's debut in a professional production, and it has an extra special place in her heart. Maggie was born on December 23rd; when she came home from the hospital on Christmas night, her parents placed her under the Christmas tree. She thanks everyone who helped her get this far in her acting career. She appreciates everyone's support.
Kevin Woodrow started acting at the age of 10 with the Northlight Theatre Academy's summer camp but his extended family can tell you that he has loved the stage since he was three years old. Among his favorite acting roles are Tock the Watchdog in The Phantom Tollbooth (particularly his unscripted fall down the stairs) and Louis (the bully) in Once Upon Pandora's Box. In 2010, he appeared as Bert Healy, the Radioman, in the Wilmette Junior High School's spring production of Annie, Jr. This fall, as an eighth grader at Wilmette Junior High, he is playing the role of Joe Hardy in his drama class production of Damn Yankees. Kevin is an avid Shakespeare fan and recently was awed by the Shakespeare Theater's performance of Romeo and Juliet.
Henry Godinez (Director) is the resident Artistic Associate at the Goodman where his directing credits include Mariela in the Desert, Millennium Mambo, Straight As A Line, the Goodman/Teatro Vista co-production of Cloud Tectonics, and A Christmas Carol from 1996-2001. He is curator of the Goodman's Latino Theatre Festival and co-founder of Teatro Vista, where he directed Broken Eggs, El Paso Blue, Journey of the Sparrows, Santos & Santos and The Crossing. Other directing credits include Esperanza Rising and A Year with Frog and Toad (Chicago Children's Theatre), Two Sisters and a Piano (Apple Tree/Teatro Vista), Anna in the Tropics (Victory Gardens), Boleros for the Disenchanted (Yale Repertory Theatre), True West (Portland Center Stage), Urban Zulu Mambo starring Regina Taylor (Signature Theatre in NYC), The Winter's Tale (Missouri Repertory Theatre), Macbeth (Oak Park Festival Theatre), Romeo and Juliet (Colorado Shakespeare Festival) and several seasons of Stories on Stage for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.
Chuck Larkin (Musical Director) is overjoyed to return to Northlight Theatre after 2003's At Wit's End. Most recently, Chuck served as musical director for the 2010 summer season of American Folklore Theatre in Door County, Wisconsin. He has toured extensively with Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway and cabaret artists Lee Lessack and Linda Purl. From May 2007 to January 2010, he served as associate conductor for the Chicago company of Jersey Boys. Other Chicago credits include Touchstone and Bailiwick Theatre, and countless cabaret and club venues. As a composer and lyricist, his credits include Hen Lake and Sophie's Masterpiece (Lifeline Theatre) and the award-winning River's End (Marin Theatre Company). In 2000, an evening of his music and lyrics, Keep Me In Love, was named Chicago's #1 After Dark Cabaret Show.
Tom Burch (Scenic Design) is thrilled to return to Northlight following several shows, including Souvenir, The Lady with All the Answers and The Good War, among others. Off-Broadway: Mistakes Were Made (Barrow Street). Recent Chicago credits: The Comedy of Errors (Court); Scorched (Silk Road); No Exit and Frankenstein (Hypocrites); The Overwhelming and Return to Haifa (Next); A Steady Rain (Chicago Dramatists and Royal George); as well as shows for Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, A Red Orchid, About Face, ATC, House, and a number of others. Regional work includes shows for Arizona Theatre Co., Peninsula Players, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cleveland Playhouse and others. He is the recipient of 3 After Dark Awards (including one for Northlight's Red Herring), and three Jeff nominations (one win). Upcoming projects include Pirates of Penzance (Hypocrites) and Northlight's Sense & Sensibility. He teaches at University of Chicago, and his work can be seen online at www.tomburch.com.
Theresa Ham (Costume Design) last designed at Northlight for Souvenir. Chicago credits include: The Wild Party, Side Show, The Life, Edward II, Yerma, Songs for a New World, and The Glorious Ones (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble); Proof, Urinetown, Little Shop of Horrors, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Stage Wright at Wilbur Wright College); Le Nozzi de Figaro and Don Giovanni (The Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera Chicago); and Hansel and Gretel (DePaul Opera Theatre). Her work has also been seen at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Porchlight Music Theatre, Sullivan Little Theatre, and First Folio Shakespeare Theatre. She received a Joseph Jefferson Citation Nomination for her costume design of Side Show in 2006. Upcoming projects include Die Fledermaus with DePaul Opera Theatre and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with Stage Wright. She lives in Beverly with her loving and wonderfully supportive family.
John Culbert (Lighting Design) last designed at Northlight for Grey Gardens. Scenery design credits include Court Theatre's productions of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Man of La Mancha (for which he received a Joseph Jefferson Award) and Carousel; Rock 'n Roll at Goodman Theatre; and Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Regina. He designed lighting for Lookingglass Theatre's Argonautika, Northlight Theatre's Sky Girls, Goodman Theatre's Mirror of the Invisible World and Court Theatre's The Illusion. Other designs include Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Romeo and Juliet, Victory Gardens Theater's Class Dismissed and Long Wharf Theatre's Hughie. He has designed productions for the Singapore Repertory, Opera National du Rhin, Berkeley Rep, Boston Lyric Opera, McCarter Theatre, and the Shakespeare Theatre. Other projects include the lighting design for the Chicago Park District's Buckingham Fountain. Mr. Culbert serves as the dean of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Victoria DeIorio (Sound Design) is happy to be back at Northlight after designing Low Down Dirty Blues, Souvenir, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Blue/Orange. Off-Broadway: The Bluest Eye (Steppenwolf at The Duke Theatre) and Ophelia (NYC Fringe Festival). As associate designer, off-Broadway: Boy and Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams (Primary Stages), God of Hell (Actor's Studio Theatre), Luminescence Dating (Ensemble Studio Theatre) and Live Girls (Urban Stages). National Tour: Private Lives (LA Theatre Works). Productions with: Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Writers', Chautauqua Theatre Company, Indiana Repertory, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Cleveland Playhouse, Syracuse Stage, and many others. Victoria is an Artistic Associate of The Next Theatre, a founding member of Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, and a member of Lifeline Theatre. She has been nominated for 10 and has received five Joseph Jefferson Awards, as well as two After Dark Awards. She is the head of Sound Design for The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Rita Vreeland (Production Stage Manager) is delighted to be collaborating once again with the talented people at Northlight. Previous Northlight stage management credits include Daddy Long Legs, Low Down Dirty Blues, Awake and Sing!, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Mauritius, Grey Gardens, The Miser and Gee's Bend. Elsewhere, her recent credits include this summer's Jesus Christ Superstar and countless other productions at Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN; the most recent Ignition Festival as well as many other productions for Victory Gardens Theatre; and productions at Marriott Lincolnshire, Famous Door, and Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park. Rita has been the set designer at Harold Washington College since 2001 and is a member of the Route 66 Theatre Company in Chicago. She is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado and a proud member of Actors Equity.
Kimberly Ann McCann (Assistant Stage Manager) is excited to be making her Northlight Theatre debut! Broadway: Curtains. Off-Broadway: Bill W. and Dr. Bob, How to Save the World, John Ferguson. Regional credits: Million Dollar Quartet (Chicago); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (San Francisco); Dames at Sea (Skylight Opera Theatre); Much Ado About Nothing, The Rivals (Door Shakespeare); Titus Andronicus (Illinois Shakespeare Festival); The Winter's Tale, Romeo & Juliet, Around the World in 80 Days, All's Well That Ends Well (Colorado Shakespeare Festival); and The Listener, Edward II, A Midsummer's Night Dream (Drama & Opera), Miss Lonely Hearts (The Juilliard School). She also toured four productions with ArtsPower National Touring Company. Kimberly is a graduate of Illinois State University and a proud member of Actors Equity.
Katie Spelman (Assistant Director) is thrilled to be at Northlight, working with such a talented team of artists. As a director, credits include the Northwestern Songwriter's Showcase (Laurie Beechman Theater, NYC), You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Wizard of Oz, and Cabaret (Northwestern University). As a choreographer and assistant choreographer, she has worked with Sideshow Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Stage Left Theatre, Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, Northwestern University, Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, and the American Theater Company. Performance credits include The Hot Mikado and Boys from Syracuse (Drury Lane Oakbrook), Animal Crackers (Goodman), Erika's Wall (The Music Theatre Company), Girls vs. Boys (The House Theatre of Chicago), Fiddler on the Roof (Marriott Lincolnshire) and The Drowsy Chaperone (Marriott Lincolnshire, Jeff Award nomination for Best Ensemble). She is an Associate Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and a proud graduate of Northwestern University.
A quintessentially American Christmas story - and a heartwarming holiday feast!
All photos by Liz Lauren.
Photo GalleryClick on any image to start the slideshow
Rise Up Shepherd and Follow
'A Civil War Christmas' meditates on race, community and the holiday
The Washington Post
Thursday, December 9, 2010
It is Christmas Eve 1864, and somewhere in Virginia, an enslaved man named Willy Mack Lee stands next to his dejected owner, Robert E. Lee. "We've lost the war," the general laments.
"Yes, sir, you have," Willy answers.
Mary Todd Lincoln, shopping for a Christmas tree, meets Mary Surratt, proprietor of a boarding house where conspirators plot to attack the president. For a moment, the two women share a lament about Confederate loss of life. Then they move on, each to her own very different fate.
A mother and daughter, fugitives from slavery, seek freedom in the Union capital but encounter an unfriendly sentinel at the bridge over the Potomac. The mother sends the girl onward in the cold, instructing her to look for Abraham Lincoln at the "largest white plantation house in town."
Washington and its environs are the heart of Paula Vogel's musical drama, "A Civil War Christmas," playing through Dec. 26 at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Ill. This play reminds us that Civil War Washington was a place where North and South collided, where the nation's most powerful men met fugitive slaves on the streets, and where African Americans found freedom and forged community.
Vogel, a D.C. native who has been a playwright-in-residence at Arena Stage, has written a play that meditates on race, family, community and the meaning of Christmas. In her wartime capital, everyone yearns for peace on Earth, but the war dampens the mood. Motherhood and parental tenderness are emphasized in vignettes about slave children sold in the South, sons sacrificed to war, a solitary slave girl, and a white Virginia boy's fascination with Mosby's raiders. Washington is figured as a latter-day Bethlehem.
All the while, Christmas carols mingle with slave spirituals and other American folk songs, a paean to the dignity of common people and the pluralism of American culture.
As the Civil War sesquicentennial gets under way, Vogel's drama is a model of how the raw material of Civil War history can be molded into provocative and entertaining art for our own time. Abraham Lincoln was notorious for brushing off threats on his life. In the play, his security chief, Ward Lamon, wrings his hands about the president's heedlessness, just as he does in Margaret Leech's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Reveille in Washington" (1942).
In one storyline, Vogel portrays Mary Todd Lincoln's close relationship with her seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave. In an early scene, Keckley talks Mrs. Lincoln out of a spending spree and reminds her that the best Christmas gift to her husband would be "the gladness of your heart." Keckley herself wrote a memoir, "Behind the Scenes" (1868), and the women's complex relationship was recently the subject of a dual biography: "Jennifer Fleischner's Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly" (2004).
Another subplot features Sgt. Decatur Bronson, an accomplished black soldier, who is first seen chanting "take no prisoners" as he hammers at an anvil. The context here, as James McPherson explains in "Battle Cry of Freedom" (1988), is the Confederacy's refusal to recognize captured black soldiers as prisoners of war. Confederates often sold black captives into slavery or murdered them in cold blood. Bronson promises retribution at the beginning of the play, but his desire for vengeance is challenged in the ensuing action.
"White writers, too, need to do the research and the work on race," Vogel notes at the beginning of the script, thanking playwright Anna Deavere Smith for productive conversations on race. Taking that injunction seriously, Vogel depicts African Americans' relationship to the United States with considerable subtlety. Black soldiers' commitments are double: to the United States but also, somewhat independently, to black liberation. One African American character refers to Keckley as "our first lady."
The play's hopeful ending offers seasonal theatergoers a gulp of good cheer. But Vogel also emphasizes the painful and unresolved legacies of slavery. A sentry tells the fugitive mother who hopes to find freedom in Washington that there's no more room for "you people." Later she is directed to the tradesmen's entrance of the Lincoln White House, while her daughter suffers hypothermia in the city streets. A member of the chorus asks: "Who knew freedom would be so cold?"
Paula Vogel's "A Civil War Christmas" plays through Dec. 26 at the Northlight Theater in Skokie, Ill.
Kate Masur, a history professor at Northwestern University, is the author of "An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C." (2010). She is also a member of the Washington Post's "Civil War 150" advisory panel. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Paula Vogel: Writing a carol for a divided nation
November 11, 2010
You could make an excellent case that Paula Vogel is the most influential playwright in America. It's not really a matter of her own work - although a list of dramas that includes "Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief," "The Baltimore Waltz," the Pulitzer Prize-winning "How I Learned to Drive," "The Mineola Twins" and "The Long Christmas Ride Home" is hardly a shoddy set of credits.
It's that Vogel has taught - at Brown and Yale universities - so many notable American playwrights how to write plays. Her list of former students is without compare: Bridget Carpenter, Nilo Cruz and, in Sarah Ruhl and Lynn Nottage, a pair of recipients of the so-called genius grants from the MacArthur Foundation. All of those names have significant profiles in Chicago. All of those names have significant profiles in theater circles everywhere.
Many playwriting teachers aren't themselves great playwrights. And many great playwrights aren't great teachers. Vogel, who turns 59 next week, is both. Aside from the lucidity of her clear-eyed plays, she also has those qualities that invariably mark distinguished educators: a curiosity about the world, a genuine lifelong interest in people other than herself, a love of making connections between individual creativity and the soul of a nation.
"I wrote this play," Vogel said over a recent lunch in Evanston, "because I was sick at heart about how fractious we have become as a country. We had a lot of hope for peace, recently. But the hope of peace may actually be sweeter than the peace itself."
The play is called "A Civil War Christmas," a seasonal entertainment that Vogel has been developing, cautiously, at several regional theaters, one theater at a time. The piece premiered at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., directed by Tina Landau and starring the late Chicago actor Guy Adkins. In 2009, Chicago director Jessica Thebus directed a production at the Huntington Theatre in Boston. This year, "A Civil War Christmas" shows up at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie under the direction of Henry Godinez.
Vogel has been along for each ride, changing the piece a little as she goes.
She says the play, set on Christmas Eve 1864, was partly a consequence of growing up in Washington, D.C. She says it was partly a desire to finally write something that the younger members of her extended family could come and see ("How I Learned to Drive," which deals with abuse, hardly fits that bill). And then she had an interest in fighting back against the proliferation of "A Christmas Carol," which is, of course, returning once again to the Goodman Theatre.
"Why is ‘A Christmas Carol' our way as a community of coming together at the holidays?" Vogel asked, mostly rhetorically. "Why do we look at Victorian poverty in London instead of exploring race and poverty in America? In the American theater, we are more comfortable importing our politics. My American family, sitting around our table, is very diverse. Where is our play?"
Subtitled "An American Musical Celebration" (Vogel may be political, but she knows her way around the box office), "A Civil War Christmas" features several narrative strands employing both historic figures (Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Ulysses S. Grant and many others) and fictional or composite characters, mostly representing ordinary people. Some of the songs in the show are well known; others not. And the date of the setting was carefully chosen for its poignancy and prescience - Abe Lincoln recently had been re-elected as president, but the war was still costing lives. Indeed, it was a rare family who had not lost someone.
This latest addition to the seasonal slate in Chicagoland, then, is a piece that wants to offer both comfort and challenge.
And that's a pretty good description of Vogel. Teacher. Playwright. Civil War buff.
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A capital idea: ‘A Civil War Christmas' traces two disparate women's paths in 1860s Washington
BY HEDY WEISS
November 19, 2010
Playwright Paula Vogel grew up in Washington, D.C., and she has made that place the backdrop for "A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration," her epic holiday show that will receive its Chicago area debut Saturday at Northlight Theatre.
"Those Washington roots of mine were a wonderful gift," said the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, whose previous works, including "The Baltimore Waltz" and "How I Learned to Drive," were smaller-scale plays that dealt with a variety of semi-taboo subjects. "Living in the capital was like living in a ghost town. You walked down the streets and realized that Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman and Ulysses S. Grant crossed this way or that, and you could really feel history. As a school child, I was bused to the Civil War battlefields and we became familiar with the ballads of that war, and with the African-American spirituals of the time."
Set on Christmas eve of 1864, "A Civil War Christmas," directed here by Henry Godinez, follows the trajectories of two quite different women - one a mother and fugitive from slavery separated from her young daughter in an unfamiliar city, and the other Mary Todd Lincoln, the troubled first lady, who is in pursuit of the perfect Christmas tree for a White House reeling from the bloodshed of the war.
"This play really came to me in a flash, although I researched it for close to a decade," Vogel said. "I've always loved ‘A Christmas Carol' and ‘Nicholas Nickleby,' and the way those shows captured both the poverty and sense of brotherhood in Victorian-era London. But I yearned for an American story, too, with all the issues of race and class at play. I wanted to write about the land I know and love, working in part out of the tradition of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which was so beautifully adapted for the stage by Chicago's king of storytelling, Frank Galati.
"I also wanted to create a play that the children in my extended family could see before they turned 21," Vogel quipped. "I'm always being asked, ‘Aunt Paula, when can I see your plays?' This one was written for every member of the family to enjoy. And, yes, the epic nature of the work is unusual for me, but the musical aspects of the show are just an indication of my first love - musical theater - which is our great American art form. And this might well be the first step in the direction of my writing a musical."
Vogel said she gave great thought to how every traditional ballad, holiday song and spiritual - about 20 in all - could be used to tell her story. And she credits Daryl Waters, the show's original musical supervisor and arranger (whose work on "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk' and "The Color Purple" grabbed her attention) with creating the musical tapestry that infuses every moment of "A Civil War Christmas."
"[Director] Tina Landau introduced me to Daryl, and I just came to adore him," Vogel said. "He took the songs I grew up with as a child and made them sound as if they'd been created in this moment. He also created almost full underscoring for the text, which is extraordinary."
Chuck Larkin, musical director for the Northlight production, also marvels at the complete integration of the songs into the storytelling.
"We've got these amazing musical theater performers in the cast - Felicia P. Fields and Paula Scrofano and Derek Hasenstab and David Girolmo," said Larkin, who is onstage himself - at the piano - throughout the show, playing the role of a Union Army musician. "And then there's Bethany Jorgenson, who plays the violin, and also sings and portrays several characters. Actor Alex Goodrich plays banjo and guitar and a bit of drums. And along with the principal cast there is an ensemble of Northwestern theater program students and a small children's ensemble, so the choral sound is really incredible.
"You will hear songs like ‘Marching Through Georgia,' and ‘Yellow Rose of Texas' and ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me'," Larkin said. ‘Felicia [Fields] sings ‘There Is a Balm in Gilead.' David [Girolmo], who plays poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, sings the song set to that poet's own verses, ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,' and then does it with a different subtext as he plays Ulysses S. Grant."
Larkin added, "I think Paula [Vogel] understood how this music was rooted in the psychology of the time. People were suffering from the ravages of the Civil War, but they found some healing power in these songs - some sense of redemption and hope during the holiday season."
Vogel said she finds 1860s Washington fascinating.
"Because of the war, the society seemed to hurtle forward with new roles for women, an incredible development of the middle class, greater racial diversity and the rush of the Industrial Revolution," she said. "I wanted to explore that, and I also wanted to take a fresh look at Lincoln [played by Will Clinger] and his wife [played by Scrofano]. We know the melancholy Lincoln, but he also had a complex sense of comedy - a self-deprecating, humane, almost vaudevillian humor that he used with his cabinet, his friends and his associates. And I think Mary Todd Lincoln has been slighted by historians. The more I've read, the more I've begun to see a brilliant, progressive woman - one who clearly suffered from depression, but also one who very probably suffered neurological damage as a result of a carriage accident during the war."
"I don't think we've really found a way to that ‘more perfect union' yet," continued Vogel. "I think, in many ways, we are still fighting the Civil War - grappling with the original sin of America, [which was] slavery. We're still fighting it through the electoral process, and the highly divisive rhetoric of our politics. And I have no answers to offer. I'm not a political philosopher. I'm just longing for us to come together."
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