Remember Paul Sills’ Story Theatre, a company that based its storytelling on theatre games created by Sills’ mother, teacher Viola Spolin? It’s been three decades since the troupe originally made their mark on Broadway, but rumor had it they were to return this season. Now plans for their arrival are completely up in the air, albeit not completely scotched, according to general manager Brent Peek (reached July 12).
Sills' loosely-bound company workshopped its current piece, RUMI [sic], at Los Angeles’ Stella Adler Theatre just over a year ago. Since then, producer Sharon Rosen and Peek have been working on bringing the show to Broadway in the 2000-01 season, initially for the fall, then more towards winter/spring 2001. Apparently, the show was pretty close to making a Broadway deal when Sills decided not to come to New York. Recently, though, Sills has been having a change of heart and might want to do it after all. Peek noted that the ideal way might be a non-profit company taking the project on before any Broadway move.
As reported by Theatrical Index, Paul Sand (who won a Featured Actor Tony Award for appearing in the original Story Theater, which itself was Tony nominated for Best Play), Hamilton Camp, Chris Allport, Rachel MacKinnon, Mina Kolb, and Avery Schreiber were in the L.A. workshop and were expected to be part of the New York company. Schedules permitting, RUMI was also to star Paul Dooley (“The Practice”) and Dan Castellaneta (“The Simpsons,” OB’s The Alchemist). Musical director Fred Kaz, a longtime Story Theater member through the 1980s, was to provide live, onstage original music. Designers for the workshop included Carol Sills (projections and stage design), Jane Reisman (lighting) and Pat Donovan (costumes).
In early May, producer Rosen cautioned not to confuse Story Theater techniques with improv (although many of the company members, including Sills, were original Chicago Second City founders). Said Peek of the arrival of Story Theater in the early 1970s, “Everyone thought it was going to revolutionize the theatre in a wonderful way... The shows usually have some kind of narration that’s acted out in scenes. There’s always a narrative quality to it.” Producer Rosen added that while the company’s first Broadway effort, Story Theater (and then, joining it in repertory, Metamorphosis) used Aesop’s fables, the new work is based on stories by 13th Century poet and philosopher, Jelaluddin Rumi. “They’re still moral fables,” said Rosen. “And they’re non-denominational, but they encompasses religion and touch on the spirit of life. Mohammed, Jesus and Moses are referred to, but as `friends.’ Plus the piece has a lot of humor.”
The troupe worked from Coleman Barks’ English translations, as collected in “The Essential Rumi.” Born in Afghanistan in 1207, Rumi became a Sheikh and dictated six volumes-worth of stories that were collected under the title “Mathnawi.” Though in the Farsi language the tales were in rhymed verse, the Barks translation was done in English free verse. Rosen intended for Rumi to come directly to New York, though it may make an Off-Broadway or Upstate NY pit-stop before settling into a small Broadway house.
Adapting techniques from his mother’s books and teachings, Sills started his dramatic career with the Compass Theatre in Chicago University. That evolved into Second City and eventually into Story Theater. Though New York visits have been few and far between, Sills and Company did reach Broadway in the mid-1980s. “They’ve been doing stuff together on and off for years,” Rosen said of the actors in the troupe. “They all respect each other and work together when they can.”
-- By David Lefkowitz