A conversation with Jack Phillips

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Recently, Chicago-based director Jack Phillips sat down with long-time friend (and CCCT Artistic Director) Marilyn Langbehn to talk about his work on the upcoming production of THE SECRET IN THE WINGS.

ML: Let’s start with the obvious. What was your favorite fairy tale when you were a kid?

JP: One of my favorite stories as a child was “The Brementown Musicians”. It’s the story of several farm animals who sing together and scare away a thief from the farmer’s house.

ML: Did your parents read fairy tales to you when you were a kid?

JP:  I don’t remember my parents reading fairy tales to me. My Grandmother gave me a book called “The Real Mother Goose”. It had most of the Mother Goose tales and then explained what they really meant.

ML: Any of them scare you?

JP: I wasn’t scared by fairy tales. I was much more scared by radio plays on “Suspense” and “Lights Out.” I listened to them as rebroadcasts and I remember one that, when I had to go to a neighbor’s to get my Mother, scared me so much that I ran down the block looking at all the bushes around our houses.

ML: I always wanted to be Robin Hood when I was a kid. Were there any characters you wanted to be?

JP: In comic book stories I was always more interested in the characters with secret identities. I liked Batman best because he usually outsmarted the villains as well as fighting them. The movies have changed that. The fairy tales are filled with stories of the youngest or the littlest character who everyone thinks is helpless but who prevails.

ML: Nice segue 🙂 So, how has all that informed the work you had to do to prepare for Mary Zimmerman’s style of storytelling in THE SECRET IN THE WINGS?

JP: I have seen many of Mary Zimmerman’s pieces and watched the way she uses visual representation of the language. Much of her work is difficult to read but is clear onstage. There are some images that are often repeated in her work. One that I kept here is the wash of bright light that sometimes streams in through open doors or spaces. SECRET IN THE WINGS was developed by a cast of actors, working with Zimmerman, and inventing a style as they went along. In the text, she even suggests that some sections be improvised night to night. In the rehearsal process for this production I encouraged actors to make suggestions as to what they might be doing, how they might convey the story, and how the characters might react. The end result is a production that is unique to this cast and in this theatre. There is a basic script we follow and stories to tell but how we tell them has been developed and shaped by us.

ML: Last question: Who are some of your favorite playwrights’ work to do?

JP: I have directed a lot of Shakespeare and big epic productions. My favorite work however is by people like Conor McPherson, David Ives, and Sam Shepard. I like drama but always work to find the humor hiding underneath it.

 

Secret in the Wings opens Friday, February 16 and plays weekends through March 11 at CCCT.

 

 

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