Peter Cieply is back in Chicago and he couldn't be more pleased. Although a notable force in the Chicago theatre scene, Cieply previously relocated to San Francisco to work as managing editor for Stagebill. In 2007, he returned to the windy city where he’s since reestablished Immediate Theatre, originally founded in the 80’s. He spoke with Our Town about his influences, Immediate Theatre's current show and a dynamic new business model.
Our Town What’s it like to be back in Chicago?
Peter Cieply I’ve loved being back in the Chicago theatre world, but now I also work as a private investigator, which puts some limits on what I am able to commit to. I hear the clock ticking very loudly these days—I’m not getting any younger—so I decided to form a production company and start doing what I have been saying I want to do for way too long. My job — and my amazing wife, who started the P.I. agency we run together — is flexible enough to allow me to do this and help support it. I’m excited to see what happens next, and what my career becomes. Life has been so totally full of surprises, and I’ve been so lucky to be able to go wherever things have led me. I have to say they’ve turned out pretty swell so far.
OT What directors would you count as influences?
PC I’ve seen and loved the work of directors like Sam Mendes, Richard Eyre, Matthew Bourne, Mark Rylance, Nicholas Hytner, Max Stafford-Clark, Deborah Warner, Declan Donnellan … the list goes on, [but] I think I’ve been more influenced by the types of theatre I am drawn to than by specific directors. I came up in the Chicago theatre of the ’80s and am steeped in its naturalism and — for me and a lot of my colleagues at the time — its Stanislavsky and Meisner training. I also have spent a lot of time in London and am drawn to British theatre and its slightly larger, more theatrical style.
OT Describe your directing process.
PC Hmm…Idea, enthusiasm; insecurity, terror; conquer terror, make progress. Repeat.
I do consciously work to be kind, grateful, receptive, and collaborative, having worked both sides of the equation. But I’m also pretty strong-willed.
OT How does your approach as a director differ from your approach as an actor?
PC I sometimes find myself wanting to jump to results when I’m directing; I have to stop and invert it, frame it as process — figure out how to elicit what I think is needed in an open-ended, collaborative way, rather than asking for a result from an actor.
I think as an actor I work more instinctively in a Method-oriented way, which for some reason I have to remind myself of when I’m directing.
OT What’s the best part of the Chicago theater scene?
PC This is simply the best theatre town. I love Chicago and am in awe of the number of people who work so hard for so little, and who do such great work. And I’m equally in awe of Chicago audiences for being so phenomenally supportive. I love how going to theatre is such a part of the culture here — that all these little and big companies can spring up, and people from all walks of life happily attend. I think that’s a similarity with London, actually — theatre is a strong part of the fabric of the culture here and there.
OT How did you choose Five Flights?
PC I saw the original production in San Francisco, fell in love with it and have been carrying it around ever since. The message that really speaks to me is the idea that we have to embrace chaos and move on. Life and love are messy — so what? It’s not okay to just give up. And I love the poetry of the language. It’s fractured and difficult to follow sometimes, but it’s true, and beautiful.
OT How will Immediate Theatre delineate itself from other Chicago companies?
PC Well, we’re just starting up, so stay tuned. I chose not to form the company as a nonprofit, because I think that business model for theatres is getting old and difficult to sustain, and also I frankly have no interest in outreach programs; I just want to make theatre. I’m hoping [to] attract people who might ordinarily contribute to a nonprofit, and get them instead to invest relatively small sums in a high-quality fringe theatre. That’s the other thing—I really prefer small theatre, fringe venues, and I like having a budget large enough to make something nice, but small enough that people have to really get creative. Technically we’re “for profit,” but I don’t necessarily expect profits. If I can make theatre that breaks even, I’m thrilled, and I hope that maybe if shows don’t break even, then people have only invested amounts that they’re okay losing — again, sort of as if they’d contributed to a nonprofit. I have no idea whether this is actually a viable idea, but I’m giving it a try!
Five Flights runs through December 18th. For more info or to purchase tickets visit immediatetheatrechicago.com
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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