Like Fantine, writer/actor Jeremy Menekseoglu dreamed a dream. His dream; however, was to create Dream Theatre, a point of connection for diverse audience members and a source of strong roles for actresses. Menekseoglu spoke with Our Town about his new play, Women! A Comedy and how Dream Theatre continues to strive to achieve its goals.
Our Town How did Dream Theatre come to be?
Jeremy Menekseoglu The four original founders met going to school at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1998. As you can imagine, we were all filled with these lofty hopes and expectations of the great things we were going to bring back to America. Originally the idea was to create a company called the Theatre for Humanity that dealt with the psychology of the world instead of its politics. There were so many political theatres out there shouting their rage into the world, but very few focused on our own personal psychology. We wanted a theatre in which the Audience became a part of the story. A real part. We needed a way in which everyone related to one another, that all of humanity could understand. One night, in a dream, I realized that it was in dreams where we all could relate. No matter who we were or how different we were, we all could relate to one another in our subconscious. We had all flown together. We had all been terrified together. We had all loved passionately together. We all had killed. We all had experienced the taboo. The company’s name was changed to Dream Theatre.
OT One of your company rules is ‘no superfluous roles. How does this manifest?
JM No maids coming and going in the background. There would be no pop in parts where the actor spent an hour in the dressing room playing solitaire waiting to enter. Any roles that would appear for only a moment would be removed and replaced by the actual audience. We would direct our attention to them and speak directly to them. This was another way in which to break the 4th wall.
OT As a writer who are your influences?
JM I would say that I was pretty lost until I read Ibsen. Back in ’94 I was in a writing class where you were pretty much told who your influences were. You will be influenced by Church and by Mamet, dammit! The thing that was so odd about that is that we never learned just what Church and Mamet were doing. We were taught more or less to copy them. After graduating, I read Peer Gynt, and my mind was completely blown. Here was the type of work that I had always craved. I went out and bought every translation of it that I could find just so I could keep reading it. Only now do I feel like I have the courage to even attempt something as grandiose as that. But that won’t be until next season.
OT Can you recall a particular play the writing of which changed you as a writer/upped your game?
JM I wrote Agamemnon because I wanted to finally have the guts to put down on paper the event that has haunted me for twenty years. It was the single most honest thing I had written. I felt such incredible satisfaction when it was produced, and later published. I had tried to write that story before, but this voice in my head kept telling me that I wasn’t good enough. It was different from the usual critic voice that says things like that to every artist. It was reasonable. So I waited. And I believe that it is the finest thing I’ve ever written.
Last season’s trilogy Peter Pan's Shadow almost killed me… I broke a writing rule that I will never break again: If something is so fresh that it is going to be too painful to write, wait! Wait! Wait! They are beautiful shows, and I love them a lot, but I pushed myself too far too soon.
OT How do the ten minute plays in Women relate to each other?
JM They are all about women who are not going to take it anymore! The first two pieces remind us where we were. The opening is a sexist misogynistic monologue about how to be a good party guest. The second is about women who are forced to compete in a beauty pageant for the sadistic amusement of a world that is ready to just eat them alive. Then, the gloves come off and the heroines begin to rise.
OT What are the best and worst parts about working in Chicago theater?
JM We began in New York and immediately discovered it wasn’t the right environment. We are a laboratory theatre that spends a ton of time in rehearsal, but it is only in performance that these theories can be tested! In New York we could only do about one full production a year. The rest was spent in loft spaces ,sitting around talking. Chicago came up because it was receptive to any type of new theatre you could imagine. Chicago is like one gigantic fringe festival that never ends. Everything is going on and everything is exciting.
"Women! A Comedy" runs through October 13. Purchase tickets here.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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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