Ike Holter sat down with Regina Victor in advance of the upcoming Lottery Day to discuss his incisive politics, storefront theater and how he perfects his lyrical language.
Regina Victor: You and Lili-Anne Brown have been collaborating on Lottery Day since the Goodman’s New Stages Festival in 2017. What’s it like working on a new play with a director known for her musical theater achievements—including Passing Strange (Black Theatre Alliance Award and Jeff Award nomination for Best Director of a Musical) and the critically-acclaimed Caroline, or Change at Firebrand Theatre?
Ike Holter: Lili-Anne is a great director because she directs musicals and plays with equal amounts of tact and intelligence. There’s an amount of seriousness you need to hammer home when directing a musical comedy—and there’s also an amount of loose energy you need to direct a big melodrama. Lottery Day traffics in several worlds and genres, and she is a director who understands all of it; [even as] the lanes are constantly changing.
Victor: Your language ‘sings’ to me. Can you speak to its structure in your plays and how you determine what must be heard vs. what can be talked over?
Holter: With a show like Lottery Day, where people instantly switch from in-depth conversation, side-chatting, singing, peacocking, I treat it like a musical: you don’t always need to hear every piece of lyric as long as the feeling of the emotion is there. If we know there are six very happy people on stage, we’re not listening to every single word—we’re taking in the moment more than the words. That can drop at the drop of a dime and you can really find those moments. But I think, in life, we can listen to more than one person speak at a time, and figure out what’s happening.
Victor: Your plays Rightlynd and Lottery Day incorporate music in very specific ways, with and without accompaniment.
Holter: People sing all the time; a day doesn’t go by when I don’t hear someone hum on the train or keep rhythm on a table at a coffee shop. If you’re not going to a party where people sing along with the chorus of a song that’s playing, you’re not going to the right parties.
Victor: Tell me about your relationship with dramaturg Kendra Miller, who has been your core dramaturg throughout this process.
Holter: New play dramaturgy, for me, is finding someone who can keep a laser-like view on the structures of story and character—so if something isn’t working, we can find the root of the problem very quickly. Kendra is one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with behind the table. She comes at things with a very measured take on each character—there’s no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys;’ she’s incredibly well versed in empathy and making sure people’s stories are told truthfully. She’s worked on three of the seven plays in the saga and has a great birds-eye view on how the neighborhood [of Rightlynd] works.
Victor: Many of your plays in the “Rightlynd Saga” have been produced in storefront theaters. What has it been like transitioning to the Goodman? How do you maintain the culture of making art that directly speaks to our citizens, while working in a theater with an audience and budget level that can be so vastly different from the characters you are creating?
Holter: I think the audiences in Chicago are great because they know how to go back and forth from big to small spaces. Doing the first production [Exit Strategy] at Jackalope, which was still an emerging theater company back in 2014, and getting to do this [Lottery Day] at the Goodman in 2019 has really shown me there are no differences between storefront and regional theater in terms of talent. I wish more funding and grants were given to these storefronts, because they really are the future of the city’s artistic identity. Jackalope did the first produced show in the saga with a budget that’s [a fraction] of how much this production cost and it did very well. Imagine what these spaces could do with a budget that matched their passion and drive.
Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist/activist/writer Regina Victor is the co-founder of Rescripted.org—an artist-led online journal for criticism and essays.
To learn more and buy tickets for Lottery Day, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/LotteryDay.