“Have A Great Summer” premiering at Stage 773 on May 1st, is the third installment of the Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble directed by J.W. Basilo. As with previous shows the Ensemble has written and will be performing all of their own work in one great lyric that uses poetry at the forefront but includes movement, comedy, and hip hop to glide through the heavy pieces and leaving the audience with something to talk about.
On the first day of spring half of the cast was in Teagan Walsh-Davis’s 1989 Oldsmobile 88 when she rolled down the windows. She had just found The National’s “Bloodbuzz” on a mixed cd earlier that day and wanted to share it with us. In that moment with hands out windows, lyrics sung, and muted laughter the cast and myself were transported back somewhere we’ve all been, but this time, together.
“Have A Great Summer” may seem like a whimsical name full of folly and established yearbook troupe, but it still isn’t for the faint of heart. This show promises to make you laugh and still slice your rib cage open when you realize this isn’t what you thought it would be like either. Through noted conversations, rhythmic performances, and dramatic recounts of friends growing up, or not having the chance to, the Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble brings you into Marc Kelly Smith Memorial High School with a questioning of your own experience and how it shaped you. “We aren’t telling you something new about high school.” Shelley Elaine Geisler said at a rehearsal earlier this week.
The Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble took a look back into their own unique high school experiences, or in one cast member’s case, lack there of, and they began writing about the wickedly hysterical moments, tremendously heartbreaking outcomes, and of course all of the awkwardness that we can all relate to. “I had such a different outlook on who I was … I thought I had it all figured out then.” Rashaad Hall explained about finding that “unbridled, know-it-all-ness” he used to write pieces like “Black Table.” When we first began we all made a list of expectations, our “then and nows” from that we jump started into writing about all of the situations that we felt most affected us. For some, the “thens” intersected. ”That piece is so important” Teagan Walsh- Davis said on a separate drive home from rehearsal. “The fact that two more hands went up when I said I wanted to write about it makes it important.” The cast submitted close to 90 pieces about their pasts, 30 made it into the show after the final cut.
“What’s surprising about the show, other than that we were conjuring the content while still running “Redlined,” is how the end all emphasizes our ensemble’s chemistry. We are all likeminded.” Frankiem Mitchell texted on a Saturday afternoon. After “Redlined” opened the Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble quickly went back to work writing for “Have A Great Summer” or “H.A.G.S.” Opening up and playing with each other wouldn’t have been as easy otherwise. Using themselves often as a form of comedic relief the cast was eager to read aloud some of their personal embarrassing facts during those four years. Dru Smith’s, probably being the most appalling, made it into the show, every night. When he read it aloud everyone’s sides split. TJ Medel and Angela Oliver returned to the group for “Have A Great Summer” and it’s been a kind of welcome home. TJ’s willingness to go all in, and Angela’s quick wit have helped the Ensemble grow and work harder to once again establish something that the audience has never seen before. J. Evelyn, our resident movement artist, brings a secret to the lyric with her portrayal of a Molly Meacham piece “Lindsey Learned It First”, that you will not be able to take your eyes off of. As we continued to write the reflections kept coming and many in the cast realized that not so much has changed. Or is this really all there is. Or how did we get here? But we are all here, and this is what made us.
For more information on “Have A Great Summer” opening May 1st at Stage 773