As the cast and crew behind Wicker Park theater company, The Hypocrites, officially kick off their 2014-2015 season this weekend, they're hoping audiences are prepared to swap their Netflix queues for a different kind of binge. Hypocrites founding artistic director Sean Graney has stitched together all 32 surviving Greek tragedies into one narrative for "All Our Tragic," a daylong theatrical event complete with meal breaks and napping stations. After a final preview show Saturday, the show opens for its season premiere Sunday; tickets also are available for viewing the production in two to two-and-a-half-hour installments on four consecutive Friday nights. "If you can go to other kinds of festivals, music festivals, or if you've ever binge-watched all of 'Breaking Bad' in one weekend, you can totally do this," said Halena Kays, Hypocrites' artistic director. "It's the same thing." RedEye consulted the artistic team for a breakdown of the epic 12-hour experience. firstname.lastname@example.org | @gwenpurdom
"All Our Tragic"
Go: Through Oct. 5 at The Den Theatre (1329 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
Tickets: $30-$75. 773-398-7028; the-hypocrites.com
Showtime: Following the critical and box office success of 2011's Jeff Award-winning "Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses," Graney wanted to dig even deeper into the world of Greek tragedy. "We thought, artistically we're all very engaged with this … but it is crazy and like, 'Who's gonna come to this show?'" Kays said of the roughly six-hour "Sicknesses." "People, it turned out, were really interested in this kind of storytelling and seeing these stories with a new point of view, seeing them tied together." Building on that response and aiming to create a sort of modern-day Festival of Dionysus, Graney spent three years developing the script for "All Our Tragic."
Intermission: The first of seven breaks throughout the day. Audience members will never go longer than 80 minutes without an intermission or meal.
Lunch break: Vegetarian fare, usually Greek and Middle Eastern, will be served for lunch and dinner and included with the price of a ticket. Free coffee, water and snacks also will be available throughout the performance, in addition to a cash bar.
Part 2: By dividing the play into four two-act parts, Graney created an arc that fits with the passing hours, according to cast member Walter Briggs. "In the morning when you're just waking up, you'll get these adventure, action-movie-type stories [that will] wake you up a little bit," Briggs said. "Part 2, you get these political debates with the Theban plays and politics; and then Part 3, as you're getting a little bit tired, [is made up of] war stories, you get the action; and then when we're all tired and we get to Part 4, all the characters are tired, and it's the fallout of the war and the downward spiral."
Second act of Part 2: Look out for the story of Ion, a lesser-known play and an example of Graney's use of humor amongst so much blood and sorrow, Briggs said.
Dinner break: Audience members can take this hourlong recess to explore the company's new ground-floor space in-residence at The Den Theatre.
Part 4: As characters start to tangle, Kays said clues like costumes, contemporary language and repeated motifs help keep storylines straight. But seeing the pages many read in school come to life visually also helps clarify things, she said: "If you're like me, you have a passing knowledge of some of the famous stories, but you don't know how they all relate, and getting to see them in one day, it feels like you get to have like a whole Greek tragedy college course in one day. But in a really entertaining way."
The end: The daylong experience is meant to elicit a response a more traditional play can't create. "There is something about spending 12 hours in the theater—sharing meals, breaks and entertainment—that we hope will bring out dialogue and debate," Graney said. "In Ancient Greece, these plays were seen as three-day festivals where the ideas brought out from the chorus—ideas about democracy, empathy, fate, to name a few—were first tried and explored. We hope that each daylong performance will bring the audience members to talk about amongst themselves about what type of society they would want to be a part of and what type of world they see themselves apart of."
>>Behind the scenes: Because the production was such a massive undertaking, the script itself was too heavy for actors to lug around, according to Kays. Instead, the cast used Kindle readers throughout the rehearsal process.
>>Pillow pit stop: Getting sleepy? In addition to creating an atmosphere in which moving around is encouraged, Graney said a "pillow pit" set up in the theater will allow for patrons to rest.
>>Story markers: Cast members recommend looking to the characters of the Seven Sisters to help keep track of the story. "You'll see all seven sisters die throughout the play," cast member Erin Barlow said. "You hook into that at the beginning, and you'll know that the play is nearing the end when the seventh sister dies."