Curt Tofteland of Shakespeare Behind Bars: Creating a Circle of Trust

November 15, 2016 By

On September 24, Curt Tofteland took part in a panel discussion that was moderated by Still Point Founder and Artistic Director Lisa Wagner-Carollo and presented by Chicago Shakespeare as part of the Shakespeare 400 Festival. The discussion focused on using Shakespeare in prison arts programming. As Founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars, Curt was a must-have member of the panel. This organization serves incarcerated and formerly incarcerated juveniles and adults through innovative theatre programming. The work is designed to help participants develop life skills that will support a successful reintegration into society.  If you think this sounds lofty or unrealistic, consider this: while national recidivism rates hover around 60%, the recidivism rate for participants in Shakespeare Behind Bars is around 6 %. Curt agreed to talk with me recently about his work.  Still Point has been conducting the Persephone Project for about 18 years.  While I am interested in the “what” and “why” of SBB, I am more interested in the “how” of Curt’s successful programming. By doing a bit of research, I learned that creating a circle of trust is the very first step in all of Curt’s work. I asked him to elaborate on how this actually occurs. He... Read More.

Laura Callahan-Hazard and the Ravenswood Players

August 21, 2016 By

In anticipation of a new session starting up on August 24, I recently talked to longtime Still Point Facilitator Laura Callahan-Hazard about her work with the Ravenswood Players. This facilitation of Still Point’s Imagination Workshop for adults with developmental disabilities is open to people from various agencies and the general public. We have been presenting original public performances of the ensemble’s work in the basement theatre of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church since the program’s inception in 2012. These performances are increasingly popular, with the last show, The Love Cabaret, having about 65 audience members in attendance. Laura recalled that prior to that performance of The Love Cabaret on May 18, a family from the neighborhood saw Still Point staff on the street loading props into the theatre, and asked what they were doing. “We told them about the play – and they ended up coming to the performance and donating to Still Point!” It is precisely this type of community integration that we want to achieve with the Ravenswood Players. Still Point hosts a reception after each show, providing refreshments and sometimes hand-made art for audience members to purchase. These events also allow time for ensemble members to mingle with and... Read More.

The Imagination Workshop 25th Anniversary

July 28, 2016 By

Last Thursday, July 21, Still Point presented a celebratory performance entitled I Can See Clearly Now, in honor of 25 years of the Imagination Workshop. Still Point Founder Lisa Wagner-Carollo began the program at Esperanza Community Services all those years ago, and directed fifteen participants from two classes for this presentation. I was incredibly sorry to have missed the performance. I began teaching the Imagination Workshop with Lisa in 1992, and have so many profound, moving, and hilarious memories from that experience. Mostly I remember the people – participants who sparkled like vibrant and multi-faceted gems. For example, I recall Alvin, an extremely endearing man. His eyes twinkled and he had a crooked smile and he always called me “honey”. Well, he called everybody “honey,” to be fair. He would also frequently raise his brows and tilt his head in a charmingly hopeful gesture and ask, “Coffee?” In fact, in  the first performance that I facilitated with the group, Alvin characterized having coffee with a friend as his personal definition of “Paradise.” At that time, Alvin was already far from young. He had his share of health issues. I remember when he was out ill for an extended period, and... Read More.

Artist Spotlight: Randy Steinmeyer

May 23, 2016 By

At Still Point Theatre Collective, we aim to work with top-notch professionals when producing our original plays. No one could argue that we have found such an artist in Actor Randy Steinmeyer, who recently took over the role of Fr. Doug Doussan in our play Living Water: The Story of St. Gabriel the Archangel Church. Randy’s background reveals that he is a quintessential Chicago actor – and happy to have made a good living in his chosen field. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts from Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL in 1981, he later received his Professional Certificate from the prestigious Goodman School of Drama in 1983. Randy muses that he never left the neighborhood – as his current north side Chicago home is blocks away from the school. Randy’s resume is full of impressive roles from stage, TV, and film – before 1990 he had earned membership in SAG, AFTRA, and Equity professional actors’ unions. Just a few highlights of his career include originating the role of Denny Lombardo in the world premiere of the play A Steady Rain, for which he won a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actor in a Principal Role; TV appearances in... Read More.

Mary Dean: Leading the Fight Against Solitary Confinement in Illinois

April 26, 2016 By

Mary Dean, if you speak to her, will strike you as an exceptionally gentle and soft-spoken woman. One should be aware, however, that her quiet aspect houses a formidable, lion-hearted warrior in the struggle for justice. I began my recent conversation with Mary by asking her how and why she was drawn into a life of activism. She traced that history back to childhood and her experiences growing up on the South Side of Chicago. The effects of extreme poverty were visible everywhere, and in grade school she was volunteering in soup kitchens. Mary has been combating social injustice ever since. While a student at St. Louis University, she became involved in the Catholic Worker Movement, deepening her awareness and commitment to alleviating the burdens of poverty. She is also engaged in numerous efforts to correct policies that promulgate social and economic injustice – locally, nationally and globally. Mary’s activism has on occasion resulted in her arrest. As a result of her participation in a peaceful action to call for the closing of the School of the Americas, a U.S. run training facility for Latin American military personnel, Mary was arrested and sentenced to 6 months in Federal prison for... Read More.

Participant Spotlight: Ellen Stenson

March 16, 2016 By

Still Point’s Sage Theatre Workshop celebrates the wisdom, creativity, and perspective of older citizens. The Sage Theatre group at Bethany Retirement Center reached a milestone recently when they presented their first performance on February 6th, 2016. Their original production was entitled Mixin’ It Up, Volume 1. When Ellen Stenson signed up for the class at Bethany, she really didn’t know what to expect. When I asked if she had had any performance experience prior to taking the class, she chuckled, “Absolutely NOT! Well, maybe I did a skit in fourth grade in Girl Scouts or something. I never thought I had any kind of talent at all. I signed up just to get involved. I went to the first class, and I was hooked!” Ellen clearly jumped right into the improvisational process without hesitation, and was surprised at how much she fun she had taking an idea and running with it. Facilitator Lisa Wagner-Carollo used prompts about the class members’ favorite actors to initiate improvs, and Ellen created a Robert De Niro character that became central in the performance. A flirtation with Barbara Streisand and an ensuing love triangle with James Brolin were part of the comical material that the... Read More.

Wild and Precious: Update on Persephone Project at Lake County Jail

February 15, 2016 By

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver Three weeks ago, Still Point Facilitator Lindsay Porter resumed conducting weekly Persephone Project classes with women at Lake County Jail. Lindsay said that the concept of “identity” has been a theme for reflection and writing in these early sessions. The above quote from Mary Oliver’s poem was used as a springboard for discussion: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Lindsay remarked that this group is particularly supportive of one another, and that the Persephone Project environment makes honest sharing and imagining possible. I have heard repeatedly from Persephone Project facilitators, and have heard it confirmed in the testimonials of participants, that the supportive community created in this programming is vital. An environment which facilitates reflection, imagination, connection, hope and personal growth supports the women in reclaiming and rebuilding their lives. In contemplating identity, the women have an opportunity to be honest about their worst moments and worst decisions, but to also realize that their entire identity need not be defined by these mistakes. That is part... Read More.

Still Point’s 2015 in Review

January 14, 2016 By

2015 was an exciting year for Still Point. For a small nonprofit founded in 1993, we continue to fulfill our mission and expand the scope of our work. Here’s a recap of Still Point happenings in 2015! OUTREACH Regular performances are an integral part of Still Point’s Imagination Workshop for adults with developmental disabilities, and we are focusing more attention on this aspect as our programming expands. We are proud that our Imagination Workshop facilitation at Orchard Village has featured performances at the Skokie Theater and the Skokie Public Library this year. The group that meets at Ravenswood Presbyterian Church is open to public enrollment, and has had three well-attended performances at the church this year, most recently on December 15. Groups at L’Arche Chicago, Esperanza, Search, Inc. and El Valor also presented original performances in 2015. Through exposing community audiences to the unique gifts of these remarkable men and women, Still Point cultivates greater community integration and breaks stereotypes. Staff member Steve Grossman has begun working on boosting the technical aspects of our outreach performances, such as sound and lighting, in order to further enhance the experience for both audiences and performers. While Persephone Project programs continued at Cook... Read More.

Artist Spotlight: Director Virginia Smith

October 8, 2015 By

I was happy to have a chance to talk to the effervescent and accomplished Virginia Smith recently about her history with Still Point Theatre Collective. It was not a short conversation. Virginia first connected with Lisa Wagner-Carollo when Haunted By God: The Life of Dorothy Day was still being produced by Catholic Activist group Call To Action. Former Call to Action Executive Director Ray Wohl asked Virginia to re-work the original production of Haunted By God. “There were three writers: Lisa, Bob McClory, and Paul Amandes. I immediately got rid of two of them,” Virginia quipped. “I said, ‘Lisa, you’re the actor. You’re too close to the material to make decisions about it.’ Bob was a journalist, and he had already contributed all of the factual information to make sure the play was historically accurate – so we didn’t need him anymore. That left Paul, and I worked with him. I told him where I thought the storyline needed more development, and he would write it… and I would cut it to shreds… (chuckles) I also decided that the show needed music. So I asked Paul to write all of the music that is in the play now.” Now, Virginia... Read More.