Just so you know, I took the title of my article from the results of a Google search for the word "plagiarizing." Does that mean I'm a thief, that I'm one of those people who would disagree with this statement: "Obviously it's against the rules to buy essays or copy chunks from your friend's homework"? Chicago's up-and-coming theater company, The Plagiarists, would scream "not guilty" on my behalf, especially considering that their new show, "Promiscuous Stories," based on seven of Jonathan Lethem's short stories, tests the ideas of copyright law and "originality." I sat down with playwrights Kaitlyn Bird, Gregory Peters and Lindsay Verstegen to see just how they get away with it.
Where'd you get the idea for the play, to perform Jonathan Lethem's work?
Gregory Peters: The idea, the play and the idea of the company are inextricably linked. The idea for the company, our vision statement, and our idea and approach to our work as theater artists sprung from an essay by Jonathan Lethem called "The Ecstasy of Influence" that's about copywriting, sharing art, meditation and the idea that art arises from other art—and to pretend that it doesn't is kind of ridiculous. So we were already looking at Lethem's work and his website, and he had a Promiscuous Materials Project on his website, [which is] designed specifically for filmmakers or dramatists to adapt. We thought it was a natural outlook of what we're doing, [so] when we saw it on the website, we knew this was our show idea. So the evening features seven of Jonathan Lethem's short stories (part of his Promiscuous Materials Project); we've got "K For Fake," "Holidays," "Planet Big Zero," "The Children with Hangovers," "Interview with the Crab," "Their Back Pages" and "Sleepy People."
We also project certain filmed elements. Lethem's work reflects the ecstasy of influence attitude, of finding a new creation that reflects all those other things, and then adding another layer of adaptation. Filmed sections are drawn from pop culture and art. There's actually a scene from a sitcom that the crab, a character in one of the stories, is from.
How did you start working with artist Tony Fitzpatrick? I see he designed the poster for the show.
Kaitlyn Bird: I met Tony seven years ago when we worked on "To Kill a Mockingbird," right after I moved to Chicago with Collaboraction. He played Lee Bradley. I didn't see him for a long time after that, and then I ran into him on the sidewalk three years ago and he asked me to come by his studio, and I told him about wanting to start the company. He was very supportive of our project, and it's been amazing to have someone like him on our team. And the poster, I never would have asked him to design a poster for us. But he offered, and he loves Jonathan Lethem so that's another reason I think this appealed to him. His artwork is the ecstasy of influence—pulling from pop culture and advertising, his memories, and it involves poetry—all made into collages.
So if I were to come to the neighborhood by the Athenaeum Theatre, where you're performing "Promiscuous Stories," where would you insist I visit?
Kaitlyn Bird: Go to Schubas if you wanna booze it up late, if you're looking for dinner before the show. Or go to Wishbone, a great breakfast/dinner type place where we're having our post-show dinner. Jack's Wine Bar up the street is cool, too. There's one on Belmont too, but this is the wine bar version.
"Promiscuous Stories" previews Saturday, October 18 at 7 p.m., and opens on Sunday October 19 at 7 p.m.; shows run Thursday¬–Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. through November 23 at Athenaeum Theatre.