News & Articles
Traffic Jam: A Discussion with Producer Tim Evans
2005-2006, Volume 2
For the last ten years, Steppenwolf’s Traffic series has brought together artists of all disciplines to cast them as storytellers in one-night-only presentations on the Steppenwolf stage. From December 1-18, 2005, Steppenwolf will launch a three-week Traffic Jam, bringing dozens of artists to Chicago to provide an intimate and unique intersection of language, lyrics, poetry and music. Curt Columbus spoke with Traffic producer Tim Evans about the evolution of this unique program.
Curt Columbus: Let’s start with a little bit of history of the Traffic series.
Tim Evans: Ten years ago, I went to see Kurt Elling perform at the Green Mill. He was just coming onto the scene then, and I sat there and thought, “This is so cool. Steppenwolf is a cool place with cutting edge performers. Why can’t we seek out something that could represent this kind of hipness in our programming? Why don’t we do this at Steppenwolf?”
At that time, we were just producing our five subscription plays, and only a little bit in the Upstairs Theatre, pretty minimal in terms of our current programming. [Steppenwolf Artistic Director] Martha Lavey was looking for ways to broaden the vision of Steppenwolf, so we decided to work with a curator that might have contacts in the world of music. Several people recommended local jazz musician Kahil El’Zabar as curator, and he and I basically programmed the first season, relying a lot on his expertise in the area. We had quite a diverse mix that first season; the very first show was trumpeter Lester Bowie, playwright/poet Ntozake Shange and Kahil’s own group, The Ritual Trio. We had Kurt Elling, and a company called the Jelly Eye Drum Theatre. We had Studs Terkel in a sit-down with Honeyboy Edwards and Franz Jackson. So from the start it’s been diverse.
CC: Tim, what’s the essence of a Traffic performance?
TE: There’s something about the spontaneity, the creativity and the collaboration that are the hallmarks of a Traffic evening. That can be one performer doing new material for the first time, or it can be a group of different artists, from different disciplines coming together to create something completely new. Or maybe they’ve done it thirty times together, but for some reason, in our space it feels fresh and spontaneous.
CC: Can you give me a couple examples of programs that really captured that essence over the years?
TE: Well, I think one of them was with Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote a new libretto for Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale for us. Vonnegut showed up here, and then we had a bunch of our actors, John Mahoney, Rick Snyder and others, read the piece. There was also this sort of funky orchestra, called Orchestra X, playing the music on stage. And it was stunning. That was a great night.
I also loved the Divas of Dance, with Maria Tallchief and Gwen Verdon and Carmen deLavallade. What ended up being so cool about it is that while they were talking, they all remembered working together and then specifically remembered their working circumstances. They were all married to dynamic men of dance. Maria Tallchief was married to George Balanchine. Gwen Verdon, of course, was married to Bob Fosse. And Carmen deLavallade was married to Geoffrey Holder. Carmen was one of the first dancers in Alvin Ailey, and so she had a relationship with him, as well. So they talked about what it meant to be the muse to a creative man, then they talked about what that also meant to be dancing in “a man’s world.” Then they talked about the opportunities that were given, or not given, to dancers of color. They were all so open and frank, it was a once in a lifetime evening.
CC: You’re getting at something that I always find is true of Traffic performances, and that is that it always feels intimate to me. A more recent example was when David Sedaris performed in the Upstairs Theatre. There we were, listening to him try out new material – material he had written that day to show us for the very first time. Sometimes it’s revelatory, like when Frank McCourt came, and you’re hearing his words in a completely new way because it’s so personal…
TE: Well yeah, we gave him the right environment to feel very comfortable in – the set was the bar from the Irish play The Weir, right? And we gave him this terrific Irish band led by Liz Carroll, who is a world-class fiddler. He reads his material all the time, but all of those elements coming together on that particular evening, we got him to sing some songs, and do a little jig, and read some old work from Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis, and then he gave us a preview of his new book, Teacher Man: A Memoir.
We achieve a level of intimacy that you don’t have in other places; there’s something about being in that room for these people and being at Steppenwolf.
CC: So what can we expect from the December Traffic Jam?
TE: The whole festival will be about different genres of music, different ideas, different points-of-view, different performance styles. And we’ll bring in writers and political figures and poets and musicians and performance artists so that there is an exciting mix of ideas and artistic performance. That’s what Traffic is all about.
Fidelity Investments Sponsors Traffic Jam
Fidelity Investments actively supports community and civic initiatives all across the United States to more than 90 other cities. Since their inception in 1946, Fidelity has consistently maintained a tradition of charitable giving and community involvement. In each region, Fidelity focuses on involvements that have the potential to measurably enhance a community's quality of life. While their support takes many forms, Fidelity’s hope is to benefit Chicago, as well as their employees and customers who live and work there.
Steppenwolf extends our profound appreciation to Fidelity Investments for their support and generosity. Fidelity’s belief in the importance of our work is greatly appreciated and is vital to our theater company. Fidelity’s sponsorship of the Traffic Jam positions Fidelity Investments as a pace-setter in artistic innovation in Chicago and will contribute to the extraordinary artistic and fiscal milestones Steppenwolf achieves.
The Talbott Hotel, Chicago’s premier boutique hotel, is Steppenwolf’s newest Corporate Producer Circle member and the preferred hotel of Steppenwolf. This charming 16-story, European-style hotel is an exclusive oasis for the business and leisure guest.