Intergenerational Vibing in Chicago Theater: Young Krones and A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK

Intergenerational Vibing in Chicago Theater: Young Krones and A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK

by Kallan Dana
photos by Luke Brodarick

Jarvis Square is a town within a town within a town, a fairy-lit square inside Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Charmers, the local coffee shop, closes at 5pm every day, but right now its lights remain on, its seats packed well into weekend evenings. If you walk by you couldn’t be blamed for wandering in to buy a pick-me-up cappuccino, as two people did last Saturday night when I was sitting in the lobby, waiting for the show upstairs to start.

This month, Charmers serves as the de facto box office and waiting room for the latest theatrical spectacular by the Chicago duo Young Krones, who have connections to the coffee shop. Young Krones have converted an apartment directly above Charmers into the setting for their wildly funny and tragic, experimental and well-made play, A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK written by Maggie K. Rothberg and Directed by Ava Calabrese Grob—nicknamed M Krone and A Krone, respectively. In making the apartment into a stage, M and A Krone (and their collaborators) have transformed the entirety of Jarvis Square into the home of brave and foolish characters living parallel to the real citizens of Rogers Park. 

I first met Maggie Rothberg in the Pelagic School workshop “Writing for and Beyond Performance” taught by Karinne Keithley Syers last winter and spring. Maggie and I were both relatively new to Chicago, both living in the far North, lakeside neighborhood Rogers Park. Since the start of our workshop with Karinne, Maggie has been writing and revising A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK, working with different collaborators for each iteration. She began developing the play with Ava after she shared a first draft with her last spring. Last summer, the play was workshopped in the Syrup & Candy Reading Series I co-produced with Hanna Yurfest at The Tank, where it was directed by New York-based artist Erica Zippel Schnitzer. This fall 2022, Maggie and Ava held an artist-in-residency position at Facility Theater in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. They initially planned to do a staged reading at Facility but ended up installing a whole living room into the storefront theater, creating an almost fully realized production. 

The success of the Facility workshop led to Dan Sullivan, a friend of Young Krones and a member of the Rogers Park community, offering his apartment to the theater duo for the site-specific, micro-audience production currently running Thursdays through Sundays, now through May 28th.  Dressed in neon jumpsuits, M Krone and A Krone guide the audience through the apartment throughout the production while the actors and musicians perform for a maximum of ten audience members each show.

A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK has transformed in many ways over the last year and a half (including several name changes, from The Applicant to Late April, East of Sheridan to a title too long to parenthesize), but every version has maintained a guiding ethos of reflecting the Rogers Park community where Maggie, Ava, and most of their collaborators and friends have been living for the past three years. 

A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK is a play about intergenerational queerness, about utopia and dystopia, about childhood, about antinormative shapes of love. It is a theatrical romp comprised of simultaneously maximalist and poor-theatre sensibilities, situated inside a shapeshifting apartment stuffed to the brim with visual art (the production features on-loan art by local artists, some of which is for sale), handmade puppets, pillow forts, dance sequences, rock shows, and an intrinsically compassionate spirit. Rare is the play that can sooth and unsettle. A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK does both in the same breath, and then synthesizes the ostensibly diametrically opposed impulses into something liberating. A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK is unlike anything I have seen in theater before. In reflecting several local communities, it generates its own semi-utopian community of artists and audience members every night.

If you are in Chicago, you can purchase tickets and learn about Young Krones here

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kallan: How did Young Krones begin?

Maggie: Ava and I went to Wesleyan University together. Our first collaboration was a play I directed in college. Ava did publicity for it.

Ava: I knocked on the door of every senior house in college until I found upperclassmen who would let us use their house for a publicity photo.

Maggie: And then I directed Stop Kiss by Diana Son (a lesbian classic) and Ava was the scenic designer which is when I first saw that there was collaborative potential between us. 

Ava: And then we got rejected a lot.

Maggie: Yeah, and then we tried to do Fefu and Her Friends twice and got rejected twice. We lived together our senior year and then we devised a Zoom piece in Texas together with three other people. We kept living together; we moved to Chicago.

Kallan: Where did your company name “Young Krones” come from?

Maggie: Ava had tossed the name around for a while.

Ava: The name was a gesture toward a way of being.

Maggie: Because we’ve always been obsessed with older women.

Ava: Older women who have been erased. And the K comes from Kronos.

Maggie: Kronos!

Ava: The god of time!

Kallan: Because you also have a great interest in the Greeks!

Maggie: Yes! And also I believe that Krone is to Crone as Krispy Kreme is to Crispy Cream.

Ava: You really cannot underestimate how actually banal and stupid Maggie and I are in terms of what makes us laugh. 

Maggie: Theater can be so self-serious. Sometimes in order to survive in that ecosystem you have to publicly make stupid decisions.

Kallan: You have to be silly.

Maggie: Yeah. Or else how are you gonna keep going?

Kallan: Maggie, what was your initial interest in writing A DRAMA IN ROGERS PARK and how has it changed over the last year and a half?

Maggie: I started writing it in the workshop that you and I both took, Kallan, with the great Karinne Keithley Syers. That was a weird time in our relationship, Ava.

Ava: Certainly.

Maggie: We had been in a romantic and platonic but non-sexual partnership and were in the process of breaking up. I started writing characters and scenes that were loosely inspired by people I had known in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Initially the premise for the play came from the fact that I was moving out of the house Ava and I had been living in and I was interacting with a lot of leasing agents which made me think about the sketchy netherworld of real estate. The play had a much goofier premise to start. I spent a lot of time in that workshop slowly accumulating dialogue and not having a sense if there was going to be any real plot to the play. I think because of the drafting process that Karinne took us through I was able to stick with the material and discover some throughlines. I discovered a lot of joy in that process and at some point, I became determined that Ava would direct it. Little to her knowledge.

Ava: Little to my knowledge indeed.

Maggie: When I first brought the play to Ava she was really mad at me.

Ava: I felt like the play had taken from our personal lives but not executed it accurately. I just was not able to see it as a piece of art at first because it was so close to the emotional reality I had been living.

Kallan: What shifted for you, Ava?

Ava: I don’t think something shifted; I think two things were happening which was that I was really mad but I was also really impressed by the writing. I told Maggie I was mad, which was something I had never been able to do before in our relationship. And then Maggie said to me: “it’s really not about you, which is why I didn’t give you a warning.” And I really believed her. Of course, the stakes of her life and my life and the lives of all of the Rogers Park people we know are in the play, but really it is its own world.

Maggie: Then I put together a read-through of the script in my apartment and when Ava heard it aloud she became invested.

Kallan: The first staging was in a workshop during your residency at Facility Theater in Humboldt Park fall 2022. How did you two get connected with Facility?

Ava: Facility Theater is the reason I moved to Chicago! I visited over one of my spring breaks in college and saw Facility’s production of Jen Silverman’s Phoebe in Winter, directed by dado and starring Maria Stephens. I became very obsessed with both of these artists. Maria Stephens ended up playing the character of Wendy in the first Chicago read-through and workshop of the play. She just took a chance on me and Maggie and really loved the play.

Kallan: In both the Facility production of the play and this current production you guide the audience around while wearing these bright tracksuits, telling audience where to sit or where to shift their focus or gaze if multiple scenes are happening at once. Can you talk about the Young Krones presence in the play?

Maggie: Our presence in the play began in the fall because we had no run crew! And like, where were we gonna get a run crew? We knew that we were gonna have to be our own run crew. If we were going to be our own crew, I think we were interested in what it would mean for us to be a visible presence, as opposed to this thing we do in theater where people wear all black and shuffle around. What’s interesting is that I went to the Goodman Theater [in Chicago] the other day, and when you go to these large institutional theaters the run crew are extremely visible. They come out onto the stage in full stage light in intermission and move everything around and don’t try to hide it at all. It’s actually more of a convention of the smaller black box theater where the actors do everything and that labor is meant to appear invisible. Our production is pushing against that.

Kallan: I think of the show as this convergence of Brechtian and immersive theater. What are some aesthetics and forms you are drawing on for this production?

Maggie: I think our project is immersive in some ways and borrows from immersive theater techniques, but if it were truly immersive Ava and I would not be there and the audience would be completely guided by the actors. I have been thinking of this script in relation to the term “hysterical realism” which was a term that was coined to talk about Zadie Smith and some of those others early 2000s novelists. Zadie Smith is a huge influence for me. I think depending on who you talk to in theater, realism can be considered a dirty word. I think initially Ava and I would catch ourselves in conversations with designers and actors saying “remember, it’s not realism!” But then we were coming up against this problem where in a lot of ways it actually is realism. The script demands certain old standbys of realism plays such as a couch and a dining table. How do you honor that while also creating space for the hysteria that blossoms?

Ava: If you think about this play as hysterical realism, and if you think about hysterical realism as “TOO MUCH REALISM,” then I think all the stakes can stay the same but it’s about pushing all of the actors to really play with language and sound. I think if you give an actor a note about how the language should sound, the actor will make a choice inside the constraint that you give them.

Kallan: In this production, while we are in a literal apartment, the rooms inside the apartment are able to metamorphosize throughout the play. One of the rooms in the current apartment starts out as a bedroom that we see and then is transformed invisibly into a wall-to-wall pillow fort at some point during the play. How did you do that?

Maggie: This is some really genius work by our scenic designer Nina. And also one of the amazing gifts of that room in the apartment is that it has a murphy bed and Nina figured out how to exploit that for the play. Calvin [the youngest actor in the play] and I go into the room during another scene and we pull up the murphy bed which has curtains on the backside of it. We pull up white curtains all around the room and then lay out a white duvet and a bunch of white pillows so it becomes this glowing white space. Calvin and I do that set up while he has noise-canceling headphones on because of the inappropriate content of the scene going on in the other room. Calvin does a great job with it.

Ava: The other night Calvin did the entire transformation by himself!

Kallan: Speaking of Calvin, who is the youngest actor in the play at twelve years old, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about age in the play. What is the importance of intergenerational relationships to this story?

Ava: For the most part my interest is in intergenerational queers. This play is asking so many questions about gender and sexuality and it’s important to get a range of responses to those questions from queer people of different ages and backgrounds. 

Kallan: Can you speak about what the Rogers Park community has meant to you in your time living there and what you hope the play is and does for this neighborhood?

Ava: I think all the theatrical transformation that happens in the environment of the apartment is very in line with the magic that Rogers Park holds given its history as an artist bohemia as well as a place with a history of violence. And for Maggie and I, Rogers Park has been a space of immense intergenerational vibing.

Kallan: And that’s what the whole play is too!

Ava: Exactly! There’s something really cool and exciting about being spit out into the world as a young person and suddenly having friends that are significantly older and younger than you. At our age it feels like you have the potential to reach into so many different ages and learn from them. We were asking each other “why is Rogers Park the setting of the play?” a while ago and we said “because it’s American utopia”—and we say that both irreverently and sincerely. It is being rapidly gentrified and then at the same time when you go to hang out at the lakefront you see a really diverse range of people.

Maggie: Ancient Greek comedies were written to be understood in their time and place as opposed to trying to write a “universal” or “timeless” play. I have always felt that theater is a fundamentally local art form, so to me it makes sense to lean into that rather than away from it.

Kallan: How did you guys get connected to the apartment that serves as the setting for the production?

Maggie: I didn’t have that many theatre connections in Chicago, so the relationships I was able to use to make a large-scale project like this happen were my old bosses and the landlord of the building where I used to work [Charmers Café]. Those are the people I know who have access to space and who were interested in collaborating.

Ava: Dan Sullivan, whose apartment is the one we use as the setting for the play, knew Maggie because she made him coffee when she worked at Charmers. Then when she and I started to do these outdoor street performances he came to every single one. And some of them were atrocious! But he was just so generous in his spirit. As we got better at performing, he’s been really willing to engage with us and our experiments.

Kallan: What do you hope to make and see in Chicago experimental theater in the future?

Maggie: I would love to see more interdisciplinary collaboration. I was talking to two visual artists who came to see the show last weekend (one of whom designed a quilt that is featured in the play) and I was asking them how often they go to see plays and they were like “almost never.” Which I think is a common response from artists working in other disciplines. Which is weird because theater is the all-encompassing art form—it uses and needs pretty much every other artistic discipline and yet as an industry and ecosystem it’s so sequestered. Theatre people work on theatre and see theatre and don’t always reach across.

I also hope to see more theatre that is interested in the audience and that does not take that relationship for granted. And I hope to see more intergenerational collaboration. Our dream for our next project is to only cast women over the age of forty.

Ava: That’s the mission of Young Krones. That’s Krone advocacy.

A drama in Rogers Park runs now through May 28th in Chicago. Tickets are available here.

Production information is below.


Kallan Dana is a playwright who splits her time between Chicago and New York. In June she will receive her MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern University.

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