Artistic director, Writers Theatre, Glencoe
If Michael Halberstam were the kind of guy to rest on his laurels, he would certainly be entitled, given the kind of year he just rang out. Among his many accomplishments in 2016, Halberstam—co-founder and artistic director of Writers Theatre in Glencoe—was honored with a Jeff Award for his artistic leadership in building a theater with a national reputation for excellence. And considering that Writers Theatre started out in the back room of a Glencoe bookstore, he has every right to be proud of its stunning new Jeanne Gang-designed state-of-the-art home. “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and we just produced our fifth production in the space and it works beautifully,” Halberstam says. That production, East Texas Hot Links, a moving story about racial justice featuring an all-black cast, runs through Jan. 22. And February marks the premiere of The Scene, a comedy-drama about sex, show business and the New York social scene, written by Theresa Rebeck, creator of Smash. “This is one of her seminal pieces—it’s filled with wit and has a very impactful ending,” Halberstam says. “Big things are ahead for Writers Theatre in 2017—stay tuned.”
“It’s exciting and powerful when people laugh, cry and clap at something you’ve written,” says playwright Lydia Diamond. She should know. This Evanston resident just finished writing Toni Stone, which was commissioned by the much-esteemed Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. The play is based on the life story of the first female baseball player in the Negro Leagues, and will be directed by Pam MacKinnon. This latest work follows a string of successful Chicago and Broadway productions, including Stick Fly, The Bluest Eye and Smart People. Some look back and some look forward, but all are about class and race in America. “I was a theater major at Northwestern,” she says of her start as an actor. “But I wanted to take a class with Charles Smith—he’s a legend, and he was the only black faculty member in the theater department.” His class was playwriting, and for about 10 years after graduation, Diamond acted and wrote, but soon discovered the power of her pen was her life’s work. “It’s a privilege to create a play that is meaningful to me and thought-provoking for audiences.”
Moth, dung beetle, larva—though not your typical subject matter, artist and Evanstonian Janet Austin gives the lowly and oft-maligned creatures of nature their day in the sun. This spring, Austin’s new sculpture, “Attached”—featuring a wasp on its hive—makes its debut as an inaugural piece in an outdoor art space curated by Evanston’s Art Council. While the wasp itself glistens with its glass mosaic body, the hive it will navigate is a welded Cor-ten steel labor of love in an ode to the insect. “The narrative on the nest creates a bit of a puzzle to engage people, depending on their vantage point,” explains the artist. “The ecologically driven theme is a perfect complement to the progressive community I live in.” Though bugs abound in Austin’s work, she also recreates the occasional grackle, toad or seascape, often on commission. Locally, the Indian Boundary Park, Northshore Sculpture Park and Chicago’s Old Town (where a dramatic blue waterbird sits) are a few spots that showcase her talent. Expect things to be abuzz in Evanston’s Elliot Park after the thaw right around the corner.