First produced in 2003 at the PAC/edge Festival at the Athenaeum in Chicago
This is Adrian writing. The only thing I’ll say here about 500 Clown Frankenstein as opposed to both shows (which ran in rep at Steppenwolf) is that something happened during the opening run of this show at Steppenwolf. We’d always had a stock answer to the inevitable question from the audience “can I bring my kids”. We would say we recommend the shows for kids 10 and up. And that parents should be prepared to talk with your kids about what they saw, because it might be deeply moving and bear some unpacking in conversation.
That being said, my own child had started coming to rehearsals when he was 6 months old and had seen the show, felt the thunderous crashes and seen the violence from its inception. And another child who saw opening night at The Loop Theater – who was 4 – taught us what the show was becoming. On the first night of our run at The Loop, the Graffiti artist who decorated our lobby for us brought his kid. We had pretty much developed what would become the shape of the show at that point. During one of the times, when The Doctor chases the Helper through the audience, this 4 year old stood up and stopped The Doctor. Just blocked my way. And said something like “stop that”. We had interviewed dozens of kids about that show, and they reported seeing it like a cartoon, but this kid shifted completely into action when we were literally running right by him. No separation. That’s what it took. (shifting the audience from passive to active is the central idea of our mission – so this was very significant research.)
But I remember my son, at age 5 – after he’d seen the show a zillion times- came running back stage at Steppenwolf breathless and almost crying and stood in the doorway to the dressing room with his arms stretched out holding onto the door jamb. And I looked at him as Paul and I were wiping sweat off and drinking water and I said, “We’re alright!” At 5, he was suddenly awake to what happened in the show. He was scared about how Paul and I were. If we were still friends. How we could be friends after doing that stuff to each other. And I was an actor right there at Steppenwolf.