Ike Holter’s new audio play “I Hate It Here: Stories from the End of the Old World” premieres just in time for Christmas. That the new work has zero to do with the holidays, leaves the out playwright pleased. “It’s more of a wrap-up-the-year kind of play. And I think it’s awesome that it’s opening now.”
Studio Theatre, which commissioned the award-winning Chicago-based writer to pen and direct the piece, describes it thusly: “With sharp humor and keen observation, Holter uses vignettes, monologues, and song to take listeners from an office to a wedding, high school, outdoor brunch, front porch, and more to capture the many ways it feels to live in a world wracked by changes both personal and systemic.”
And while “I Hate It Here” never specifically mentions 2020, coronavirus or COVID-19, audiences will instantly know what it’s about. “The idea was to do something like HBO’s “Tracey Takes On” — to have many variations touching on the theme. It’s not only about now, it’s about three or 30 years from now, when change, disease and racial injustice breaks out,” he says.
Mostly experienced in writing for stage, Holter, 35, digs the audio process. “What’s freeing about writing for audio is that it tears across the idea of having one set or functionality – it’s more about the idea, and there’s no responsibility for the audience to keep up visually.”
Without a single driving action, live audience, or intermission, he doesn’t think of “I Hate It Here” as a play. He compares the work to an album with intros, outros and singles performed by an ensemble of seven actors.
And the characters he’s written are people you might know – sort of average people, not borrowed from the headlines. His idea was to see how many different voices they could get in terms of region, racial backgrounds, and ages. The characters are of varied gender and sexual orientations, and have different views on what should or shouldn’t be happening in the world, he says.
Holter adds, “Some are different from me and others are people who would chill with me often. I wanted a good palette.”
That mélange of humanity is played by an exciting cast of actors who recorded their parts remotely from disparate spots across the country. They include Sydney Charles, Behzad Dabu, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Tony Santiago, Gabriel Ruiz, and Washington actors Jennifer Mendenhall and Jasen Wright, all of whom Holter had in mind when writing the play. “You can do that when you’re both playwright and director,” he says slyly.
A self-described comic book nerd, big film fan, and pop culture junkie, the prolific DePaul University alum began his career in Chicago’s underground scene. His breakout play “Hit the Wall” was inspired by a longtime fascination with the Stonewall riots. “It’s a funny, weird play that takes a dramatic turn. More a celebration than anything,” he says. Also loosely moored to real life happenings, his acclaimed “Exit Strategy” follows the final desperate days of a condemned Chicago public school.
In addition to myriad stage pieces and plays, and a couple audio works, he’s written for TV too. He served as a staff writer for “Fosse/Verdon,” the excellent FX series produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the professional and romantic relationship of legendary director/choreography Bob Fosse and Broadway star Gwen Verdon.
When asked about live theater coming back, Holter replies flatly “I’ll trust the science,” before averring that he hopes when theater does come back, the many theaters that have made statements about Black Lives Matter and issues surrounding the election will make good on their promises of equity and inclusion. And that regional companies will produce theater that better reflects the demographics of their cities.
“Whether that be 2021, 2022, or whenever.”