Tonight the company members of a small but mighty Chicagoan theater company named New Leaf will all gather together, as they do most years, to celebrate New Leaf New Years. I am jealous. Or envious. I forget which. New Leaf Artistic Director Jessica Hutchinson taught me the difference once, but I’ve forgotten it. Maybe I’m both.
I have been spying on New Leaf from afar for the last 6 months, keeping tabs from San Francisco on Six Years and now their current production of Toni Press-Coffman’s play Touch. Touch is an alarmingly beautiful play. Before I left Chicago, Jessica tricked me into reading it with the company when they were first considering it for their season; she didn’t warn me that it would break my heart. First, the subject matter—a man loses the love of his life, the only woman who gets him—played on my nightly fears of Rachel traversing the streets of downtown Chicago on her 2am commute back to our apartment. Touch is the only play I have ever read that made me want to be an actor. Second, the language and structure of the play achieves that perfect balance of poetry and realism that forces you to examine life with a heightened sense of its beauty and horror. And third, my heart broke because I knew I would not be a part of New Leaf’s production because I would be a 30-hour car-ride west. I would no longer be a part of this company of gorgeous souls who have come together to create theater that rejuvenates their audience, their collaborators, and themselves. A company devoted to refreshing everyone’s perspective and appreciation for this weird ride of life. A company that is as concerned with the growth and health of its people off stage as they are with the art that happens on stage.
I have been wanting to do a tribute post to New Leaf for a while now, but writing one today, as I prepare for my annual tradition of burning last year’s calendar, seems more than appropriate. New Leaf is what theater should be, and represents what theater has been for me at its most inspiring. If you are a theater and are looking for a New Year’s resolution, consider trying to mimic the virtues of New Leaf. And if you are a theatergoer in the Chicago-area or within a six-hour drive of it, make one of your New Year’s resolutions to go see Touch. It may break your heart a little, but it will mend mine a bit to know you saw it.