On Sunday I went to the Printers Row Book Fair to see Tracy Letts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of August: Osage County and Steppenwolf Ensemble member. I got there late, thanks to the wonderful CTA, but I managed to find a seat in the surprisingly packed tent (I did not expect so many people would want to see a playwright, but that's mostly because I rarely think a lot of people would share my high-brow tastes).
I had seen Tracy Letts in two plays at Steppenwolf while Christina worked there: The Pillowman (an amazing Martin McDonagh play, and the first big production of a straight play I'd ever seen) and Betrayal (a Harold Pinter snoozefest that was saved by the three actors' strong performances). I unfortunately missed August, even though Christina raved about it. And now it's on Broadway, winning the Pulitzer, and expected to pick up a Tony next week. Luckily, the production will be going on a national tour next year, so I will get to see it (although without the original Steppenwolf cast).
Tracy Letts was a great speaker; to listen to his experience as a member of a supportive ensemble that allowed him to create a three-and-a-half-hour play with a three-story set is pretty impressive. And he sounded surprisingly modest for someone who just one a Pulitzer, who said, "You know, I don't feel a lot of pressure about my next play [Superior Donuts, which opens this month]. If it's a disaster and bombs, it's not a big deal. I'll just write another play." He also had a lot of great things to say about Chicago theatre, and the actors who live and work in this city. "A lot of New York producers didn't understand why the cast wasn't absolutely thrilled to be taking the play to New York and living there for several months," he said. "They seem to think that people in Chicago live here because we have to, not because we like it here."
During the Q&A session it started to downpour and thunder a bit, but the huge audience stayed under the tent as the winds blew it around and water sprayed those of us sitting in the back. When the talk finished, and the thunder started clapping, I ran to the front with my copy of the play, as my goal for the day was to get Tracy Letts to sign it. As I stood in a line of about ten people near the stage, one of the Book Fair volunteers stood up to the microphone and said, "Not to alarm anyone, but everyone must evacuate the tent and find shelter. It's not safe under here."
I followed Tracy Letts and another small crowd of people into the glass-enclosed vestibule of a condo building. There were about ten of us standing there watching the rain pound on the sidewalk outside, knowing full-well that of all the places we could be, a small glass-enclosed shelter was probably not the safest. When the rain let up, we ran back outside, and a security guard informed us that another condo building three doors down was open and we could take shelter there. So, again, I followed Tracy Letts and a few other people into the building.
I was a little nervous about asking him to sign my book, as he was talking to a couple who announced that they proud Steppenwolf subscribers. They had some friend, apparently, who was a theatre producer, so they had stories of all of these shows in New York they had seen from the current Broadway season. Finally, when they stopped gushing over their new friend, I asked Tracy Letts to sign my copy, which he did.
And that's the story of how I took shelter from a possible tornado with a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.