The Organic Theater Company of Chicago

0:22Copy video clip URL Credits, followed by a text crawl explaining the mission of the company.

1:02Copy video clip URL Excerpt from The Bleacher Bums; Joe Mantegna, Dennis Frantz and others perform.

2:30Copy video clip URL The voice of Stuart Gordon is heard over the performance; he explains, to an interviewer, the rapport that has developed between the players in the Organic Theater, and the degree to which this has allowed the company to put on original work.

3:16Copy video clip URL Another scene from Bleacher Bums, featuring Williams.

3:54Copy video clip URL In an interview, Szarabajka explains that many of the characters came from improvisations based on actual fans in the Wrigley bleachers. Gordon explains this in more detail. He says that he worked with the actors to develop their characters, singling out Dennis Franz’s performance as Zig. He also says that the character of Richie was based on a specific real person.

5:50Copy video clip URL Another scene from the play, focusing on Richie and the other characters’ disdain for him.

6:16Copy video clip URL Dennis Frantz explains that the voice of Zig was inspired by a great uncle, and that performing in such a register sometimes takes a toll on his throat.

6:53Copy video clip URL A short scene from the play, focusing on Zig’s attempts to avoid his wife, played by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon.

8:23Copy video clip URL Back to Gordon’s interview, he says that the company tries to take advantage of the interactive nature of theater to surprise the audience, either by directly addressing individual spectators, not clearly marking the beginnings and endings of the performance, or some other contrivance. Gordon expresses his admiration for this aspect of the theatrical experience, positively contrasting it with film and television. 

9:23Copy video clip URL Another excerpt from the play. After, Roberta Custer explains her character’s function in the play. Another short scene follows.

11:00Copy video clip URL Michael Saad demonstrates the thickness of the glasses he must wear as part of his costume by placing the lens directly in front of the camera. He explains how he studied at a blind school in order to play his part. Asked if any Cubs had seen the show, he replies that only “Bonham” (presumably Bill Bonham) had stopped in. He admits to mild disappointment at this, pointing out that Bleacher Bums was likely the best thing about the Cubs’ season that year.

11:57Copy video clip URL Off-screen, over footage of various rehearsals and preparations, Gordon says that most of the theater’s revenue comes form ticket sales. He says that there are no contracts with the actors, other than the standard actors’ equity agreement. There is a brief scene of the roving camera in the dressing room, as Gordon looks over his notes while the actors prepare their costumes and makeup. 

13:23Copy video clip URL Actors stretch and warm up on stage before the empty seats; in a voiceover, Gordon explains this process. In a separate interview, Mantegna jokes about the physical hardships of the actor’s technique; in yet another interview, Williams admits that most acting technique is simply intuition given post-hoc rationalization.

14:31Copy video clip URL An excerpt from a 1977 production of Sirens of Titan, with both actors in full costume before an audience. Shortly after, cut to a rehearsal of this same scene, with the actors in street clothes. Purdy-Gordon goes through her lines, occasionally forgetting her words. We cut back and forth from rehearsal to performance.

17:21Copy video clip URL Williams contrasts acting to painting and sculpting, as performers must deliver at a set time, whereas other artists can set to their task as inspiration strikes them. He says that this can become wearisome if an actor is in the midst of a long-running show. 

18:22Copy video clip URL A scene from the 1977 production of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, in which Mantegna, Frantz, and Meshach Taylor balance a pool cue horizontally across their heads. 

20:33Copy video clip URL Gordon says that good directors tend to give few instructions, whereas having to spell out each line reading, movement on stage, or every other element is “a good sign of a hack director.” He says that the lesson he’s had to learn over the years is “keep my mouth shut.”

21:21Copy video clip URL Richard Fire talks about the different ways the players tried to put together a big scene in Bleacher Bums. After his observation, we go back to the performance, showing a scene in which Richie catches a home run. In a voiceover, Gordon approvingly quotes Coppola (presumably Francis Coppola), who claimed that an actor will always understand a character better than does the director. He says that he insists on operating the lights during a performance, as he feels powerless simply being a spectator.

23:37Copy video clip URL Backstage in the dressing room, Mantegna compares Gordon’s position in the company to that of General Patton, saying that he receives the greatest shares of both credit and blame.

23:57Copy video clip URL Backstage, Taylor, sitting with Saad, says that he thinks there will always be energetic talent available and willing to commit to the Organic Theater. Another excerpt from Bleacher Bums plays.

26:14Copy video clip URL Gordon says that actors who have worked with the Organic have gone on to other things, but he doesn’t see the company as a stepping stone. He says that the freedom to do what they want is important to the character of the company. 

26:54Copy video clip URL At the conclusion of the performance, the Bleacher Bum actors are called out by an announcer and take their bows. Credits.





  1. tom weinberg says:

    This is a great, entertaining and important video. hats off to Harvey and the others who did it.
    It also shows what video archives – and ours in particular – can do that no other medium can do,
    presenting people, performers and programs as they were originally created (41 years ago in this case!)

    It should also be noted that hundreds of thousands watched the play when it was produced by/at WTTW-Channel 11 in 1979,
    back in the days when local public television tried new ideas and programs…so sadly missing for so many years.

    One other note is that Joe Montegna was given credit for conceiving the idea for the play/tv performance.
    It was two years after his first TV appearance in a short film by John Davies shown on Image Union’s first broadcast.

  2. jerry pritikin says:

    Back in 1981, on a warm San Francisco afternoon,I played softball, came home and lit up a joint, and turned on my tv(too). I started to channel surf and on S.F. PBS station KQED there was a stage setting that looked like Wrigley Field. What I did not know… it was the begining of the Organic Theater’s production of the a play called “Bleacher Bums,” Not a 3 act play, but a 9 inning commedy. I found myself cheering throughout the play. When it was over, I did not realize my whole life was about to change. The following day, I was reading the S.F. Examiner’s Want Ads for jobs I did not want. I noticed an ad for actors for the S.F. production of Bleacher Bums.

    Well I happen to be a life long Cubs fan since my dad gave me a crash course in baseball 101 ,and Cubs History then took me to my first game when I was 8 years old in 1945. When the Cubs clinched the N.L. Pennant, I asked my dad to take me to the World Series. He felt I was too young, however made me a PROMISE, he would take me the next time! I was also a Chicagoan.

    I called the director Lee Sankowich, and told him I was not an actor, but felt I could help promote their play. I came in and talked myself into handling the PR for the 6 week run. We were to open to coincide with the beginning of the reg. MLB season’s opening. But there was a long baseball Strike and we became the only game in town. The Bill Veeck in me came out and we were selling out nightly. We moved to the larger Little Fox Theater (350 seats). I turned the lobby into Wrigley Field West. The run lasted for well over a year. I became known as the Bay Areas Resident Cubs Fan. I was able to get tie-in promotions with several radio stations. When Jack Brickhouse was making his last road trip as the Cubs announcer, I talked the Giants into having Bleacher Bum Sunday at the “Stick”and handled the microphone in front of 16,000 people and gave a Special Hey! Hey! Award to Jack. When the run ended, I continued doing Chicago tie-in promotions when ever the Cubs or Bears were in town. They were very successful.

    Fast forward… I moved back to Chicago in the 1980’s and for the next 25 years roamed in and around the Friendly Confines as the “Bleacher Preacher”. Harry Caray had me as a guest on his post game 10th Inning Show. He introduced me as John Q. Public-the Fan! in 1985 (and a couple of years later tabbed me as the Cubs #1 fan) In 2014 I was given the Hilda Award by Baseball Reliquary (named after the fable fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers,known for her cowball). The Award id given to a baseball fan who has contributed to the game of baseball. I was known for my Voodoo Doll, converting non believers into Loyal Cubs fans, I have been featured in many baseball books,ESPN, FOX and a few Docs. The Chicago Historical Museum tabbed me as Famous, been in wire stories,Sports Illustrated, and have a treasure trove of memorabilia.

    THIS ALL CAME ABOUT, BECAUSE I HAPPENED TO SMOKE A JOINT and watched the Organic Theater’s production of the play “Bleacher Bums” back in 1981. So you might say in my case “I imatated Art, and it became my life! I have been involved as advisor for quite a few other productions of “Bleacher Bums”. CHEERS! I can be reached at 312 664 3231

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