Chicago playwright Ike Holter is one busy man.
The 28-year-old playwright behind last year's wildly acclaimed Stonewall Riots drama Hit the Wall has two new works debuting days apart: A 10-minute piece called Weirdo that's part of LiveWire Chicago Theatre's short play festival called VisionFest 5: Johnny 5 is Alive, and then a reading of his new play Prowess at the Goodman Theatre as part of its season-long residency for local writers known as the Playwrights Unit.
On top of all of this, Holter also has to finish writing one more episode of a four-part stage sitcom called B-Side Studios for The New Colony and The Inconvenience. This project is a seven-month collaboration that also aims to be filmed and uploaded online that is set to debut in September.
"It's a lot of mental jumping around," said Holter during a telephone interview about the many projects he's juggling. "I'm always changing new scripts until they get on their feet."
This deluge of new work shows that Holter isn't resting on his laurels after Hit the Wall became a huge hit for The Inconvenience when it played in repertory as part of Steppenwolf Theatre's 2012 Garage Rep and then at Theater on the Lake. New York producers then took Holter's mythologized look at the 1969 Stonewall Riots off-Broadway to the Barrow Street Theatre in March of this yearjust steps away from the site of the Stonewall Inn.
"I just wrote it on spec and it took two-and-a-half weeks to write and then it got picked up," Holter said about Hit the Wall. "I would never have thought that it would first of all be done at Steppenwolf and then go out of the city."
Unfortunately, Hit the Wall in New York drew more of a mixed critical response and didn't attract the audiences that the theater was hoping for. The show didn't last long enough to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
"I'm still so proud about that production and the cool thing was that the entire cast and the entire producing team and people who worked at the theater really believed in the show," said Holter, adding that other theaters around the country have plans to produce Hit the Wall in next few seasons.
The national attention that Holter received with Hit the Wall now means that whenever his name comes up, he has the label "Black gay playwright" attached.
"I don't exclusively write queer charactersI don't exclusively write Black characters, even though I'm both of those," Holter said, more bemused than annoyed. "Actually most of my plays are about a lot of different people doing a lot of different things… I don't think we called Arthur Miller a white straight male writer."
So with Weirdo and Prowess, Chicago theatergoers have a chance to see more of Holter's work on other topics. For instance, Weirdo deals with the power and perils of instant social media ruining the reputations of people to tie into LiveWire Chicago Theatre's festival theme of technology and when things "Short Circuit" (fans of the 1980s film with the same name will recognize the festival's use of its catchphrase).
Prowess is the graphic novel-inspired play that Holter worked on through the Goodman's Playwright Unit. It concerns a woman who tries to enact change directly in Chicago neighborhoods when she becomes dissatisfied with the slow pace of politics.
"She basically pulls together a group of outlying individuals and they start what I would describe as a 'po-dunk Avengers-style' method of saving the city that takes place in modern Chicago," Holter said, adding that none of his characters actually have superpowers. "I'm a big fan of superhero movies and comic books and this is kind of my stab at doing a hyper-real version that is funny, scary and also really dramatic because we're dealing with real issues."
"Ike is the quickest playwrights I've ever worked with," said Anna Rose Epstein, artistic director of Nothing Without A Company, which produced Holter's play LOOM earlier this season.
Epstein co-founded Nothing Without A Company with Holter in 2008 after they both graduated from DePaul University, and she's amazed by his "ability to see if something isn't working in a script during the process… He's more instinctual about things."
"I'll make revisions until we have to go up," Holter said. "Weirdo is easier because it's a 10-minute showit's basically just cutting and trimming. But for Prowess, I'm actually looking at the script as we speak and that's my number one priority."
LiveWire Chicago Theatre's VisionFest 5: Johnny 5 is Alive features 10 short plays by Holter, Philip Dawkins, Bekah Brunstetter and seven other playwrights. Performances are from Wednesday, July 17, through Friday, Aug. 2, at INTUITThe Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave. VisionFest 5 runs in two alternating programs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays (five plays each) with a marathon of both programs (all 10 plays) on Fridays at 7:30 and 9 p.m. The official press opening is Friday, July 19. Tickets are $15 (single programs) or $20 (Friday marathons). For more information, visit www.livewirechicago.com .
Holter's Prowess is performed as a reading at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at the Goodman Theatre's rehearsal rooms, 170 N. Dearborn St. The performance is free, but reservations are required by calling 312-443-3800 or by visiting www.goodmantheatre.org/PlaywrightsUnit. Other plays that are part of the Goodman Theatre's Playwrights Unit include: Greg Allen's Sleeping with the Prince of Darkness: The Imagined Pillow Talk of FBI Agent John O'Neill (7:30 p.m. July 20), Christopher oscar peña's F(law)less (2:30 p.m. July 21) and Alice Austen's Ninth Man Out (7:30 p.m. Aug. 16).