Tracy Letts Visits ChiArts

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Tracy Letts addresses the packed blackbox auditorium on February 27, 2018. Letts shared insight on how to be an artist after high school. Photograph by Sophie Lucido Johnson.

by Lily Potter

Tracy Letts has done a lot in his life. He won the Pulitzer Prize for “August: Osage County”; acted in movies like “Ladybird,” “The Post,” and “The Big Short”; and is even a member of Chicago’s own Steppenwolf Theatre.

On February 27, Letts visited The Chicago High School for the Arts to talk about his experiences and give advice to students in the musical theater, theater, and writing departments.

For the first half of the presentation, Letts was interviewed by junior musical theater major Nia Sarfo in the Blackbox. The room was so packed with students that several rows had to sit on the floor.

During the talk in the Blackbox, Letts covered subjects ranging from the differences between the New York and Chicago theater scenes to the minutiae of acting on camera in Hollywood.

He spoke some about growing up in Oklahoma, and how he was often bored but was grateful for his very literary and arts-focused parents.

“Both my folks were English teachers and they just were champions of the arts and they encouraged creativity and creative lives,” Letts said.

Letts offered some insight on the two sides of theater — being the actor and being the playwright. As the actor, you have to stay for multiple shows after opening night, but you don’t have to worry about tedious editing to your script. As a playwright, you can leave after opening night knowing the outcome of your work, but you have to constantly micromanage your actors and script.

He also talked about how in order to get through whatever you’re working on, you have to push yourself, and just do the work so you can get to a satisfying end result. When asked for advice on how to get your work done and get yourself out there, he said, “Make your own work! There’s never been a better time to make your own work because of the technological opportunities and there’s no better city to practice this craft than Chicago.”

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