Bleacher Bums
conceived by Joe Mantegna, written by the Organic Theatre Company
Directed by Chris Leonard
Spring, 2011

Bleacher Bums is a 1977 play written collaboratively by members of Chicago's Organic Theater Company, from an idea by actor Joe Mantegna. Its original Chicago production was directed by Stuart Gordon. A 1979 performance of the play was taped for PBS television, and in 2002 a made-for-TV movie adaptation was produced.

Bleacher Bums takes place in the bleachers of Chicago's Wrigley Field. The characters are a bunch of Chicago Cubs fans, watching a game in progress on a summer afternoon. Most of them have been gathering here for some time and know each other; even if they might not necessarily like or tolerate each other. Beer is being drunk, hot dogs are being eaten, and friendly wagers start to take on increasing importance.

Bleacher Bums is a collaborative effort. The nature of that collaboration isn't exact. My Samuel French edition says, "Conceived by Joe Mantegna" and "Written by," which is then followed by ten other names, all members of Chicago's famous Organic Theater. A site on the internet says, "Written by Joe Mantegna and The Organic Theater." To complicate matters further, the 1977 play was updated in 1989. How or by whom is not explained.

Collaborations pose a problem that plays written by a solo author do not. Plays written by individual playwrights have a style and sensibility to them that collaborations are hard-pressed to find. David Mamet, a 1970s Organic Theatre success story, has a voice in his plays that is uniquely his own.  Other playwrights of that time include Lee Blessing, Norma Marsh, Sam Shepard, A.R. Gurney, Lanford Wilson, and each of these playwrights has an oeuvre entirely his or her own. They were not collaborators with their play scripts. Even though every theatrical production is a collaboration of actors, designers, playwright and director, one knows when one is watching a Lee Blessing play or a Norma Marsh play or a Wendy Wasserstein play.

And while the production values of the Organic Theatre in its first decade (It started in 1970.) had shrewd brevity, that abbreviated staging was simply part of the financially challenged theatre world of off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway.

None of this is to say that Bleacher Bums is not a unique theatrical enterprise. Not at all. Part of its specialness is that, despite what its cover page says, the author of Bleacher Bums is really the city of Chicago. Mantegna and the others are like channels, I suppose, who have managed to voice the spirits and the psycho-dramas that inhabit the great city--which is why Bleacher Bums is not a pretty play. Chicago, for all its beauty, is still the great hawk and "hog-butcher to the world," as her own poet Carl Sandburg told us as much literally as figuratively.

The psycho-dramas that animate the play may be reduced, perhaps, to one single absurdity: Chicagoans are proud chest-thumpers about their city, but they are like children. Sports franchises go up and down; their value for civic pride is eternally fleeting. So why make sports the battlefield? For children, sports is an arena where the good are distinguishable from the bad. In Chicago, the Cubs are good, and the Cards are bad. Whatever the Cards do well is merely a matter of luck; what the Cubs do poorly is simply bad luck. That's a worldview that makes sense. In St. Louis, however, an alternative world view obtains.

With their Chicago worldview, the characters in the play respond, at times, without any differentiation between disappointment and disaster. A strike may be the end of the world. A homerun may be the equivalent of peace in our time. –Which is to say, the folks on stage are like children. Even their bickering is childish. (Watch the married couple.)

Nevertheless, even with the married couple, there is an eternal joy in these characters. They may be nasty, brutish, sexist, obscene and manipulative, but they have a sanguine view of the future. The most cynical character amongst them, Marvin the realist, dismisses his bleacher neighbors with a quip about Chicago: "It's a town of masochists. They like to see themselves get beat. A bunch of losers."

In one sense, he's right. But the play makes clear that in all other senses, he is entirely wrong. Marvin also says, "Nobody ever went broke betting against the Cubs after the 4th of July."

But that's the point. Childhood hopes for Christmas morning. Childhood hopes for a birthday present of such magnificent proportions that they would be impossible to fill. Childhood hopes for a heroism unseen before, a garnering of  baseball statistics so impossible as to be breathtaking. Childhood remains loyal to its heroes whether they are heroic or no. And so, when the heroes are defeated, there is no loss in intensity: There is only and always tomorrow. What Marvin calls masochism  is also unwavering loyalty.

In the larger scale of things, childish naiveté just won't cut it in Chicago. In business, in theatre, in the cut-throat world of art, in politics, in major league sports, cold cynicism and dirty greed oil the machines. The bleachers of Wrigley Field are mostly exempt from such grimy grease. The bleachers are a playground for adult children who may behave badly, but with eternal innocence.

Bleacher Bums is an ode from Chicago to its sports fans. We have to simply thank Mantegna et al for getting it down on paper.

Patrick McGuire
Senior Lecturer, English
Uiversity of Wisconsin-Parkside

Tiffiny Blake is back for another season at The Stage Center Theatre.  You may have seen her as Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, Fiddler/Showgirl in Vaudeville America, or Fanny in Emma’s Child.  As much as Tiffiny enjoys the spotlight, she prefers working behind the scenes where one really gains an appreciation for the theatre.  She has worked at NEIU as stage manager for the Illusion and Around the World in 80 Days.  When Tiffany isn’t here, she is busy teaching private violin lessons at The Betty Haag Academy of Music.  Tiffiny is excited for this challenging role where she will forget all of her baseball knowledge and shed her team’s colors of black and white for Cubby blue.  She can not forget all of her allegiances, however, so (apologetically) GO WHITE SOX!

Tony Gasbarro was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. Tony cultivated his love of performing on stage during his teens in high school. Since then he has performed off and on with various community theatre groups in different regions of the US in such roles as Oscar Madison in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, and featured tenor Van Buren (team manager) in Damn Yankees. Tony has made a career of late at The Stage Center, appearing in five productions here since autumn 2009. Tony extends his gratitude to director Christopher Leonard for yet another opportunity, to his fellow cast mates for setting the bar so high and for the great working atmosphere, and to you for coming out to see our show! GO CUBS!

Ryan Gilbert is thrilled to be a part of this wonderful production and cast.  This is Ryan’s fifth show at the Stage Center Theatre.  He could previously be seen in productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Bottom, Lucky Stiff as Harry Witherspoon, A Tale of Two cities as Monsieur Defarge, and Around the World in 80 Days as Jean Passepartout. He would like to thank Chris, Caitlin, John, and Jessica for all of their hard work.  He would also like to thank his family and friends for all their love and support. Go Cubs!

Michael Jando was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. At a young age, he discovered his love of comedy, and making people laugh. As he got older, he began to help create and star in many short films, as well as perform in live theater around the Chicagoland area. Mike has begun his training in the art of Improv. He is a graduate of Second City’s Conservatory program and IO Theater. He can be found studying at Second City. He is currently a member of three Improv troupes and can be seen performing at The Playground Theater and Gorilla Tango Theater.

Kitty Mortland is excited to be making her debut at The Stage Center. She has previously been seen around Chicago with Corn Productions in Floss!, The Bad Seed: The Musical, and Real Aural Talent, and with Hobo Junction in The Temp.  In her spare time, she is a singer/songwriter and has played venues such as The Elbo Room, The Underground Lounge, Reggie's Rock Club, and The Abbey Pub.  She is an avid Cubs fan and has never eaten an egg salad sandwich at Wrigley. Go Cubbies!

 Dan Oocha is making his third foray onto The Stage Center boards, after turns in 2009's An Inspector Calls, and this spring's Emma's Child. A Chicago native and member of the On The Spot Theatre Ensemble, Daniel has also appeared in Gorilla Tango, La Costa, and New Rock Theatre productions, as well as several collegiate and independent films. He would like to thank his fellow "Bums" for all the laughs and good times while working on this project, his family and friends for their support, all of you lovely audience members who came to see us tonight, and the Chicago Cubs for their 2011 World Series championship.

Allen Shub is thrilled to be appearing for the second time at Stage Center Theatre.  Previously he appeared in Around the World in 80 Days.  In earlier times, he had the starring role in eighth grade as Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and played a hick farmer with a corn cob pipe in a college musical comedy revue where he also sang and danced.  Allen expresses his gratitude to Chris Leonard for casting him in Bleacher Bums and for the opportunity of working with such an incredibly talented cast and crew.  Allen also thanks his family, his “day job” colleagues, his Facebook friends, and his agent Jim Blair for all their support.

John Stiens is happy to be a part of Bleacher Bums. Born and raised in the great Cincinnati, OH, John has enjoyed playing a Cubs fan, but will be happy to watch his Cincinnati Reds this baseball season. John moved to Chicago to train at Second City and the IO theater. Since then, he has been happy to take part in many shows, including Tam Lin, Picture Perfect, and Your Biggest Fears. He is happy to be a member of Hugs and Pullups Improv as well as The Dancing Pig sketch group. John would like to thank his family and friends for their support.

Jeff Wade “Hey! Hey! Holy Mackerel!” No doubt about it, Jeff Wade is always thrilled to have a chance to perform here at Stage Center. He was seen twice last year in A Tale of Two Cities and Around the World in 80 Days. His other Stage Center credits include The Best Man, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Much Ado About Nothing with Thymely Theatre. He has also appeared with Infamous Commonwealth and Halcyon Theatres. A Chicago-area native, Jeff also works as voice-over talent; as a musician (violin); as a researcher/archivist; and as an instructor in the Communication, Media, and Theatre Department at NEIU. He would like to dedicate these performances to his Father, Ed (who took him to his first ballgame), his Mother, Nancy (who let them go), and his brother, Jim (who conveniently fell ill, allowing Jeff to “pinch hit”). Thanks also to Mr. Leonard, the incomparable Marcella, and Beasley.

Andrew Ediger had his first performance as Linus in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Though the play was eschewed by the theater community, it was enjoyed by the players and an audience littered with moms and dads. Mr. Ediger has performed in community theater as Ferrovious, in G.B. Shaw's Androcles and the Lion, Monty Moran in Addison Aulger's Adrift in New York. For the past few years he has engaged in experimental dramatic improvisation having concluded a stint as Milton Redburn in White Leviathan based on Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Mr. Ediger is also a writer, penning the play Mirrors on the Front Room Wall and is currently developing a graphic novel set after an apocalyptic singularity.

Carrie Ediger made her theater debut at age twelve in the Chicago Park District production of Peter Pan. As a freshman at North Park College she directed the Parkview Jr. League's production of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. After a hiatus of 25 years, Carrie enrolled in the NEIU Communication, Media, and Theatre department and has since performed in productions of A Tale of Two Cities, Boy Gets Girl, The Way of All Fish, and Emma’s Child. 

Jon Gronli is happy to finally return to the stage after a long hiatus from acting for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is education. He recently got his BA in Philosophy. He hopes to return to the stage in more prominent roles very soon. He would like to say thank you to friends and family who have supported his decisions, especially the one to act. Lastly, he would like to thank the cast and director for an enjoyable time returning after years of inactivity.

Duncan Macnab is excited to return to the Stage Center Theatre to be apart of such a spectacular cast and crew of Bleacher Bums. He graduated from NEIU with a BA in Communication, Media & Theater in December 2008. He is currently studying Shakespeare with Susan Hart at Piven Theater Workshop. Other studies include Actor’s Gymnasium and other classes at Piven. Recent stage appearances at the Stage Center include: Barsad in A Tale of Two Cities, juggling stick/actor in Vaudille America, a Conveener in Skin of Our Teeth and Fergus in Finding the Sun. He would like to thank Chris for this great opportunity and his family and friends.

Jenna Portenlanger is an art major and music minor in her fourth year as a student at NEIU.  She has an interest in acting, and has been taking theatre classes for the past two years.  She is appearing simultaneously in the Stage Center Theatre’s Children’s Theatre Workshop performance of The Love For Three Oranges and Bleacher Bums as her first stage performances.

John Portenlanger is a life-long north-side Chicagoan and a life-long Cubs fan.  He received his BA in 1967 from an institution known to historians as Northeastern Illinois State College and his MA in Geography in 1973 from NEIU. He retired in 2009 and returned to NEIU to begin taking courses “just for fun”.  John wishes to thank Jenna for inspiring him with the idea that theatre classes can be fun and Rodney, Dan, and Chris for confirming that idea

Christopher Leonard (Director) is very pleased to be directing Bleacher Bums, his fifth production at the Stage Center Theatre, because the play combines two of his greatest loves of all time: theatre and baseball! Previous Stage Center directing credits include The Actor’s Nightmare, Oedi, The Illusion and A Tale of Two Cities.  He has also acted in many productions at NEIU including The Real Inspector Hound, Dracula, The Waiting Room, and Much Ado About Nothing.  Elsewhere, Chris has acted in professional productions of Cold Sassy Tree, And on the 8th Day, and The Giver. Besides directing and acting, Chris also teaches here at NEIU and at Truman College

Jessica Kuehnau (Set Designer) is pleased to be designing her fifth season for the Stage Center Theatre and technical faculty for NEIU.  Since completing her M.F.A. in Scenic and Costume Design at Northwestern University, Ms. Kuehnau has been designing sets and costumes for such notable theatres as Pegasus Players, Circle Theatre, Griffin, Lifeline Theatre, MPAACT, Adventure Stage Chicago, Metropolis Performing Art Center and Backstage Theatre.  She is also the resident set designer at North Park University and a founding ensemble member of Adventure Stage Center Chicago.

John Rodriguez (Lighting Designer) joined the theatre faculty at NEIU six years ago and has been teaching courses in technical theatre as well as working as a designer on Stage Center Theatre productions.  Most recent designs include Lucky Stiff, An Inspector Calls, Arms and the Man, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lettice and Lovage, The Illusion, Electra, and Charley’s Aunt as well as Thymely Theatre’s productions of Taking Steps and Stage Door.

Jana Anderson (Costume Designer) has worked with the Stage Center Theatre for the last few years  Her work has also been featured by numerous theatre groups including Redmoon Theatre, Light Opera Works, Irish Repertory Theatre, just to name a few. Prior to coming to the United States, Jana created elaborate costumes for classical opera productions at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. When she is not preparing costumes for theatre productions, Jana is busy designing and creating unique haute couture fashions for individual clients in the US and Europe.

Caitlin Varpness (Stage Manager) is a first time stage manager. She usually works on costumes for Stage Center Theater. She would like to thank Beth Jackson, Tiffiny Blake, Jessica Kuehnau, and John Rodriguez for their support and guidance. Lastly, she would like to give a shout out to her amazing crew, cast and director. 

Theatre Personel

Artistic and Managing Director.………..…. Anna Antaramian
Theatre Bookkeeper………..………..….....Joanne Cartalino
Theatre Manager………….……...…..Blagovesta Ranguelova
Newsletter Editor…………..….…..……….Kathleen Weiss
Assistant Theatre Manager.……..………..….....Tiffiny Blake
Assistant to Theatre Manager….………...…...Carolyn Bernal
Box Office Manager………….………..………..Mike Jando
House Manager………………………………..Caitlin Inman

Director’s Notes

In an effort to broaden your theatre experience, the producers have provided a complimentary set of definitions for some of the slang used in tonight’s show….a scorecard, if you will.

“THE DOG”…..the “underdog” or team that is NOT favored in the game….

“SAWBUCK”….that’s $10…

“EVEN MONEY”…a “straight up” bet with no odds….

“3 TO 2”…”3 TO 1”…”5 TO 2”…”13 TO 5”…..Odds for gambling can seem confusing, but in fact are simple math…odds stated thusly simply indicate the value of the payout based on the money bet. Example: on a 3 to 1 bet, the better, if victorious, will receive $3 for every $1 bet. Hence, a 3 to 1 bet on a “sawbuck” is worth $30.

“GIVING”, OR “LAYING” ODDS....Even money bets can be boring. Odds add interest. For example, a $50 dollar bet on a hitter reaching base is made more intriguing if the gambler lays, say, 3 to 1 odds. That means that the bettor is risking $150 to the other party’s $50. Another example might be a game bet at 9 to 5: one party risks $900, the other $500. The one risking the $900 is “laying” the odds.

“COUPLE OF ‘Cs’”…A ‘C’ , short for “C Note”, is a $100 dollar bill--to a certain generation…might be more commonly referred to as a “Benjamin” today.

“THE LONG ONE”….a home run

“MARKER”…most commonly used in gambling circles to refer to a check. Can also be an I.O.U.

A brief history of the Wrigley Field bleachers:

While the site of present day Wrigley Field has been the home for the Chicago National League Ballclub since 1914, the present bleachers date from 1937. An eager young Cubs’ executive convinced owner William Wrigley that attendance for the games would improve if Wrigley Field itself were part of the attraction. He hatched a plan to beautify the ballpark and promote it as “Beautiful Wrigley Field”. He reconfigured the park to its current, cozy dimensions by building the bleachers still in use today, planted ivy to climb the walls, and crowned the structure with the now famous hand-operated scoreboard. For a time, Wrigley Field even had live, full-sized trees planted inside the ballpark: mounted in giant planters that bordered the staircases on both sides of the centerfield bleachers. Who was that young executive who changed the marketing slogan of the Chicago Cubs? Bill Veeck, Jr., Hall of Famer, baseball legend, and owner of three major league teams (including the White Sox twice).

What is a “Bleacher Bum”? The term originated one day in the late 1960s. To encourage the Cubs to hit them a few more home run balls, the left field “bleacher-ites” began bringing their own signs and props. (A target spray painted on a bed sheet for example.) One of the props was two sheets sewn together, a target with a hole in the middle sprayed on it that said, “Hit the Bum…..Win a Prize” One of the “Bums”—wearing a coonskin cap—obligingly appeared in the hole amid the cheers and chants of the faithful. The incident was photographed by the local papers, but the silliness of the event attracted national attention. The name, never intended as anything more than a lark, stuck. The 1960s “Bums” sang, danced, banged drums, played bugles, taunted the opponents, and became famous for their yellow hard hats and fierce devotion to their team.
The famed “basket”--the angled protrusion atop the bleacher walls--was added for the 1970 season. It was designed to keep fans from jumping on the field, a custom practiced by the “Bums” with jubilant regularity during the star-crossed 1969 season. The basket originally only covered the left and right field bleachers, but was extended across centerfield and down to the foul poles as part of the expansion in the 1980s. The “batter’s eye”, the seating area now covered with shrubs and containing a tavern, was used for seating until the early 1960s. That era saw the creation of these “batter’s eyes” around major league baseball parks: backdrops to help hitters better see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. All ballparks have them today in one form or another.

The director would like to express his gratitude to Jeff Wade for compiling this information.

Additional pictures from the collection by David Ropinski

This production of Bleacher Bums is done with permission from The Organic Theater Company

Special thanks to
The Department of Communication, Media, and Theatre Faculty and Staff, Katrina Bell-Jordan, Anna Antaramian, Patrick McGuire, Jeff Wade, Sean McCafferty, and John Portenlanger.

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