How to be Sawed in Half

By Hurt McDermott

Directed by Joanna Settle

Produced with the support of Flow Arts

Athenaeum Mainstage, Chicago


About the Text:

“I decided to put all my hope in the sawing in half trick. It’s not just that I loved the thought my legs might go running off on their own, exploring the woods while my head and shoulders continue with the mind-reading bit. I also figured that after I was put back together, the two pieces of me would fit together okay, but not perfectly. It would be enough to keep me as one person; but there would also be tiny air bubbles, little holes of forgetfulness, along the seam where I was rejoined.” 
- Calibana from How to Be Sawed in Half

Hurt McDermott’s poetic examination of a failed magic act, headed by the aging magician Prospero and his rebellious assistant Calibana, delves deeply into the murky psychologies of failure, fantasy, and control.  The evening’s performance proves to be their last, as the characters’ recounted regrets sever any last ties to one another, or to the art of illusion itself.


About the Production:

Longtime professional magician’s assistant Sheryl Mitchell was contracted as the production’s magic consultant.   Significant rehearsal hours were spent training both Wilson and Sledd for the various tricks required by the script, and a customized sawing-in-half box was designed and constructed by D13’s set and carpentry teams.

How to be Sawed in Half was presented as a site-specific work in the Athenaeum mainstage, a vacuous, aging touring house in central Chicago replete with faded velvet curtains and crumbling plaster reliefs. On the stage’s yawning expanse, Prospero and Calibana ran their show from a mini-proscenium with glittering curtains, a stage within the stage.

Even under sell out conditions, this “little” magic act seemed to have only a smattering of audience, a testament to the loneliness of the text and its characters.  Voids of space existed between character and character, characters and audience, audience and audience.  A small band of professional musicians, headed by D13 Artistic Associate Mark Messing, performed original compositions live from an audience box suspended over the audience’s heads.  Playful, wistful, and often interactive, this unique accompaniment (a virtually continuous score) added an invaluable dimension to the production.

In one particularly memorable sequence, a white rabbit was pulled from a hat, and 20 large black hares flooded onto the stage.  The rabbits remained, wandering the large empty stage, for the rest of the evening.  As if fed by darker instincts, Prospero and Calibana hypnotized each other amongst the hares to get some time alone with their thoughts.
This production marked the first time live animals were housed in residence at the Athenaeum Theatre.


Program Information:

Set Design: Stephanie Nelson

Costume Design: Stacy Ellen Rich

Lighting Design: Gwen Grossman

Sound and Original Music: Maestro Matic

Stage Manager: Elicia Cardenas

Assistant Director: Anne DeAcetis

Production Management: Alex Blunt and Katie Taber

Producer: Philip Faversham


Production Staff:

Technical Director: Daedalus D’Alamut

Publicity Director: Karin McKie

Graphic Design: Marianna Levant

Magic Consultant: Sheryl Mitchell

Assistant Stage Manager: Joanna Fields

Assistant Sound Designer: G.D. Smith

Assistant Lighting Designer: Chris Tousey

Assistant to the Director: Markus Kirschner

Master Electrician: Fluffy Blake

Master Stitcher: Mitzi Streeter

Carpenter: Lucky

Sound Board Operator: G.D. Smith

Fly Operator: Dennis Fiore, Bob Vagnuolo

Box Office: Rich Leff

Ushers: The Saints

Animals: Animal Rental, Bill Hoffman



Rachel Sledd (Calibana)

George A. Wilson (Prospero)



Doug Brush

Mark Messing

Oliver Steck



Anne DeAcetis

Gary Price


August - September 2000


Division 13