Ike Holter shares how he wrote about the world falling apart—while the world was falling apart.
By Neena Arndt
“I Hate it Here” shows us characters dealing with less-than-ideal circumstances in the world and in their lives. To what degree was the plot inspired by the events of 2020?
I Hate it Here isn’t set in one particular year, but it’s very much locked into the mindset of “where were you when everything started to fall apart?” So, the show is able to touch on stuff that’s incredibly funny and random, or very serious and literal. Since the cast plays so many different characters, you get a big sense of how a lotta different people react to something similar. Some of the pieces in the show were written in 2016, some in 2012, some are still being rewritten.
You put the pieces together for an audio play that premiered at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC in late 2020. How did you adjust to writing something for listeners only, rather than listeners and viewers?
I’d written for audio before, but the projects always got moved or cancelled in one way or the other! Last year though, I did three audio things—I feel weird calling them plays, ‘cause they’re not. I Hate it Here is billed as a concept album, and it is, down to the track selection. I always wanted to do a weird “shifting form” thing, ‘cause that’s the type of stuff I love as an audience member. What’s great about audio is that there’s already an audience primed to listen to stuff because of all the amazing podcasts out there. It’s not a niche thing; in fact, the industry around it is incredibly large and I hope to do a bunch of stuff within it soon!
The Goodman is presenting this as a LIVE play, but with no audience present. What are the challenges of working in this medium? What are the opportunities?
The first time I did I Hate it Here was as a concept album and now we’re doing almost a live TV special. I think it’s hilarious and weird and exactly right. Lili-Anne, director of I Hate it Here, has been doing some film stuff the past year and watching her work with incredible people to get this thing up has been thrilling. I think the best thing is everyone freely admitting that they’re working with the rules of TV and the people we’ve assembled are so incredibly skilled in that world. We have Christiana Tye and her team; they’re true pros. And with a cast including TV vets like Behzad Dabu, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Gabriel Ruiz, you have people who cross worlds frequently. A lot of people in theater used to look down on these mediums as “not theater,” but now, it’s just so common to be in a room working on a theater show where all the actors have done commercials or films. Most of the work I’m doing right now is for television, so this feels like me and a lot of Chicago people are able to do an old-school TV special on our own terms. But if someone actually wants to produce this on stage one day, it would be super exciting to sit down and figure out what this looks like as a play.