Solo Voices: Aping Jane


Curated by RTE Member Kristen Osborn

April 29 – May 2, 2020


Hungry to watch the play? Rivendell will be hosting a public reading of all of the Solo Voices plays when we’re able to gather in the theater once again. Until then, we appreciate you engaging with the artistic conversations that took place during our digital workshop.

Take a peek!




Written and performed by Aurora Real de Asua
Directed by Brenna DiStasio and Paul Michael Thomson
In collaboration with The Story Theatre

How was it that one untrained secretary was able to communicate with a species overlooked by an entire scientific community? Much has been said about the brilliance behind Jane Goodall’s work, but this new play seeks to illuminate an often overlooked factor of this extraordinary woman: her outrageously courageous compassion. Using a mixture of clowning, puppetry, and animal work, Aping Jane takes you through the jungle and back to unearth the heart behind one of the 20th century’s most influential scientists.

Aurora Real de Asua – Playwright and Performer

Aurora Real de Asua is a playwright, actor, and director, hailing from the Bay Area and the Basque Country. She developed Aping Jane in the Greenhouse Theater’s Solo Lab. Her play The Pride Before was recently showcased in sideshow’s 2019 Freshness Initiative. Her work has also been performed at Victory Gardens. She was a two-time Agnes Nixon Award winner at Northwestern University, where she graduated with a BA in theatre. As an actor, she has worked with Rivendell, Goodman, Northlight, Court, Remy Bumppo, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and the Hypocrites, among others.


Brenna DiStasio – Director

Brenna DiStasio is an actor, Co-Artistic Director of The Story Theatre. She has had the privilege of working at Remy Bumppo, Northlight Theatre, Rasaka Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, among others. Television credits include Chicago Med (NBC). Commercial credits include AAA, Ace Hardware and Frigo Cheese. Brenna received her BFA in Acting from the University of Arizona, and is a founding member of The Story Theatre. She is represented by Big Mouth Talent.



Paul Michael Thomson – Director

Paul Michael Thomson is Chicago-based actor, playwright, and Co-Artistic Director of The Story Theatre. As an actor, he has worked with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Windy City Playhouse, Urbanite Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, among others, as well as appearing on CHICAGO MED and CHICAGO JUSTICE. As a playwright, his plays have been produced by Avalanche Theatre, The Impostors Theatre Company, Other Theatre Company, Arc Theatre, North Central College, The University of Arizona, and The Story Theatre. He holds a BFA in Acting, a BA in Africana Studies, and minors in Spanish & Art History from The Honors College at The University of Arizona. He has long been a huge fan of Rivendell and is honored to workshop this play on its renowned stage. Paul Michael is represented by Gray Talent Group. @paulmichaelt


Lisa Dillman
RTE Literary Director, Dramaturg

Lisa Dillman’s plays include Ground, Rock Shore, American Wee-Pie, Half of Plenty, The Walls, No Such Thing, Six Postcards, Flung, and Shady Meadows. Her work has been produced throughout the U.S., including at Steppenwolf, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, American Theatre Company, Rogue Machine, Seattle Public Theatre, and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. She has received commissions from Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Northlight, Baltimore Centerstage, and the Chicago Humanities Festival. She is a longtime ensemble member at Chicago’s Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, where she serves as literary director. Rivendell has produced the world premieres of her plays Chiaroscuro, The Walls, and American Wee-Pie.  Also a teacher, she has taught playwriting at Western Michigan University, Chicago Dramatists, Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens, and the Chicago Public Schools. Her work is published by Samuel French, Dramatic Publishing, Heinemann, Playscripts Inc., and Smith & Kraus. She is currently working on a new play commissioned by The Defamation Experience.



Jeffrey Levin – Sound Design Consultant

Jeffrey Levin is a composer, sound designer, and musician based in Chicago IL. Jeffrey has contributed original music and sound designs for over 100 productions for many theaters locally and regionally. He has collaborated with Steppenwolf, Court, Northlight, Victory Gardens, Timeline, Steep, American Theatre Company, A Red Orchid, Adventure Stage Chicago, Filament, Lifeline, Oracle, Strawdog, Windy City Playhouse, Emerald City, Theatre Wit, Collaboraction, Albany Park Theatre Project, TUTA, and many more. Regionally he has worked with The Gulfshore Playhouse, Asolo Repertory, Miami New Drama, Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, Denver Center for Performing Arts, and Children’s Theatre Madison. Awards and recognitions include ten Joseph Jefferson Award Nominations for Sound Design and Original Music and one win (THE HAIRY APE Oracle Theatre), Edes Award for Emerging Artists. Jeffrey received his Masters of Music in Composition at DePaul University and Bachelors of Music in Composition at Columbia College Chicago.

Watch us work: Aping Jane Dramaturgy Discussion

In these video excerpts, Lisa Dillman, Rivendell’s Literary Director and Solo Voices Festival Dramaturg, discusses Aping Jane with playwright/performer Aurora Real de Asua and co-directors Brenna DiStasio and Paul Michael Thomson.






Imagining what could be: Sound Design Discussion

Listen to Composer Jeffrey Levin’s initial sound designs for Aurora Real de Asua’s Aping Jane, then check out the discussion between Jeffrey and the Aping Jane creative team!




In this video excerpt, Jeffrey Levin, sound design consultant and composer, discusses the interludes in Aping Jane with playwright/performer Aurora Real de Asua and co-directors Brenna DiStasio and Paul Michael Thomson.




What’s On Our Desk: Aping Jane Creative Team



  1. MY LAPTOP, which has broken down approximately 15 times in the last 3 days. I’ve had it since I was 18 and now the system memory likes to shut down of its own accord. It’s favorite time to shut down seems to be right after I’ve written a brilliant paragraph and forgotten to save it. The squid sticker is from the Hopkins Marine Station, where my mom does work.
  2. MY BREAKFAST – It’s a bowl of yogurt with homemade granola, kiwi, banana, blueberries, and mandarin. I started making it when the pandemic began because my mom told me kiwi would be better for my immune system. No idea if that’s true but I’m hooked and I have one every morning.
  3. MY BIBLE – I owe everything to Dale Peterson who wrote the 700 page biography on Jane Goodall. I write this play with the book on my lap and whenever I run out of ideas, I flip through the pages until I find something brilliant that he wrote. He recorded the weirdest details, like all the nicknames that Jane gave to her teachers when she was in elementary schools.
  4. COFFEE – Necessary.
  5. MY JOURNAL – A distraction. Also where I go to vent when my brain refuses to come up with anything.
  6. MY PAINTS – When I was a kid I studied painting before I studied theater. I still love to paint though I don’t have a lot of time for it. My favorite way to paint is with acrylics and a palette knife which is a sort of flat little knife shaped like a cake slicer. I like to smack the paint on without any idea if it’s going to become something or not. That way if it does I can take credit and if it doesn’t I can shrug my shoulders and be like “Ahh, oh well, it’s just the medium”
  7. MY STATIONARY – I can’t remember where I bought these cards but I use them whenever I need to write someone a proper thank you, or send my mother a birthday card. I love them because I love things about the sea and each card has a different type of shell on it, or some sort of crab, which I also love because astrologically speaking I am a cAnCeRrr!!
  8. MY MEDICINE – It’s the white and blue tube hiding behind my granola, you probably can barely see it. They’re called Couldinas and they’re a sort of cough suppressant that are only sold in Spain. They’re these flat thin disks, like a gigantic albino Smartie, and you drop them into a glass of water which makes them fizz up and dissolve. THEY ARE GENIUS. Whenever I have a tickle of anything I take one and all symptoms disappear like magic. I’ve been taking one almost every day these days, partly because my allergies are terrible but mostly because, I’m paranoid about every tickle, probably like most people. But because you can only get these in Spain, I load up every time I visit my family, buying like ten boxes at a time. I’m amazed that security hasn’t stopped me yet but I guess Americans haven’t figured out how to peddle Couldinas. Americans, start peddling Coudlinas.



Some things to highlight:

  1. I’ve taken up painting since COVID-19. It’s super vulnerable for me, because visual art is something I’ve always told myself I was bad at, but I have absolutely loved the freedom to fail that this time has given me!
  2. Drinking my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee has become one of my new favorite rituals. I try to only buy beans from local coffee shops that are struggling to maintain an influx of revenue right now!
  3. My Nalgene goes with me everywhere. I say “my,” but my partner likes to remind me that it’s on loan.
  4. I always take notes and write plays by hand before transferring them to my laptop!
  5. My jade plant. I love house plants.
  6. My three Virgin of Guadalupe votive candles, because…these are uncertain times…



  1. I am currently working from my coffee table, our desk has been swallowed by my partner’s recording equipment.
  2. He pours himself a cup of coffee and relinquishes the rest of the pot, quietly gifting it as the work day begins.
  3. I’m very devoted to handwriting notes. I keep a handwritten calendar (which has recently seen a dip in its use), and a separate notebook for all other things. The calendar kept with stringent organization. The notebook is not.
  4. The team has been razzing me for starting our zoom meetings moussing my hair. I’ve admittedly given over to the informality of working from home.
  5. Water goes with me everywhere. As does a Pilot G-2 0.38 pen.
  6. Watercoloring figures is one of my “for me” endeavors. I’ve been practicing on and off for a few years, and am grateful this time at home to paint more. This is probably the messiest part of my workspace. I have to have everything out and open before I can begin.





JEFFREY LEVIN – Sound Design Consultant APING JANE

My desk is a concerted effort to puzzle together various bits of technology, cables, instruments, screens, speakers, headphones, and repurposed surfaces to create a small home studio for music and sound creation. The four pairs of headphones in this picture sound different and I use them for different reasons. The two speakers can get way louder than I ever need them to be. There are six keyboards; three of them are musical and three of them are non-musical. The largest one is there to remind me that I need to practice. There is a guitar inside the guitar case that you can barely see in the picture on the left hand side. It’s there to remind me that I haven’t played guitar in a while. There are four screens and one of them is held up by ‘A History of Western Music’ (which is being held up by a yoga block). There are six squares surrounding my desk; only one of them is in charge of liquids. The highest surface of the desk contains lots of strange items that were given to me as gifts including: a ceramic foot, an owl in a cage with two dead leaves on it, a dodecagonal fidget toy, a block of wood from the set of ‘Robin Hood and His Band of Many Outlaws’ at Bell Elementary School, an Audubon bird caller, ceramic frog noise maker, two tiny rubber dragons, one large dragon skull incense holder, a small toy meant to look like Blastoise (but has incorrect features), small rocks from the San Juan islands, two sound design related awards, and a painted imagining of the 2014 Hope Summer Repertory Theatre sound team (if we were to be animals). Two people have had this desk before me. Both of them are dear friends and one of them also used it to make music.




LISA DILLMAN – Festival Dramaturg

When I moved back home to Chicago from New Mexico in 2018, I had to leave my enormous (and quite perfect) desk behind. I replaced it with this much smaller desk, which doesn’t offer quite enough real estate for all the clutter that would normally be heaped on it. So, here are my two outsized monitors perched atop mismatched step stools for a bit of elevation, a few notes on Aurora Real de Asua’s Aping Jane, a tube of hand lotion, a bottle of probiotics, ubiquitous giant water glass, saline eye drops, assorted post-it notes, and earbuds.

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