Husband and Wife Join Forces to Bring Carl Sandburg’s Work to Life
Jonathan Gillard Daly's one-man show makes world premiere at In Tandem Theatre
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Jonathan Gillard Daly as Carl Sandburg. Photo by Mark Frohna.
Before Jonathan Gillard Daly and Gale Childs Daly met during a production of Taming of the Shrew in Chicago, they shared a strong admiration for a certain Pulitzer Prize-winning poet—Carl Sandburg.
As a freshman in high school, Childs Daly recalls being terribly shy and not having any friends. Luckily, that next school year, Childs Daly’s creative writing teacher reached out a helping hand. She encouraged the young girl to go over to the drama department and sign up for forensics and compete in the poetry interpretation category.
Skimming through the list of poets, the name Carl Sandburg caught Childs Daly’s eye. She compiled a list of his children’s poems and won her first tournament, and many more, thanks to Sandburg’s work.
As a 20-something living in St. Louis, Gillard Daly worked for a company that specialized in story theatre. The theater would often raid libraries for classic literature to put on stage, with a special interest in children’s writers like Oscar Wilde, Ray Bradbury and Carl Sandburg. The mission was to encourage kids to read more after seeing these performances.
The mission seemed to work for adults too, as Gillard Daly felt the urge to read more of Sandburg’s poems and books, including his six-volume biography about Abraham Lincoln.
“The more I read him the more I saw how eclectic his work was,” Gillard Daly says. “I thought it would be great to someday do an evening of his stuff.”
The Eagle in Me: An Evening of Carl Sandburg, a one-man show that Gillard Daly wrote and stars in, will receive its world premiere at In Tandem Theatre Sept. 28.
Childs Daly directs her husband in the title, as he recreates Sandburg’s traveling show equipped with the songs, stories and poetry that made him one of America’s greatest authors. Childs Daly has been with the project since the beginning, with Gillard Daly running every word in the piece by her.
“Ninety eight percent of what you hear is Carl Sandburg’s own voice,” Childs Daly says, noting that Gillard Daly only had to add a few of his own transitions.
The Eagle in Me is a piece five years in the making. Gillard Daly started off by reading multiple biographies about Sandburg and taking into account what these author’s opinions were on him. He also read every piece of Sandburg’s literature he could get his hands on.
“What I didn’t want to do was come up with a biography of Carl Sandburg,” Gillard Daly says. “I wanted to really reveal this guy in his own way.”
During the course of The Eagle in Me, Gillard Daly weaves the audience through Sandburg’s songs, dialogue and poetry, without following the chronological order of his life.
“Taking it out of that time frame gave me a lot of freedom to inject poetry in any way that I wanted to, in places where it just seemed to serve something I was trying to say about him,” Gillard Daly explains.
As if the countless hours of researching, writing and rehearsing weren’t enough, Gillard Daly also had to learn how to play the guitar for this production. Gillard Daly took lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music to learn the basics, but describes this as a fairly low-pressure task since Sandburg only knew around four chords. “I don’t have to sound like I’m Andrés Segovia, I can just sound like I’m Carl Sandburg,” Gillard Daly jokes.
Gillard Daly greatly admires how Sandburg was able to discuss his thoughts on America—the good, the bad and the ugly—in a peaceful and respectful manner. Sandburg was born in 1878, post-civil war, and lived through World War I, World War II, McCarthyism and the early stages of the Vietnam War.
“Right now we can speak our mind, but it feels like we can’t be civil,” says Jane Flieller, managing director and co-founder of In Tandem Theatre. “You have to either keep your mouth shut or scream at everyone, and this is a nice way to remember that there is still a way to have civil discourse.”
The Eagle in Me: An Evening of Carl Sandburg, presented by In Tandem Theatre runs Sept. 27 – Oct. 21 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. Milwaukee. For tickets visit intandemtheatre.org or call the box office at (414) 271-1371.
*In Tandem Theatre will be collecting new and gently used books throughout the run of The Eagle in Me for Literacy Services of Wisconsin. Books for all ages are welcome. *