Dramaturg Adrien-Alice Hansel on I Hate It Here

Ike Holter has a restless imagination and craft to spare. His plays cross genres and style, from realist drama set in a shuttering school to low-fi superhero epic about relatively ordinary citizens protecting their gentrifying neighborhood to zombie rom-com thriller.

When theatres shuttered in March 2020, Holter decided early on that it was time to turn his imagination to making new work in new ways. “Is theatre the most accessible and fun way for me to get my voice out there?” he remembers thinking. What followed was a column with the Chicago Tribune, a short film, and an audio adaptation of one of his stage plays. So when Studio reached out in May asking if he was interested in a commission for an audio play, he was all in.

I Hate it Here: Stories from the End of the Old World is, in fact, not quite a play. Holter conceived of the piece as a kind of album: a series of monologues, scenes, and two songs that flow from one to the next without telling a unified story. Instead, the play uses the expansiveness of the audio form to follow a series of characters on the edge of change.

Although only a few of the scenes explicitly reference the COVID pandemic or the summer’s uprisings for racial justice, the play charts the emotional through line of March to December 2020, from shock to new normalcy to loss and rupture to waiting for public life to begin again. Some characters try to hold onto familiar power structures while others try to uproot them; some characters welcome the opening of the world onto the streets and others wish everyone could be a little calmer and less strident. Everyone is a bit absurd, at least a bit appealing, and very, very human.

Because of the fleetness of its form—the play moves from bedroom to moving taxi to outdoor wedding to street protest (supported by Mikhail Fiksel’s nuanced sound design)—I Hate it Here runs on rhythm, character, and theme. The play is shot through with a timely and specific mix of loss and hope, of acknowledgment of the hard work of political change and the tender work of personal change, of the ways family and friends can fail each other—and the ways they might not. Cataloguing the entrenched systems of the old world, Holter reminds us that people make systems, and they can remake them differently. If an old world is ending, I Hate it Here offers seeds for a different beginning.

Adrien-Alice Hansel