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Comic and writer Erin Judge is a renaissance woman. Not only has she appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing and written for Salon, but she’s also penned “Vow of Celibacy,” a novel about a bisexual stylist for which she currently seeks a publisher. Judge brings her comedic stylings to Chicago August 3rd. Catch her at Chicago’s Truth or Lie Reading Series at 7:30 and at Town Hall Pub at 9:30. But first, read what she has to say about her influences, material and cribbing from other comics. (She was eleven, okay?)


OT When was the first time you realized you were funny?
EJ In middle school, I used to just repeat things I saw stand-up comics say on TV. That was the way I first got laughs from my peers, and the way I went from ostracized weird kid to having some friends. In my defense, I was 11 years old.
 

OT Who are your influences?
EJ When I started stand-up 12 years ago, my favorite comics were Chris Rock and Margaret Cho. Their hour specials ("Bring the Pain" and "I'm the One That I Want," respectively) blew my mind when I was in college. These days I think we all look up to Louis CK. I also really admire a lot of younger comics, like Baron Vaughn, Emily Heller, Myq Kaplan, Jared Logan, Aparna Nancharla. My peers influence me and push me to be better and smarter and funnier.
 


OT How do you hone your stand up material?
EJ I figure out a lot of jokes when I'm working out or taking a shower. That's just when my mind seems to do best with bits. Sometimes I get an idea for a joke while driving and I have to endanger myself and others by grabbing my phone and pressing a button on my voice recorder app. I hereby apologize to everyone. I will endeavor to remember to pull over first in the future.
 

OT For you, what's the difference between writing for the page and writing for the stage?
EJ I never type out my material for the stage. Stand-up is a unique beast. The elements of spontaneity and natural human speech have to be present, and I find the best way to achieve that is to work everything out on stage or in my head. My writing definitely has a rhythm like the spoken word, just because I'm a very auditory person, but I don't feel the same pressure to include constant punchlines. I co-wrote a comedic play once, and we actually improvised the entire thing out before we wrote anything down. It's so important to me to have an extremely high density of jokes for anything I've done on stage.
 


OT As a comic, are any topics off limits?
EJ I love stand-up because absolutely nothing is off-limits. Personally, there are topics that I'd like to tackle but I haven't quite figured out a way to make them funny yet. I think if you're gonna dive into the real dirt of life, your responsibility is to at least make it funny first. Otherwise you're just saying it for shock value or because you enjoy upsetting people. Lots of comics do. I've lost a lot of people to cancer, and I'd like to talk about it, but pretty much everyone has lost somebody to cancer. I have to be pretty damn sure that what I have to say is funny and also worth the audience's attention before I get into a topic that might bum people out or make people angry.
 

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A representative New Year's Eve


I can’t have fun when I’m supposed to. Too much pressure. Prom overwhelmed me, but at least it only happened once. New Year's Eve shows up yearly, but thankfully only for one night. But summer? A season of compulsory fun. If you stay inside, you feel ungrateful, like you’re wasting your life.

But you shouldn’t have to leave your house to enjoy yourself. And it’s in that spirit we bring you the Our Town Weekend Round-up Low Pressure Edition. Because you’re a useful member of society whether or not you put on pants.


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Listen: Pleasure Town-From WBEZ Chicago and the red dirt of the plains, PleasureTown is a fictional serial podcast about a fledgling utopian experiment whose inhabitants are free to pursue their own happiness…even if it kills them. Set in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, the ambitious project was developed by creators Keith Ecker (Guts & Glory, Essay Fiesta) and Erin Kahoa (three-time The Moth slam winner) for the WBEZ Chicago podcast network. Featuring a who’s who roster of Chicago storytellers, the biweekly show fabricates a rich universe through the memories of the former town’s spectral residents. PleasureTown sets itself apart by being a crowdsourced narrative. Audience members are encouraged to contribute to the construction of the PleasureTown world through the show’s online “Join the Story” page. Talk about a low pressure way to interact.


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Attend: On Saturday at 9:30pm, Filmspotting celebrates its 500th episode with a live taping at the Music Box! Join hosts Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen (Plus special guests!) for a celebration of all things film and Filmspotting. Tickets on sale now! So yeah, this happens in the outside world, but it’s pretty damn passive. And it’s inside. So it’s not like you’re expected to frolic on the beach.


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Read: Megan Stielstra’s recently released “Once I was Cool.” In these insightful, compassionate, gutsy, and heartbreaking personal essays, Stielstra, whose essay “Channel B” was recently featured in Best American Essays 2013 edited by Cheryl Strayed, explores the messy, maddening beauty of adulthood with wit, intelligence, and biting humor. The good thing about a book is you can read it on your back porch or at the park. The latter totally counts as being social. Especially if you pause ever so often to shout at people to stay off of your bench.


Sounds like a packed weekend to me!


A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Artist Rebecca George grew up drawing. But without her father’s early support, she might not have won a scholarship to Maryland Institute, College of Art before later pursuing an MFA in Painting & Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Now this School of the Art Institute of Chicago faculty member and Founder of The Art House gallery and studio workshop is preparing for a salon-style exhibit featuring hundreds of rabbit-themed work. She spoke with Our Town about her influences, teaching and um rabbits.

Our Town Who are your influences?
Rebecca George Käthe Kollwitz --a major influence on me throughout my career--her use of gesture with the most direct and immediate application of materials is astounding. I also frequently return to Paul Gauguin, captivated by the undertone of hue in his earthy neutrals as well as use of intense color to convey emotion.

OT Is training necessary?
RG Great question. It is necessary for an artist to make art as often as they can. That, and suspending self-evaluation while they do it, is what most effectively trains any artist in making work that is uniquely theirs. I don't know about anybody else, but I've never been able to make art in my head. Art is an action, and action takes place in the present. Artists need to pay complete attention to what is happening in the moment. Training in the traditional sense adds exposure through feedback from other artists and so on. Even though that feedback is not always helpful, it is important for artists to open themselves up to being seen. There are, after all, two parts to being an artist: making the work and getting the work in front of people.


OT Tell us about The Art House
RG The Art House is a grassroots studio workshop and gallery space for emerging and professional artists. Courses cover a wide range of materials and are structured to accommodate artists at different levels of experience. We offer opportunities that support both studio and professional development. My work with classes and individual artists include the nuts and bolts about materials and techniques, curating exhibitions and maintaining a sustainable professional practice.


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Each year, The National Black Chamber of Commerce holds their annual convention in a different U.S. location. Lucky for Chicago, they’ve chosen us for their 22nd. The event brings together industry leaders, celebrities, influencers and more to share best practices and speak on business development and sustainability. This year, there will also be a fashion presentation featuring local and budding African American designers.


Our Town spoke with several of those affiliated with the event including Desiree Rogers, former White House Social Secretary and current CEO of national media company Johnson Publishing. “Thrilled to be a part of this conference that celebrates African American entrepreneurship,” Rogers offered this advice to those just starting out in business: “It is very important to learn as much as you can from others around you. Ultimately, I think that you are most successful when you are passionate about what you are doing.”

Harry Alford, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce spoke further with Our Town about the event as a whole, explaining that the organization chose Chicago as backdrop for the convention because the NBCC “strive[s] to give something back not only to our attending members but also the communities in which we hold our annual conferences. Chicago is a lively city, especially during the summer, and it has one of the largest African-American business populations in the nation. It is historically and most recently a hot spot for many issues affecting not only the African-American community but the country, and we're thrilled to take part.” 


Alford said that attendees can expect “to hear motivating speeches, discover new business opportunities and partners, further their network and technical training and of course all can look forward to being entertained. International entrepreneurs are not excluded, as they can look forward to potential new alliances and export/import opportunities.”


Also weighing in was Keymanna Paulas, CEO of Keymanna Management, LLC and Convention Manager for the National Black Chamber of Commerce. When asked how important business entrepreneurship vs artistic endeavors are terms of empowering African American communities, Paulas said “Both entrepreneurial efforts work hand in hand. To put them against each other would be misleading. Business entrepreneurs make artistic endeavors to grow their businesses. They use talent and creativity to promote product and lifestyle themes to  consumers, while artists have to learn how to effectively share creative talents to capitalize and expand, so these two efforts are not at all mutually exclusive, but rather depend heavily on each other. The latter is especially true in today's instantly sharable world. For a basic example, people will always wear clothes. If someone has a passion for designing and creating garments, they will need the business savvy and entrepreneurial talent to run an efficient clothing line/business. The NBCC and more specifically, its annual convention, seeks to empower individuals to take their businesses to the next level. Empowerment is giving power and authority to that which moves you. To say that one line of business is more important than another is not an accurate depiction of today's entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial landscape is more multifaceted now than ever before.”


The convention runs July 10-12. Visit NBCC Now for more info.


A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Chicago novelist Michael Alan Peck may be in the process of writing a series called The Commons, but there's nothing common about the author or his contemporary fantasy series. He spoke with Our Town about his writing, influences and love of anti-heros.

Our Town What’s your novel about?
Micheal Alan Peck The Journeyman is the first in a contemporary-fantasy series about an afterlife world known as The Commons. It’s a Purgatory-like place, only without the default setting of guilt and suffering. When you die, you end up there and are assigned a guide who helps you on a journey to determine what your fate will be. The landscape creates itself around your memories, dreams, and experiences, and you face a challenge tailored to you, your experiences, and your imaginings. It’s like Defending Your Life on Fantasy Island, I suppose, only with much higher stakes and a lot more weaponry, teeth, and claws.
There’s just one problem. The Commons has been taken over by a corporate-raider type who’s using its imprisoned souls to power his own immortality. The whole place is stuck in time, with random imaginary beings from all of the captured people’s dreams wandering the landscape—robots, dinosaurs, monsters … you name it. Three unlikely heroes—a New York street kid, an Iraq War vet, and her five-year-old special-needs son end up there, and they’re the only chance The Commons has to free itself—provided they themselves can survive.

OT Those sound like classic anti-heroes.
MAP Absolutely. I’m drawn to brave misfits thrown into situations they didn’t ask for. Most people are. My favorite part of Rudolph is the Island of Misfit Toys. If that’s not yours, we may not get along.


OT It’s mine, too.
MAP I knew I was onto something. I think life’s most valuable learnings can be gleaned from Rankin-Bass holiday specials. For instance, you can’t be counted out if you’ve got some magic corn in your pocket.


OT So pop culture plays a heavy role in the story?
MAP Pop culture and our relationship to imagination are a strong part of the story’s foundation. One of my main heroes is accompanied on his journey by a shotgun-wielding goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, and a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues. It’s sort of The Wizard of Oz meets Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. And while it’s only touched upon in this first book, one of the things examined in the Commons series will be how we relate to our creations when they take on a life of their own—the same themes explored in stories like Frankenstein and Blade Runner, but with abandoned suburban shopping centers and 1970s custom vans.

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July's Hot Writer: Laura Zorner

My genre: Creative non-fiction. I dabble in fiction on the side, although I am most influenced by life experiences so my fiction is really creative non-fiction on steroids.


My literary influences: Mark Twain, David Sedaris, Ernest Hemingway, John van de Ruit, Paulo Coelho, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Miguel de Cervantes and Mark Haddon.


My favorite literary quote:  “It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing— they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter, and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” – Stephen Fry, Moab is my Washpot

My favorite book of all time: I don’t believe “of all time” exists for me. Every time is different. I need a book to pair according to mood, season, and beverage. That being said, the most worn book on my shelf is “Gone with the Wind”.


I’m currently reading: I seem to constantly get caught up in a reading foursome. David Sedaris is always a player; currently, I am involved with When You Are Engulfed in Flames. At present, the other two members of our little group are On Writing by Steven King and The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain.


My guilty pleasure book: Paradise by Judith McNaught. I slip it into an old cover of Don Quixote de la Mancha when I read it in public. Literary brown bagging.


I can’t write without: My must-haves are comprised of materials and actions.
Materials- My computer, my leather bound note pad, a pen, and a mug of something. What that something is depends on which side of the sky the sun is in.
Actions- One: running. A run does more than clear the head, it inspires. I create my most interesting thoughts while on a run. Two: Chicago public transportation. There is nothing like a jaunt via CTA with fellow Chicagoans to prompt ingenuity or, more simply yet equally effective, to force writing as an effort to avoid uneasy eye contact.

Worst line I ever wrote: I’m afraid there have been many. Even more frightful, there will be many more. In that spirit, I think I will give you my first ever worst line, written at the wise age of eight: “It’s a good thing you’re not a skunk, you would have to smell your own toots.”


Brief Bio: Laura Zorner’s writing has appeared in the trash bin outside her apartment, in a box in her mother’s attic, and on her blog What the LaLa? When not using written language to turn her demons into angles on What the LaLa?, you can find her lost in a run along the lakefront or attempting to sneak her dog into bars. He weighs in at eighty-one pounds— it is quite a feat.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Before turning to writing, author Lynne Raimondo was a partner at a major Chicago law firm, the general counsel of Arthur Andersen LLP,  and the general counsel of  the Illinois Department of Revenue. Since then, however, she’s begun to make a name for herself as a mystery writer. In fact, Mystery Scene called her book "Dante’s Wood" “one of the best mystery debuts since V.I. Warshawsky solved her first case.” She spoke with Our Town about her process, her career path and that one time she went head to head with Barack Obama.

Our Town What was it like to transition from legal writing to fiction?
Lynne Raimondo Not as hard as you might think. I was already used to spending long hours in front of a computer fine-tuning sentences, and like most lawyers who do trial work, knew how to organize facts to tell a story. The biggest problem for me was turning off the hyper-logical, “this could never happen” side of my brain so that my imagination could roam. I still find suspension of my own disbelief to be a major challenge.


OT What compels you about the mystery genre?
LR Aside from the fact that I like a good puzzle, I think it’s some of the best, socially relevant fiction being written today. Crime novels don’t beat about the bush. They dive right into serious issues -- like drugs, domestic violence, and child pornography, to name just a few -- and the leaner style of writing favored by most authors working in the genre makes for a fast, engaging read. In my own work, I’m a big believer in the late Elmore Leonard’s advice to leave out the long descriptive passages most readers skip. This may be easier for me because my series character, Mark Angelotti, is legally blind. On the other hand, I love writing about Chicago, and I usually find ways to sneak in some tidbits about our complex and fascinating city.


OT What authors influence you?
LR That’s a tough question. But if I had to narrow it down to just a few, it would be Dorothy L. Sayers and Raymond Chandler. It may seem strange to mention a Golden Age author in the same sentence as a master of American noir. But I love Sayers’ clever characterization as much as I love Chandler’s dry wit and vivid metaphors. I’m also a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series. I’m sure my efforts don’t live up to any of these authors, but I give them my best shot.


OT What's your writing process like?
LR The best writing analogy I’ve ever heard is that it’s like driving a car down a dark country road when you can only see as far as your headlights. I usually start with a rough idea about a murder and who did it, though I sometimes change my mind as the novel progresses. When I wrote my first book, Dante’s Wood, I wasn’t completely sure whodunit until a third of the way through. That’s a roundabout way of saying that my “process” is sitting down at the keyboard every day and seeing what develops. Many of my best ideas have come to me that way.

OT You've worked with some high profile individuals. Would it surprise people to know about your pre-novel writing professional life?
LR Possibly. My novels steer very clear of the real-life cases I once worked on, including those for Arthur Andersen. Despite being high profile, most of them would bore the average reader to death. My protagonist is a forensic psychiatrist precisely so that I can write about some of the social issues I referred to earlier – the legal system’s treatment of the developmentally disabled in Dante’s Wood, and the shenanigans of Big Pharma in Dante’s Poison.

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Singer/songwriter sisters Tegan and Sara have long been a cult favorite. Recently, they’ve added a radio-friendly dance vibe to their already compelling pop/folk style. On the eve of the first of two Chicago shows, tegan spoke with Our Town about fame versus fulfillment and her favorite Starbucks drink.

Our Town What’s your favorite cut off of your most recent album and why?
Tegan I Was A Fool. It started as an acoustic song with piano and I love that we were able to turn it into a pop song. It is a tough one for me to sing live. There is a lot of long notes and I have to coordinate my breathing a lot. But I love the way the crowd cheers when the piano starts off the top!


OT Take us through your writing process.
T I typically write during our time off between records. And I'll work 
on a song for a few days, then when it's finished, take a break. I like to write guitar 
or keyboard transitions first, then add melody and lyrics. After the structure and 
main parts of the song are written I share it with Sara and she'll approve or make changes. 
Often she'll collaborate and add some flourishes. 

OT How are you most alike as writers and how are you most different?
T We both have a deep interest in relationships and writing about them. I think we're both 
strong melodic writers. The production element of writing is less interesting to me, where as Sara will spend 50 hours creating a track with drums and bass and keyboard lines. Sara tends to spend a lot more time on her songs than I do. I like to write quickly, leave the song and then come back to make changes weeks later.

OT Your music has changed significantly over the years. Has that evolution been conscious?
T It's definitely been conscious in ways. But truthfully, the change in our style has also been very natural. We've been making music and touring for over a decade. We started writing and performing in high school. Our skill level  has increased, our musical interests have changed, our vision for our band has evolved and with it our sound.

OT As an artist drawing from life, what is your obligation to friends and family? What’s the morality around writing about people you know?
T We write in a way that is never specific to one person. Both Sara and I are often writing about our own experience and less about someone else and what they may have said or done. We try and be as respectful as we would  want someone else to be. There is a lot of illusion and fiction in our music. We're inspired by our world, our friends,  other relationships and other songs. Not everything is just about us. 


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June's Hot Writer: Kristin Walters


My literary influences: Chekhov’s short stories made me want to write. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson made me want to work hard to write. Jennifer Egan’s short stories resonate with me personally and always inspire me to get out the ol’ pen and pad. George Saunders surprises me. Cormac McCarthy challenges me. Dostoyevsky thrills me. I think Jennifer Dubois is kind of a badass. David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction gives me all the company I need when I’m feeling alone.There’s more, so much more, and for that I’m grateful.

My favorite literary quote: “Wild hope can always spring/From tended strength. Everything is in that./That and nothing but kindness. More kindness, dear Lord/Of the renewing green. That is where it all has to start:/With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less/Than save every sleeping one/And night-walking one/Of us./My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.” – from James Dickey’s “The Strength of Fields”
I don’t keep favorites well. They change all the time. But I’ve read James Dickey’s poem, “The Strength of Fields”, over a hundred times in the past few months, and I get chills every time I read the end, the section I’ve shared above.

My favorite book of all time: Again, I’m really not a favorites kind of gal. But I know that I carried "Housekeeping" around with me everywhere when I first started taking writing workshops in Chicago. I was (and still am) sure that if I spend a lifetime trying to write something half as beautiful as that book then I have wasted no time on this earth. I owe a lot to it, so I’ll at least call it my favorite here.

I’m currently reading: "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy, because one of my new year’s resolutions was to be brave and I’ve been afraid of this book for a while. Also, it’s my friend Zach’s favorite book and he’s a badass poet, so I believe him when he says it’s worth the gore. (In general, I believe badass poets.) To balance Blood Meridian I’ve also been rereading "Seating Arrangement"s by Maggie Shipstead after finishing and enjoying her second novel "Astonish Me." They are both fun, easy reads with much to be admired craft-wise.

My guilty pleasure book: It doesn’t exist yet, but its existence, I believe, is inevitable. My guilty pleasure book will be Coco Austin’s memoir, Shoefreak. I will read it dozens of times, and at least once aloud with my best friend Andrew. But if for some reason Coco’s too busy with her reality TV show (Ice Loves Coco on E!), fashion line and modeling to write her memoir, then my guilty pleasure book will be the also-not-yet-in-existence coffee table book about her shoe closet. Jimmy Choo, Ives St. Laurent, Giuseppe, etc.

I can’t write without: Reading all the time. Traveling. Large windows. Sunny days. RAINY days. Strawberries. Popcorn. Road trips. Beach House (the band). Coffee roasted by my best friend Jennie-mae. Wine from the Loire. Surprises. Talking to other writers about writing. Gratitude. Yoga. Bike rides. Brussel sprouts. Friendship. Family. Being a little freaking terrified.

Worst line I ever wrote: It changes every day I sit down to write.

Bio: Kristin is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Illinois where she also teaches and works on the literary journal Ninth Letter. Her guilty pleasures are watching movie trailers, eating all the strawberries and wearing flip-flops in the rain. Occasionally she tweets @kwwords.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Musician? SWOON. June's Chicago Crush is Chris MacCarthy.

Name: Chris MacCarthy

Hometown: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Profession: Musician and Graphic Designer

Hobbies: I don’t think that I have any hobbies outside of writing, recording, and performing music.
Wait… Is napping a hobby?


Our Town: You're a musician and a graphic designer. Does one pursuit inform the other?
Chris MacCarthy Not really. The only overlap in the two areas is when I’m designing a show poster or an album cover. Music is my primary creative outlet over graphic design.

OT Describe your music.
CM Whenever somebody asks what kind of music I write/play, my default answer is just, “Some kind of rock music”, and then I follow that up by saying, “You probably wouldn’t like it.”
I think if you took my list of influences and stuck them all in a blender, the resulting smoothie would be my style of music. That being said, it may not taste as good as it’s individual ingredients.

OT What inspires you to write?

CM This will sound vague, but I write when I’m moved by something that is going on around me, or that is happening to me. I feel that there is endless content to write about, and the sounds you can make with instruments are limitless.

OT Who are your influences?

CM This is hard to answer because it’s always changing, and also because it would take too long to list them all. 
Some consistent staples for me would be: Sonic Youth, The Frogs, Cat Power, PJ Harvey, Joni Mitchell, Radiohead, Mark Lanegan. Again, there are plenty more that I like just as much.

OT Best and worst things about Chicago
.
CM For me, the best thing about Chicago is the music scene. There are so many music venues to perform at or to see shows at. Like most people, I’m not a fan of the winters here. I am also not a fan of when people get killed by gang shootings.


OT Describe your worst date.
CM 
I can’t think of a date that stands out as being the worst. I think I’m pretty selective when it comes to dating, which helps. Although… I may be too selective… which hurts.They’ve all been great. Everyone is great. Everything is great.

OT Describe your perfect day.

CM My perfect day would start with being able to sleep in, and waking up to perfect spring or fall weather. The day would then consist of eating good food, doing fun things, and spending it with the person or people that I love.

OT Relationship Deal breaker.

CM Being materialistic
, not being generous
, smoking
, country music
, using the word “selfie.”

OT Who was your first crush?
CM 
It would have been around 1st grade… either Shelly or Kristi. Or both.


OT Why are you crushworthy? 
CM I don’t think that I am. I’ll just have to take your word for it.


OT Any questions for me? 
CM Yes. Did you put something in my drink? Whatever it was is making me woozzzzyyyy… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Rising Appalachia


Hey Chicago! Now all the men are showing off their toes for the summer it’s time to bring back our weekend round up!

Here’s what’s going on in Chicago this weekend....

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Wanderlust Yoga in the City hits Grant Park May 31st. The schedule for outdoor yoga includes an array of classes and workshops punctuated with music by DJ Taz Rashid. Learn more here.

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Writing partners Mat Labotka and Pete Hassett are a match made in, well, childhood. Friends for more than two decades, the pair have turned their mutual love of animation into a comic book-writing partnership.


“I got my start in performance doing children’s theatre and Pete studied animation, “ says Labotka. “This unique pairing means Pete and I both love animated movies.  We see every new animated movie together [and] while we watch, I analyze the plot, character development, script, and direction, Pete analyzes the structure, character design, lighting, and concept; all the while the children around us laugh or fidget and we get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.  Really, we’ve been training ourselves for this very project for a long time.”


Labotka and Hassett who together make up Goat Ink Press, spoke with Our Town about Riled Up, their comic book series.

Our Town What inspired you to create Riled Up?

Pete Hassett Mat and I had talked about creating a comic book since we were in second grade. Fast forward twenty plus years and I had just returned from California with a one page story that would turn out to be our first graphic novel made up of three books titled Riled Up. We started building on the story and in a few short hours we had a solid five page outline.

Mat Labotka I guess it’s appropriate that when we finally got around to doing a comic, the story we started with is about kids the age we were when we wanted to do a comic to start with.


Q- Who is your target audience?
PH Children ages 8-14 but we have gotten good feedback from older kids and adults. Anyone who grew up in a town that had an angry old lady known and feared by all the kids in the neighborhood can relate.

OT Though longtime friends, this is your first collaboration. What was that process like?
PH Its brutally honest, but lots of fun. We take turns being the taskmaster and pushing each other making sure we’re staying on track and focused especially since we both have multiple jobs.



OT What’s the story behind your company’s name?
Mat:  Ink.  It’s like inc. you know, incorporated, but it’s also ink, because it’s a comic book.  Oh, you mean the goat part?  Don’t question the goat.


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Chicago writer Kathleen Rooney’s new novel, O Democracy!, depicts a quarter life crisis narrated from the point of view of America’s dead founding fathers. If that doesn't pique your interest, I don’t know what kind of savage you are. Rooney reads at The Book Cellar Wednesday but first she shared some insights with Our Town.


Our Town How do I put this? Your work always seems so...massive to me. You don’t write little, personal character musings. Whether poetry or prose you write within a historical context—your work always feels very informed. Would you agree? Why do you think that is?

Kathleen Rooney: Thanks so much for saying that. I would agree. I think that serious writing (even if that writing is funny, which is the case in O, Democracy!) should be an occasion for getting outside of ourselves—of inhabiting unfamiliar or uncomfortable perspectives—or to consider our own circumstances in the sort of broader context that can be gained through learning new things, whether they be from history or literature or elsewhere. 
 I’m concerned that fiction, poetry, and memoir that focus very tightly on depicting an individual’s subjective experience—although they can be quite technically accomplished—sometimes risk not really challenging the reader in any significant way. Or worse, they just help us feel like we’ve read something serious and substantive when in fact we’ve just seen our own values uncritically put on parade. The best books for me, whatever their genre, are the ones that try to be ambitious thematically and historically while at the same time being personal. A book I read recently that does this and that I would recommend is King Me, the debut poetry collection by Roger Reeves—he’s able to incorporate his own subjective experiences alongside an array of other references and perspectives from Mike Tyson to Emmett Till and it makes for an unpredictable and unsettling read in the best possible ways.



OT How much research went into this book?


KR: Research is often my favorite part of any project because all of the energy is still potential energy: it’s the ball poised at the top of the hill before it starts to roll down—there’s a feeling that the manuscript could do virtually anything. Once you actually start writing, you begin to make choices, of course, and choosing one thing means saying no to a host of others. The research for O, Democracy!, though, had more to do with lived experience than time spent looking up sources or ordering books from the library. I went to work as an intern in the Chicago office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin in the summer of 1999 and got hired on as a staffer in the summer of 2000. I continued to work there on and off in various capacities—internship coordinator, caseworker, press team—until 2010. I didn’t start out thinking, “I’m going to write a book about this.” But the environment was so full of the components that make for good stories—sizeable egos, high stakes, skewed power dynamics, a specialized vocabulary, gigantic characters, competing desires, and so on—that I did come to see the place as a subject I’d take on in my writing.


OT Your experiences inspired the book—in part, at least. How do you go about entwining personal experience and fiction?

KR: Writing the novel was largely a process of getting sufficient distance on my own experiences—of drawing distinctions between myself and Colleen Dugan, my perspective and the book’s perspective.  (This is why, for instance, I chose to have the book narrated by the ghosts of the dead Founding Fathers and not in Colleen’s voice.)  Writing the book as a novel was a good way to circumvent readers’ natural tendency when reading books about politics to focus on specific revelations and nuts-and-bolts detail; since these are hidden behind a veil of fiction, the emphasis falls instead on more fundamental concerns: systems and institutions, for instance.  In writing the book, I was free about inventing details – in some cases to make the plot more engaging or to deepen the thematic resonance of particular scenes, in other cases simply to signal that this book and these characters really are fictional, and not a memoir in disguise – but I was very, very careful not to alter the character of how the experience felt, and what it meant to me.

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Photo by Andrew Zaeh


Maybe you’ve only recently become aware of rock/pop group Neon Trees, or maybe like they’re loyal fan-base, you’ve been aware of them for some time. Either way, the band’s energetic sound has probably made an impact. Our Town spoke with members Tyler Glenn and Branden Campbell about their writing process, accessibility and unusual honesty.

Our Town Who are your influences?
Tyler Glenn My mother and therapist and high school girl friend and couple dudes I’ve had secret relationships with, for the most part. Also my life experience.
Branden Campbell  For myself I'm often inspired by The Clash, The Jam, Neil Young

OT What’s your writing process like?
BC We have a variety of methods, for whatever yields the best song. We all get together, Tyler also co-writes great stuff with Tim Pagnatta, the bands producer.

In 2012, the band canceled a bunch of dates so Tyler could focus on mental health. Was that a hard decision?
BC We were all part of that decision. It had always been easy for us to put the machine before the members in order to get the band off the ground. At the point of T's breakdown, it was time to put people first. 
TG t was simple. I needed time off and it was better to be healthy then to be miserable.

OT What did that time allow for?
BC We all took personal time, but it wasn't long before we all ended up in a studio together. The music is in us, and we're going to play no matter what. Even when its just for us, playing together in our rehearsal studio. Tyler and I still hung out during this time. I'd give him a ride to see his therapist. But we just left it wide open as to when we'd get back on the road.

OT Interestingly, the band chose to be open about all of this. Why?
BCWhy not? This is real life, and real artists dealing with the trials that come about. Sure, not every band faces these same things. But we've also learned from the bands that sort of imploded due to these kind of things. So we had to step back, to save the band.
TG At the time actually we were not open about it. But experience breeds creativity, and this album ended up being created from my experience in therapy and finding happiness. So it made sense to discuss it. The album being Pop Psychology, it all related to thematically.

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Photo by Shelby Duncan

Critics might describe duo Caught a Ghost’s sound as electro indie-soul, but band member Jesse Nolan sees the music he and Tessa Thompson make as “secular gospel.” Their current project was influenced byAmerican soul music and 90s rap--think Stax meets Dr Dre. Nolan, the band’s songwriter, producer and lead singer, spoke with Our Town about community, performance art and why he thinks of himself as an “imperfectionist.”

Our Town You say Caught a Ghost is about creating a community. How so?
Jesse Nolan The truth is that much of the Caught a Ghost's record was born out of loneliness and isolation but that's one of the beautiful things up making music is that you can take your music out of the world; connect with other musicians, connect with audiences and creates an experience that is larger than anyone individual. 

OT How does social media play into your sense of community?
JN Social media is more of a reality than a deliberate tool at this point,  however; one of the great things about social media is it's incredible connectivity across geographical boundaries.  We've had a flood of attention from people all over the world who have discovered the music through various avenues and it means a great deal to be contacted out of the blue from someone in Poland or Australia saying that your music has changed their life.


OT What role does audience participation play in your shows?
JN I know that people interact with music a lot of different ways,  so I never take it personally when they don't dance, but I like to invite them to. I like when people sing along too - it it's really touching when somebody has learned the words to the song either deliberately or buys osmosis before you play for them. It makes you feel like some part of you has scouted the place out before your arrival. 


OT Why include performance art?
JN We've had some shows where we have performance art or dance as a component of the show.  It's an interesting way to play with people’s expectations for a live performance.  At this point we are all pretty accustomed to seeing certain themes and cliches of a live show, so surprising the audience is a big part of giving them a meaningful experience. 


OTWhat does being an “imperfectionist” mean to you?
JN Being an imperfectionist means allowing your music to remain a little bit rough around the edges. Modern audiences are pretty accustomed to perfection- metronomic, harmonic, etc. and allowing the music to stay a little bit greasy is useful. It makes it feel more real. 


OT What are you looking forward to about playing in Chicago?
JN I've been to Chicago before but never played there and I'm very excited. Of course in addition to being a bustling metropolis full of amazing people,  it's a town of immense history. Of course knows about Chess records and all the incredible records that were made there. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, these artists made a huge impact on me in Junior High and changed the course of my life forever. 


Caught a Ghost plays Schubas Tavern on May 18th.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Photo by Elliot Mandel


May's Hot Writer: Dawn Mueller


My genre: Memoir, creative nonfiction, and moderately successful attempts to make my life sound funnier than it is. Also the occasional schmaltzy rhyming poem.

My literary influences: We were assigned Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron” in my high school English class, thus starting my long love affair with Vonnegut, followed by Tom Robbins, David Sedaris, and Augusten Burroughs

My favorite literary quote: “So it Goes.” Kurt Vonnegut, "Slaughterhouse Five"

My favorite book of all time: Not exactly a literary masterpiece, but the first book I read cover to cover without stopping was Rita Mae Brown’s "Rubyfruit Jungle," which was more for the lesbian content than anything else. It was also the first book I read that made me feel like there might be a place for me in this world and inspired me to want to write books for the underdog.

I’m currently reading: Books about Urban Gardening, also Thou Shalt Not Suffer: 7 Steps in a Life of Joy by Mark Anthony Lord, and "Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears" by Pema Chödrön. (Apparently I need a lot of help.)


My guilty pleasure book: Memoirs… the seedier the better.

 
I can’t write without: My laptop. I’d love to say I write the old-fashioned way in a moleskin book that I carry with me everywhere, but my handwriting is utterly dismal, which makes me hate everything I write freehand.

Worst line I ever wrote: Any of the drivel I wrote in my journal in high school about the girls who were mean to me and most of the flowery mush I wrote about the girls who weren’t.

Brief Bio: Dawn Mueller is the author of the sexually provocative memoir, "A Single Year." She writes about sex, relationships, and sobriety in a style best described as Augusten Burroughs meets Bridget Jones. Her work was recently published as part of the Cleis Press anthology, Wild Girls Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories, which is currently a finalist for the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Award in lesbian erotica. She lives on the north side of Chicago with her chocolate Labrador, Mousse and her small, noisy cat, Kazoo. Follow her on Twitter since she currently writes mostly in short bursts @daebreyk


A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.


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We’ve all heard of mystery meat, but what’s history meat? According to Fifteen Feet Productions cofounder Sean McConnell, it refers to the way we consume cultural narrative. Okay, but what does that have to do with comedy? McConnell answered that question and more when he spoke with Our Town about his hour-long sketch review exploring how the past is appropriated by the winners, shaped by prevailing narratives, and subsequently cooked and digested by popular culture.

Our Town What was the inspiration behind History Meat’s name?
Sean McConnell When my partners and I were looking to produce our first show, I realized many of my ideas revolved around history, more specifically what I remember in college being called “Western Civilization.” Anyone who’s done any legwork into history beyond conventional narratives learns pretty quickly that authorship (who is doing the recording, and for what purpose), is just as important in nonfiction as fiction. Doing just a bit of reading can be a humbling experience. It’s probably why most people don’t do it. Instead, they find a narrative brand and kind of stick with it. In that way a sausage/meat like substance seemed like a very apt metaphor for the way we consume historical narratives without considering the mechanisms that underpin them or the damage they do to our social environment.

OT One of your goals is to “satirize the ways in which authorship has shaped and skewed history--” pretty lofty goal for sketch comedy--or is it?
SM Honestly, about 80% of the time, I feel like “lofty goals” should be a part of any comedic endeavor. I’m just as easily lured by situational comedies and bits in the traditional sense. However, real information is so hard to get and takes so much effort nowadays. Yet somehow, we’re all riding this third (or is it fourth?) wave of comedy/satire. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think one of the biggest reasons is that it’s the only form of therapy that makes people feel good anymore. The more lofty your goal, the better chance you have of staving off the existential beast. If you give yourself those kinds of goals, hitting them is the best way to communicate to each other that we might not be as fucked as we think we are. There is real progress buried somewhere in all of this.


OT Take us through your writing process/how are sketches created?
SM Basically, I find something that enrages me and then stew on it for many months until I find some awful kernel that makes me laugh because it’s so terrible. I then take this idea to my wife (and 15 Feet co-founder). If she doesn’t kick me out of the house, and I see a disappointed smirk appear on her face, it’s all gravy. I then ask, “Okay, now how can I work this into something that might be palatable for someone other than me?” And even then, I’m willing to toss that question out if I have to. From that point on it’s just draft, after draft, after draft.

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Photo by Stephanie Simpson


Kevin Noonchester may have come to Chicago to contribute his puppetry expertise to Mercury Theater’s production of "Avenue Q," but the non-work highlight of his trip was visiting the offices of Cards Against Humanity.  “If you love Avenue Q,” Noonchester says, “then you're the right person for this hilarious party game.”


And no, Cards Against Humanity didn’t pay him to say that. What he was paid to do, was unite actors and puppets to create believable characters in the much-loved musical. While Noonchester works as a voiceover actor and puppeteer, perhaps the endeavor closest to his heart is Avenue Q Puppet Camp, which brings "Avenue Q" to schools and theaters across the country. He spoke with Our Town about his experience with Mercury Theater, eating his way across Chicago, and the unique physicality of creating puppet characters.


Our Town  What inspired you to found Avenue Q Puppet Camp?
Kevin Noonchester  When you produce a show like "A Chorus Line" or "42nd Street" you cast people who have dance experience. However, with "Avenue Q" that show-specific skill is puppetry.  But, WHERE do they learn the puppetry?  That's where I come in.  I was trained by the original Broadway creative team and worked alongside members of the original cast That "authenticity" is something that helps Avenue Q Puppet Camp pass along the magic that helped make the show such a success. The magic of "Avenue Q" is in the audience believing that the puppets are alive and are the ones experiencing the love, the loss and the journey of the characters in the show.


OT  For the actor, how does establishing a puppet character differ from just creating a character?
KN  In puppetry, there is a vocabulary of movements and gestures that will help you translate all that internal work into a performance you share with your audience.  For example, you need to make a specific motion with your arm and hand if you want your puppet to breathe or sigh.  When an actor does it, they just do it and no one stops to break down the technical aspects of it.  Everything we take for granted as living, breathing actors is something we need to deliberately do in order to make our puppet come to life. 
 

OT The actors in "Avenue Q" are visible as they operate puppets. Essentially, this requires that both person and puppet sync to create one character. Can you talk a little about the opportunities and drawbacks there?
KN  Having the actors be visible and playing the part in tandem with their puppets was one of the first real concept obstacles the show had on its way to Broadway.  It was a theatrical convention invented for Avenue Q that freed the characters to move where they wanted without having to build an elevated set like they had on The Muppet show.  Puppeteers are used to not being seen. Having to deliver a quality facial acting performance while manipulating a puppet, like in "Avenue Q," is foreign to even the most experienced puppeteers.
 

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When AK Summers and her partner decided to have a baby, Summers had no intention of writing about the experience. Yet as a butch woman adjusting to the norms and expectations of pregnancy, at a certain point she chose to process her experiences the way many artists synthesize important life events: through her work. The result? Her graphic memoir, "Pregnant Butch." Summers will visit Chicago's Women and Children on April 30th, but first she spoke with Our Town about gender identity and more.


Our Town Why did you and your partner decide you should be the one to get pregnant?
AK Summers I really wanted to be the one to do it. As I say in the book, I’m adopted and have always wanted to experience what it’s like to be biologically related to someone else.


OT I’d imagine it took a while for you to be comfortable presenting in a gender non-conforming way. In what ways did you have to then restructure your identity again while pregnant?
AS I didn’t have to restructure my identity so much as I had to learn to deal with the discomfort of the disconnect between my appearance and my sense of who I really was. (I think they call this “gender dysphoria.”) My big, curvy pregnant body did not match my internal sense of self. When I was initially pregnant I was often mistaken for a fat guy on the subway (and had a hard time getting a seat!), but later on this phenomenon stopped. I became unmistakably a pregnant woman, and that was tough. I aspired to look like the comics character Tintin (with a beachball under his tidy little sweater), but I felt more like Fred Armisen in Portlandia drag. I talk in my book about how some of this had to do with the actual physical transformation of pregnancy, but another part of this feeling of disconnection had to do with how the culture of pregnancy. For instance, a lot of what is written in pregnancy guides assumes you are both heterosexual and OK with a view of pregnancy as the apex of femininity. A lot of talk about the Man-Woman divide—really unnecessary essentializing stuff from the point of view of a pregnant butch. I was also not prepared for how public the body of a pregnant woman becomes. I wanted to still be treated as my regular, butch, gender non-conforming self, but it almost seemed like that part of me became invisible once I was very pregnant.

OT Did you find that people within the queer community responded to you differently while you were pregnant? What about in mainstream society?
AS Around the time that I got pregnant, a lot of the women I knew in the queer community were also trying to get pregnant. The conversation about queers having babies was definitely in the air, so I didn’t feel like an outlier. Mainstream folks, on the other hand, did seem to respond differently. In the most positive sense, it often seemed like people were happy to have this point in common with me. Many people struck up conversations about pregnancy or their kids, who probably would not have done so without this social glue. The downside was, I sometimes felt that my butchness and my gayness—my difference—was being willfully overlooked. That I was just being treated as just another pregnant woman, in other words, as though I was straight. I am not saying that a conversation about my gender issues with some nice lady on the bus was what I wanted to have happen, but I did often feel crazy when talking to straight people who didn’t understand that gays were lacking many basic civil rights. That marriage, adoption, spouse-only hospital overnight privileges, the threat of violence and harrassment on the street, losing family over sex and gender identity—all these aspects of queer life still had a bearing in the ways gays experience pregnancy and family. To pretend like it was all cool—that we were all just humans having babies—felt like denying who I am. That said, I do think there has been an immense shift in public attitudes in the last ten years especially. Think about it, when I was pregnant, very few politicians were willing to say they were in support of gay marriage. It was the political kiss of death. There was still serious support for civil unions—practically a separate-but-equal style solution to the problem! I am not exaggerating when I say it felt only quasi-legal to be gay. And then also in these last ten years has been the most incredible Trans visibility movement. The notion that gender is something that is self-defined, as opposed to being “assigned” at birth, is actually entering the public imagination. I really am very heartened about these changes in the world that my son is growing up in.

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Photo by Greg Inda

Who's that Guy, you may be asking yourself. Well luckily I've done the footwork--by which I mean stolen his shoes and worn them to follow him back and forth across Chicago, from audition to improv gig-- so I can tell you that Guy F Wicke is not only a guy worth knowing, but my April Crush of the Month.


Full Name: Guy F Wicke

Hometown:  
Sweet home Chicago, and I love exploring and absorbing different areas. I've lived all over the place: Northcenter, Park Ridge, Irving Park, Forest Glen, Bucktown, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Andersonville, Lincoln Square, Edgewater, Wicker Park, and now Lakeview. Up next is a return to Bucktown, so I’ll be looking for the tell-tale glint of sunlight off your stalker binoculars.

Profession: Actor, improviser, voiceover-er, teacher, coach, and freelance publicist for the arts via my company, Wicke International. I use the umbrella title "Local Character" to encompass all my various pursuits.


Hobbies:
I never tire of playing pool at various dives, even if I'm just practicing by myself. There’s something therapeutic about it for me apparently. I foster dogs whenever my living situation allows, and volunteer at Anti-Cruelty whenever my crazy schedule allows. Dogs, man. Talk about therapeutic. I love reading and watching documentaries, keeping up with the latest developments in history, science, and world events. Watching PBS Newshour on my phone the morning after it aired. Absorbing the world around me, basically.


Our Town Describe your journey to acting.
Guy F Wicke I grew up idolizing actors and comedians, but I was such a painfully shy kid that I never thought I'd be able to do what they do. Then one night some high school friends and I were drifting through Wrigleyville and Joey Tilton handed us a flyer and talked us into seeing a Low Sodium Entertainment improv show. Bang. Pow. I loved it. Eventually I sucked up the courage to start taking classes, completed their entire 8 level conservatory, and was cast as a member of that troupe. I was transformed. I had broken out of my shell and I loved performing and making people laugh. I yearned to try my hand at dramatic acting as well, but it was over a decade before I worked up the courage to take those classes. And guess what? Bang. Pow. I loved it. I was again transformed. I learned new skills and found new confidence. Now I'm constantly acting, and constantly auditioning, and I love it all. So the moral of the story? Don't let fear hold you back from what you dream of. Or, a bird in the hand is worth a rabbit in a briar patch. I'm not sure. I'm not great with morals.


OT How did you get into publicity?
GW It all started when I was in a theater company that was going through a pretty rough period of getting light crowds. I became determined to improve the situation and started assisting with the company's marketing & PR and eventually took over the position of Marketing Director--basically learned everything from scratch. The crowds at our shows did improve over time and that little upstart theater company made it through those rocky years to become a fixture on the Chicago improv scene: pH Productions. A byproduct of my enthusiasm for pH was the discovery that I really enjoyed the work of promoting theater. I decided to call my little freelance operation Wicke International as an homage to my late father, who had used that name for a business of his own once upon a time. What I love about being a publicist is telling stories. I love sharing what makes a certain show special and deserving of recognition, even in the midst of all the incredible art happening all the time. 


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