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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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April's Hot Writer: RK Arceneaux

My genre: Creative non-fiction



My literary influences: JAMES FRANCO. Lolz. But for real, loves me some Mark motherf-cking Twain. My love for him is everlasting. When my son was born three months prematurely, I passed many hours in the NICU reading "The Prince and the Pauper," and "Pudd’nhead Wilson" to my tiny spawn. Memories! Flashback to high school as we discuss "Huckleberry Finn" and my teacher singles out and asks the only African-American girl in our class how she feels about Twain's usage of the n-word followed by a discussion on how she feels being the only black chick in the class. Awkward.

My favorite literary quote:
"To thine own self be true" for the following reasons:

-Because if my sister had pubes, they would artfully obscure this line which is tastefully tattooed onto her nether regions.

-Because in the movie "Clueless," Cher (worship at the alter of Cher forever) schools the snobby college bitch who misquotes Hamlet:

Snobby College Bitch: It's just like Hamlet said, "To thine own self be true."
Cher: Hamlet didn't say that.
SCB: I think I remember Hamlet accurately.
Cher: Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately, and he didn't say that. That Polonius guy did.

ULTIMATE BURN.

-And because Shakespeare is a total badass and if you disagree that is nice but I think we can all agree that you are WRONG.

My favorite book of all time:
"The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe. I generally like stories about people who sell their souls to the devil but I especially love Faustus because he does not sell his soul for noble reasons like love, but because he is a greedy asshole and wants to know everything. Goethe’s version is good I guess. if you are into endings of redemption and god’s mercy, but in my opinion if you sell your soul to the devil the ONLY appropriate ending is that you rot in hell in a lake of fire for all the days.

I’m currently reading:
My child is in a highly strict MOM OR GTFO stage and he considers not reading aloud to him a form of ignoring him, which is highly punishable by the baby dictator. He likes to grab books with his grubby little hands and crumple the pages beneath his sticky fingers, as if to say, ‘why you not loving me tonight, MOM!’ I barely have time to defecate in private; reading alone is not happening. I do not mind pooping with a pal, but I do not like my books to get mangled, so I do a lot of reading out loud. I know I am out of shape because reading books out loud to my son expends so much of my energy that I have to down a few Oreos and iron supplements in between chapters or I start to become light-headed and wispy-voiced. Ignatius and I are currently reading "Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm" by Philip Pullman. P-Pullman is da bomb.



My guilty pleasure book:
In high school, which was only 4 years ago for me, I was obsessed with the "Twilight" series. My AP Stats teacher and I would meet in her classroom at lunch to discuss the books. Yeah. For the record: Team Edward or gtfo.


I can’t write without:
Everyone in the house to shut their yappers. And coffee.

Worst line I ever wrote:
Je ne regrette rien!


Brief Bio:
RK Arceneaux lives in a large house on the outskirts of town with her two chihuahuas in waiting, her huz, and baby. Her forthcoming novel has yet to be named but will probably be a Beatles’ reference. She infrequently updates her blog (diddlerontheroof.blogspot.com) and spends her days in elaborate dresses, romanticizing over artificial ingredients and forgotten dreams.

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 writer Bill Hillman embodies the city’s dichotomies. A former gang affiliate and Chicago Golden Glove Champion, Hillman is also an award-winning writer and storyteller. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Newcity, Salon.com, and has been broadcast on NPR. He’s told stories around the world with his internationally acclaimed storytelling series the Windy City Story Slam. Tonight, April 10th, The Empty Bottle hosts the release party for his debut novel, "The Old Neighborhood." Hillman spoke with Our Town about his dark past and his brilliant future.


Our Town How is writing like street brawling?
Bill Hillman Street fights are deadly serious. I’ve hurt people in permanent ways, reconstructed their faces and put guys in comas. I was nearly beaten to death off rush street by a bunch of off duty cops and bus boys. Weapons come out and suddenly you’re dancing with death, not to mention one hard kick to the head can kill a man.
Writing is deadly serious too. If you aren’t ready to kill and die for your words, don’t even bother setting out on a career as a writer, you’ll never make it or create anything important.  The world will break you into tiny pieces.


OT Take us through the process of writing your book from initial inspiration to final execution.
BH I wanted to write a novel about my family’s struggles with street violence. My Dad started a gang in the 1960's the younger generation of that gang broke off and went on to start one of the most notorious gangs in Chicago the TJO's. My Dad used to beat the hell out of the leaders of the TJO's and even helped them get jobs. My eldest brother became a TJO 15 years later. He sunk into the violence very deeply and became addicted to drugs and ended up in prison for armed robbery. My other brother lost his best friend in a gang murder and retaliated. Later my sister was shot in a drive by shooting after getting involved in gangs. My third brother became a Chicago cop. I knew this was powerful material that could be crafted into a magnificent urban family saga. I've been in hundreds of street altercations and have experience in the drug trade, so all these things made me say, man, I could write a great Chicago novel using these moments in my life and family history as the map. I couldn't write in Chicago, I was partying to hard and screwing everything up. I was 23 and so easily distracted.

So, I went down to this little town San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of Mexico. I sat and wrote every single day for 6-8 hours for over a month. It was one of the best times in my life. I was producing a powerful narrative that I knew had something special in it. I’d wake up to the sounds of rooster’s crowing and make a big breakfast and then go up on my roof to smoke a few cigarettes with Tom Waits blaring on my computer. I’d watch the small ranch across the way as donkey’s and horses scampered around in the woods. Then I’d sit down and write for hours picking up exactly where I’d left off the day before. It was a blast. I met my wife there, got mugged, stabbed and bludgeoned with a brick but managed to fight the muggers off. I fell in love with that town. It was the place where Neil Cassidy left while counting rail ties to Leon when he died of sudden aneurism. Jack Kerouac visited and wrote there. It’s a special place in the world.The next 9 years was a saga of self-doubt pain and anguish and of course hard, dedicated work.

OT Why publish with Curbside?
BH Victor Giron has created a beautiful publishing house. He loves it and that joy pours into everything he does for his writers. Jacob Knabb is a mad genius, I’m not saying that because he’s a dear friend of mine, I have plenty of friends who are morons. Jacob is a dynamo when it comes to publicity, connections, ideas for events and articles. He makes stuff happen in a way that blows away anything I ever did with the Windy City Story Slam and I did some things.

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In 2002 Terry and Beth Kiely were beginning to ask themselves, “Is this all there is?” Both well-established in their careers, the husband and wife were, according to Terry, “interested in starting something new, something together and having experienced firsthand the profound power of yoga to transform our experience, we knew that yoga would be central to our path forward.” Both yoga practitioners for more than ten years, the duo chose to open Om on the Range yoga studio, and thank goodness they did. On a personal note, I found Om on the Range just after my father’s sudden death. I’m grateful to the studio for providing not only consistently challenging classes, but a safe place where I can grieve, move and grow. I spoke with Terry about Om’s unique atmosphere as well as the rising popularity of yoga in the US.


Our Town What style of yoga does Om offer?

Terry Kiely We offer a power vinyasa style of yoga that combines strong physicality, conscious breathing, and mindful alignment into a flowing series that’s really accessible for all levels of fitness and experience.  We heat the room up to about 92F and turn up the humidity so that everyone gets a good, cleansing sweat going.  All of our teachers want to make sure you feel like you’ve had a good physical challenge and that you’ve had plenty of space clear your mind and feed your soul.


OT What makes Om unique?
TK It all comes down to the people.  Our studio reflects our own style…informal, practical, non-dogmatic, welcoming, fun, challenging, searching.  It’s a real community…a club where everyone can be a member.  We’ve created the kind of studio that we like to practice at.


OT How is hot yoga different than bikram?
TK Well, they’re both hot!  Bikram yoga is done at a much higher temperature…typically more than 105F.  Bikram yoga is also limited to a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises.  The whole class is scripted right down to the exact words that each teacher is required to use.
The power vinyasa classes that we teach follow a similar structure whether they are 60, 75, 90 minute classes. However, there is ample opportunity for our teachers to provide their insight into individual poses, to be creative in the sequence of poses, and to teach new things based on who is in the class.  We found that this opportunity for freshness and creativity was really appealing to students and teachers alike. We actually started out exclusively teaching Bikram yoga in 2002, we started teaching just a few power vinyasa yoga classes in 2004, but they grew steadily.  Eventually, most of our students gravitated toward power vinyasa yoga to the extent that we discontinued Bikram yoga completely in 2012.


OT What do you think about yoga’s growing popularity in the US? What are the pros and cons?
TK Well there’s no doubt that yoga is becoming extremely popular….especially here in Chicago.  It’s a huge positive…what could be wrong with a growing population of people that is more aware, healthier, better able to deal with stress, better able to express their truest vision for themselves and the planet? One downside I’ve noticed is that there seems to be “overcapacity” of yoga in Chicago right now.  We went through an exuberant build up in the number of classes being offered around town in all sorts of venues and recently I’ve noticed some pull back in that as we’ve witnessed a number of studio closings in the city.  The other downside is that I think there’s a great deal of confusion for the public as teachers and studio owners try to define their niche in ever more creative ways (e.g., yoga, yoga with weights, acro yoga, yin yoga, power yoga, paddle board yoga, yoga with your dog, etc. )

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If you’re familiar with the Milwaukee music scene, you’ve heard of Dogs in Ecstasy. Comprised of Molly Rosenblum on synths and vocals, Tony Dixon on drums, and Willy Dintenfass on guitar and vocals, the group is known, not only for their driving pop-culture-infused songs, but for the band’s cagey use of persona. On April 4th, Chicagoans can head to The Empty Bottle and find out what all the fuss is about. In the meantime, DIE spoke with Our Town about their influences, writing process and the odd characters who’ve hijacked their twitter feed.

Our Town DIE--intentional acronym?
Willy Dintenfass Stroke of luck.


OT What’s DIE’s writing process like?
WD We collect concepts for songs and lines that could potentially become lyrics in a text file called "song ideas.rtf" (it doesn't have to be called that -- we just liked the way it sounds). We sit at the computer and stare at the file for five or six hours, dicking around variously on guitar, fretless bass (it does have to be fretless) and synthesizer, trying to come up with some music that doesn't make us want to kill ourselves. Maybe we give up and watch Netflix. No! We persevere. 


OT You write about everything from drag queens to googling. What’s the band’s relationship to pop culture?
WD Like most people, we're into it, generally. It also makes for good subject matter for songs because, like emotions, pop culture artifacts are "universal," -- you can count on people knowing what you're talking about -- but unlike emotions, they're not that difficult to describe with some precision, which is useful if you're not that good at writing.


OT Who are the band’s influences?
WD The Breeders, RuPaul, the USAISAMONSTER, Melt-Banana, Sparks, Eugene McDaniels, the Rentals, Shigetaka Kurita, Floor, and Shigetaka Kurita.
How would you describe your sound?
Wild n Wacky Rock n Roll.


OT DIE’s social media presence is legend. What inspires your eclectic and odd variety of tweets and updates?
WD Just to clarify, it's not legend in the sense that it doesn't exist: our social media presence is very much real. And the odd variety is actually out of our control. We'd like a more focused, professional voice for our brand, but we made the mistake early on of sharing our account information with a fourth member who we then had to kick out of the band. Ever since, we've been unable to shut him out, and so not only does he update as he sees fit, he's also posted our login info across the web, inviting creeps and weirdos of all stripes to post as us. It's a bit of a nightmare to be honest.

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Photo by Peter Yang


If you like your comedy edgy, smart and served by a bawdy blond, Amy Schumer is your comedy dream girl. She hits Chicago, Friday to perform at the Auditorium Theatre, but first she spoke with Our Town about Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, developing her comedic voice and why Chicago is the perfect comedy town. (Apologies to Schaumburg.)

Our Town How has your comedic voice evolved over the course of your career?
Amy Schumer There’s less of a difference between who I am off and onstage now. There’s still an element of me saying the exact opposite of how I feel, but I’m more myself onstage. I do more storytelling and fewer short jokes.

OT That’s interesting. Often performers talk about developing a persona over time. Why do you think for you the distance between your off and onstage selves has narrowed?
AS I’ve never made a calculated decision to develop a persona. It happened naturally. I’m playing this character, this deranged, Stepford Wife-looking character that would say irreverent, awful things. As I’ve gotten older, I feel more of a responsibility to actually say something. I think all comedians try to communicate their truth. There’s also me just wanting to make people laugh but often there’s an injustice I notice and I want to call attention to it. I want to give the crowd a more authentic experience of me. The audience can sense if you’re being real.

OT Do people ever assume from the irreverent things you say on stage that they can say anything to you on the street?
AS Honestly, people are pretty cool with me. They can tell I’m in on the joke. No one thinks my persona is me. No one ever says anything really racist or lewd. I mean, I would think they would, but I can’t think of any experiences where people ignored my boundaries.

OT That restores my faith in humanity.
AS Don’t get me wrong, once in a while there’ll be someone I wish was a little more intelligent. I was just in a Starbucks and a guy came up to me and was like “I thought you’d be taller.” Interactions where it’s just a dead end and you don’t know what to say. They look at you like, “You’re a comedian! Go! Do something!” I’m not a windup doll.

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March's Honest Parent Claudia Pyne


Fill in the blank:

My great parenting strength is: improvisation. One needs to wing it quite often as a parent.


My greatest parenting weakness is: I don’t know how to ask for help… also a personal flaw.


What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
It’s really scary to be responsible for another human being. I can’t believe I survived it. I found that I was stronger than I realized.


What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
Get the drugs, right off.


How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing? All the time. I have always been a people watcher so when I was pregnant I made a list of do’s & don’ts of parenting. It’s always being updated, even though I am semi-retired.


Describe your worst moment as a parent.
The early days… It was a rough transition into single motherhood. I didn’t realize how much support I would need. When I asked for help from my mom she said she would take Ayana for the summer so I could find a better job in Chicago & sort out the daycare situation. She kept my kid from May-Oct. & was threatening to take Ayana away from me. It was a really rough time & ruined our relationship for 3 years.


Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on? The time I lost when Ayana was with my mom. (My mom died 4 years later. She was able to have that time with Ayana. And I grew up a lot.)


How many hours out of each day do you feel like you’re being a good parent?
That’s a tough one. Some days you don’t feel like a good parent at all. Others it’s a 50/50 split. Other times you are kicking ass & taking names.


How has having a kid affected your sex life?
Dating was far more difficult as a single mom lezzie. I think that was the area that was the most affected.

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March's Hot Writer: Naomi Huffman


My genre: Is e-mail a genre? These days, I spend more time in my inbox than in my notebook. But when I do have time for my own work, I'm usually agonizing over a personal essay about my life, which is to say, being young and exceptionally broke, and trying not to talk about my cats all the time (They're so funny! They yawn and drink water and run and stuff!). I'm also working on a collection of short stories.


My literary influences: Joan Didion. Joan Didion. Joan Didion. And also: Zadie Smith, Amy Hempel, Peter Orner, Lorrie Moore, Rebecca West, Ethan Canin, Cheryl Strayed, John Steinbeck.

My favorite literary quote: "That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it."
— Joan Didion


My favorite book of all time: TOTALLY UNFAIR QUESTION. For now, I'll choose "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson. That book possesses such a quiet power -- it's both beautiful and savage. I remember reading excerpts aloud to my ex-boyfriend, to my boss, to friends over dinner. Lorrie Moore's "Birds of America" is another book that I shared like that. I was so consumed by it that I stuffed that book in a teeny tiny leather bag and took it with me to a bachelorette party, just in case there was an available moment to step away from the penis straws and lingerie and read a paragraph or two. (Attention, brides-to-be: invite me to your bachelorette parties. I'll bring all the fun.)

I’m currently reading: I always seem to be in the middle of several books at a time -- my jobs require that I'm reading constantly, which feels very lucky. I'm very close to completing Bill Hillman's "The Old Neighborhood," which we're publishing at Curbside Splendor in April. I'm also almost through with David Stuart MacLean's "The Answer to the Riddle Is Me," which is terrifying and hilarious and such a joy to read. I've just begun "Esther Stories" by Peter Orner, who is seriously a goddamn master, and just this morning I picked up Emily Gould's forthcoming "Friendship," which I've been excited about for months.

My guilty pleasure book: The Harry Potter series. I wasn't allowed to read them when I was growing up -- my parents had very strict rules about what I could read and didn't like that the books were about "witchcraft." So of course I borrowed them all from my friend Jamie, who stood in line for each book as it was released, devoured it, and lent it to me to read, which I had to do beneath my blankets with a flashlight (in case Jesus was watching). I even hid the books behind all my other parent-approved books on my shelf, which is probably the most genius idea I've ever had. All the hiding and staying up late and spending my allowance on AA batteries was worth it.

I can’t write without: A beverage, typically coffee or tea. When my mind feels really closed up, I'll have a glass of wine.


Worst line I ever wrote: "We didn't let go until our cigarettes burned out, the last ribbons of smoke curling over our heads like sadness." Clearly, eighteen-year-old me needed a lesson on similes.

Brief Bio: Naomi Huffman writes and edits and writes and edits. Sometimes she sleeps, designs, binds books, and bakes pies. She's the Managing Editor at Curbside Splendor and the Assistant Literary Editor at Newcity, where her reviews and essays appear regularly. She's also an editor at Bookslut and a co-host of Reading Under the Influence. She blogs infrequently at naomihuffman.com.

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Even the polar vortex couldn't ice my loins, so I present March's Crush.


Alberto Ramón Gutiérrez a.k.a. Mr Junior


Hometown: Santa Fe, New Mexico


Profession: Glamour aka Mister Junior, aka Burlesque star, stylist, designer, choreographer and dance instructor


Hobbies: Bicycling, cooking, manicures and pedicures, reading, coloring outside the lines in coloring books, and listening.


Our Town Why burlesque?
Alberto Ramón Gutiérrez I was granted special access into the wonderful and treasured world of burlesque, now a primarily female, lady power, femme-dominated world and found it to be an open place for expression and inclusion as a gender non-conforming individual, due in great part to the grace of Red Hot Annie.


OT Is Burlesque political?
ARG Burlesque is political because bodies are political. The way one chooses to use their body and showcase it is the most political act; from whom one chooses to share their body with to what one chooses to feed it and put inside it. Sexuality, sensuality, gender, size, skin color all become political tools for the burlesque artist to address personal and societal perceptions of a given body.


OT How do you conceptualize gender?
ARG Gender is a spectrum, a range of expression, how one relates to oneself and others, a personal identity, and something that can be fluid. Boy/Girl or Man/Woman are "guidelines" that may make it helpful to categorize and make sense of certain expressions, behaviors and presentations and they are not rigid, defined by body parts nor sexual orientation.


How has your relationship to your gender evolved as you’ve grown?
My gender is Glamor/neither. I found that trying to live up to unnatural pressures to act and present a certain way did not serve me, and I've suffered greatly for going against the grain; facing hate, bigotry, discrimination, and extreme violence. finding the strength and communities to showcase my deep personal expression of who I am inside this body and as a person have helped me move beyond the binary. In trying to explain the concept of gender to others, I've found that putting to rest the binary and including the option of "neither" in conversation makes it more understandable to people trying to get a handle on the spectrum of gender.


What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
Deep dish pizza, bike lanes, and public transportation. 

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From writing to comedy, performer Tracy DeGraaf’s journey has been both organic and inspired. She spoke with Our Town about inspiration, God and Phyllis Diller.


Our Town What route did you take to comedy?
Tracy DeGraaf It wasn't my idea. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was 12. I did everything one would do to pursue that dream. I met my husband, Ron (I call him Muffin) and we got married in 1989 and proceeded to fill the Earth as we had our five sons (we call them the mini-muffins). My writing career was put on the back burner for 20 years. I
refer to the 90s as my "Silent Decade,” not because my world was silent but rather because living in a home with 6 males was deafening and I seriously was incapable of putting two sentences together let alone writing a book! It wasn't until I turned 40 that I got back to my dream.

OT How did that come about?
TD It was two weeks before my 40th birthday, and with a giant laundry basket hiked up on my hip, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror of my dresser. A picture of my husband
and I along with our parents on our wedding day was on the dresser. My mom died only 4 short years after the picture was taken. She was only 51. She died of bone cancer. If you've ever lost someone who was too young to die, you know that they remain the age they died in your
brain. So while everyone else in the photo had aged, my mother was still 51 in my brain. So here I was about to enter my 40s and as I caught myself in the mirror and looked at that photo, it hit me, I look way more like the mother of the bride than the bride. That was when I decided to be a writer no matter what. Muffin bought me a laptop for my birthday and I started a blog. No one read it. It was just for my therapy. I told my friends to read some funny stories and one of them
said, "Tracy, you want to write a book and you have all these hilarious stories.....there's your book."


OT And comedy...?
TD I had a blast writing it but when I finished the manuscript I had no idea what to do with it so I hired a publishing coach to walk me though the process. He read the book and said, "Tracy, your book is funny. If you could do stand-up comedy along with it, you might really have something here." I paid this guy big bucks for his advice. Muffin
had to sell a tractor so I could consult with him. (Muffin is a heavy equipment operator.) So, I hung up with the consultant and dialed up The Second City in Chicago and they had just started a Stand Up course. I signed up and took a giant horrifying step. It's one thing to be funny when you write or when you are having a conversation with
someone....it's a totally different thing when it's you and a microphone and the crickets if you're not funny. I did open mics and mostly free performances around the city and suburbs for two years.

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February's Honest Parent: Brian Murphy


My great parenting strength is: I like to joke around and be as goofy as my kids are. I'm not sure if that's a strength but, cracking them up makes all of us happy and that can't be bad.


My greatest parenting weakness is: My lack of patience. I hate losing my temper but, it's just un avoidable sometimes. They have the energy to go full steam all day and by 7 pm, I'm exhausted. And although I've never said "shut the f-ck up!" out loud - I've thought it pretty damn hard.


What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
 That I had the capacity to BE a parent. Going in, nobody knows what having children really involves, and you get tested every minute, every day. You pretty much make it up as you go along and you've got one chance to get it right. All you do is second-guess yourself and go from a proud poppa with a heart so full of love you want to have a dozen more babies to unfathomable depths of misery and self loathing because you're an utter failure as a parent and husband. All of that usually happens before dinner.


What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
 Get more sleep. Take naps. Oh, and realize your life is over. That part of it before kids anyway. Leave it behind and move on.


How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?
More often than I care to admit. Although I'm judging them too.."Can you believe what XXX is letting them stay up till eleven?!?"


Describe your worst moment as a parent.
 One time I ran into the house while they were in the car (NOT running, btw.) and they crawled into the backseat thinking they were being funny. I didn't realize what sheer terror was until I was convinced my child was missing.


Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on?
 Letting them watch tv. And the computer. I had such grand plans about not letting them watch more than 15 minutes a day... then I realized how niave that was. Sometimes you just need to go to the bathroom ...alone.


How has having kid/s affected your sex life?
Morning sex is the new normal.

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Love or hate The Hypocrite’s innovative interpretation of Steven Sondheim’s seminal musical "Into the Woods", you can’t deny the talent of one of its key players. As The Witch, a role made iconic by Bernadette Peters, Hillary Marren shows off an enviable singing voice and spot-on comedic timing. Our Town spoke with the Chicago actress about her influences, vocal care and why she loves Chipotle.


Our Town Why theatre?
Hillary Marren To tell someone’s story, and share it with people in real time is a feeling unlike anything else on earth.  You don’t get the chance to go back and redo a line, you can’t edit out the things you didn’t like, and you can’t always control the variables on stage. There’s beauty in the imperfection.  It’s also a moment in time where a group of strangers meet in one room so they can all feel something together, and how cool is that?



OT Who are your influences?
HM There is a wide range of people who influence me.  growing up, comedy and music were always at the forefront for me.  Though I was too young to be watching, I was enthralled with Jan Hooks on SNL, and Cheri O’Teri was another favorite.  I spent a lot of time listening to folk music like Jonatha Brooke and Bonnie Raitt, but I also fell in love with Mariah Carey and Mary J Blige.  I had dreams of becoming a pop star all through my adolescence, and because of that, I was heavily influenced by contemporary musicals when it came to theatre.  Some of my favorites are "Wicked," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Avenue Q," and I could sing you the entire score (male vocals included!) of "Jekyll and Hyde."


OT What makes the Hypocrite’s production of "Into the Woods" unique?
HM The Hypocrites are known for their high theatricality and their penchant for combining honesty with presentation.  Our director, Geoff Button, found a way to use the heightened playfulness of the company to help tell Sondheim’s story in a fresh way, in turn also allowing it to eventually be deconstructed.  In doing so, the comedy of the show really comes through in a way that you wouldn’t normally see with a traditional production, and it’s this juxtaposition that makes the harsh reality of Act 2 even more apparent as the show goes on.  There’s a dichotomy of simplicity and complexity all around.  And I’m also pretty sure that no one has ever attempted to do Sondheim with balloons.  


OT What was it like to step into a role made famous by Bernadette Peters?
HM The most challenging thing about playing a role like this, is that people who are familiar with the original production bring their own expectations of what the role should and shouldn’t be.  As an actress, I had to trust my own instincts, and that of the creative team, and like any other role, focus on giving an honest interpretation of the character.



OT In the production, the cast play multiple roles. Was there any way in which that felt prohibitive?
HM Yes, it is certainly a challenge to play multiple roles, especially with this particular musical, which is difficult enough on its own.   It is especially difficult to switch into such contrasting characters almost simultaneously, and all while being onstage.  If the Witch were my only focus, maybe the audience would have perceived my character differently.  Maybe I would have gone a different route with her.  Who knows!



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Photo by Jerry A. Schulman

From the beginning, Filmspotting founder and host Adam Kempenaar took podcasting seriously.

“We didn’t want to do what we saw other podcasts doing-- no structure, subpar audio quality, this sense that people were kinda babbling. If we were going to put the time in, we were going to take advantage of the podcast format.”


This was back when podcasting was untried, a new media platform. Nearly a decade later, Kempenaar’s keen adherence to his vision has paid off. After being picked up by iTunes and later WBEZ, Filmspotting is more than a Chicago phenomenon. Co-hosted by former Sun Times film critic Josh Larsen, the show offers listeners across the country lively debate, top five lists, and a thoroughly modern take on film criticism.


Our Town’s Sarah Terez Rosenblum and Andrew Weir spoke with Kempenaar and Larsen about the show’s genesis, the purpose of film criticism, and the top five quintessential Chicago films.


Our Town (Sarah Terez Rosenblum) What drew you to film criticism?
Josh Larsen- I always enjoyed writing and movies so it was just the merging of the two. I can remember as a kid being as excited about the reviews in the paper as about the movies in the theaters. And being a Chicago-area kid, you grew up with film criticism, Siskel and Ebert-- as a really rich part of the culture.
Adam Kempenaar My goal was to be a director. After I had the experience [of film school], I realized although I was passionate about film, I was not going to be the guy who went out to LA and maxed out my credit cards to make a film. It just wasn’t in my DNA. I needed more structure, but I didn’t want to drop film completely. I was getting my masters in Journalism and it turned out there was an opening for a film critic at the University of Iowa newspaper. I got the gig, and I had to figure it out as I went along--what being a film critic meant.


STR So what does it mean? What’s the purpose of film criticism?
AK Early on, I decided that I didn’t care that much about whether the person reading the review felt compelled to see the movie. The thing that annoyed me as I got more serious about film criticism was critics who saw themselves as box office guides, as if their goal was to influence what people spend their money on. There may be some validity to that, but I ultimately hope-- and I don’t know that we always succeed-- but I’d like there to be, in every review, at least one good idea that maybe the person listening wouldn’t have thought of on their own. That it makes them shift their perspective a little. I think one of the best compliments we get is when there’s an email from someone saying, “I can’t believe you guys were so hard on that movie!” And then like two minutes later, an email with the exact opposite response: “You guys were way too easy on that movie!” People hear us in totally different ways which reflects where they stand. Rather than seeing that as a failure, I like that people can interpret us how they want. There’s a lot of hostility toward film critics; this impression we’re in an ivory tower passing judgement, but just because I’m here talking about a movie for twenty minutes doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. We’ll put the show up, people will start responding, and they may change my mind.
JL- Both of those models, the ivory tower and the consumerist approach, have been blown open by podcasts. The old guard will rail about movie blogs, “who are these people to have a say?” But it’s shocking how much good stuff passionate bloggers are publishing. So as a working critic do you panic and try to shut that off or do you let the conversation grow? It’s been interesting to adapt to that myself. Now everyone has a platform, which reorients film criticism so that critics are just part of the conversation, and that’s so much richer.


STR What was the impetus behind Filmspotting?
AK When we started in 2005 as a podcast, I was married and had one kid, and then a second. I had become that guy who was so caught up in his job and his family that I wasn’t going to see movies anymore. Sam [Van Hallgren, the show's original co-host and current co-producer] and I, we said, let’s force ourselves to see one new movie a week. That’s the joke that my wife still reminds me of--I pitched this to my wife as, I’ll only be gone for a couple hours a week--
JL You didn’t even invite her?
AK No. So, a couple hours, then we’ll discuss for maybe 20 minutes, no editing, just the conversation--that’ll be the show.
JL Lying through your teeth.
AKI didn’t know I was lying through my teeth! What changed was, once people start listening--I’m a little bit obsessive by nature--so you start structuring and adding, building out segments. June 2005 was when iTunes launched podcasting. We’d been doing it for three months, so were a fairly established podcast, but we were seeing fewer than 1,000 downloads a week. Then iTunes featured us on their main page and overnight we were at 12,000. Those people liked what they heard and wanted more.


Our Town (Andrew Weir) Occasionally you get into some heated discussions. Does that keep it lively, or do you ever have to leave the room and let the blood pressure come down?

JL It’s been two years and how many of those heated ones have we had? Five? It’s rare. Last week [Podcast #474 "American Hustle" vs "Wolf of Wall Street" conversation]...we did pause. It was early on in the recording and we went on and did like an hour and a half more of the show, so it was fine. I responded to someone who emailed--they were like, can you dial it back? They found it uncomfortable. In retrospect, I don’t know why I got so excited. But haven’t you been in conversations about a topic you love and it just gets that way? So part of it is a shared passion.
AK And a respect--if Josh wasn’t making really good points, I wouldn’t get so worked up. He’s giving me something I have to respond to, he’s challenging me. And hopefully I’m doing that for him. One big difference between Josh and his predecessors is, I was friends with the first two. Josh, we didn’t know each other at all. So even two years later we’re still figuring out who the other person is and what our hot button issues are. At this point, I don’t have him figured out, I doubt I ever will.

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According to Agate Publishing president, Doug Seibold, Chicago has always been the center of African American publishing. Now, with Agate's release of Dempsey Travis’ dynamic "Autobiography of a Black Chicago," one specific African American Chicagoan’s life is rendered in intimate detail. Our Town spoke with Doug about the impassioned endeavor.


Our Town What made you interested in acquiring An Autobiography of a Black Chicago?
Agate has an imprint devoted solely to African-American writers, called Bolden Books. Our most successful books have always been novels that explore the diversity of African-American life. I decided to create a line of memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies, which I'm calling "Bolden Lives," that do in personal nonfiction form what the great novels we've published here do in fiction--tell a wide range of stories about the diverse lives of African-American people. I thought that this book was a great way to start this new line.


OT What makes this book unique?
Travis's own remarkable story, and the very distinctive way in which he tells it. He has an irrepressible literary voice. You can see how he became so successful--nothing seems to slow him down, no matter how steep the obstacles.


OT What enabled Dempsey Travis to write so intimately about the African American experience in Chicago?
He lived it, to the hilt. His father came to Chicago in 1900, right at the beginning of what became the Great Migration. As a teenager, Travis became a professional pianist and bandleader, and thus part of the dazzling jazz music scene of the 1930s. His military service during WWII was scarred by the kind of institutional racism endemic at the time--in many ways, the experiences of black soldiers during and after the war became a spur for the civil rights movement. He played a significant role in that movement, leading the Chicago branch of the NAACP and, in that capacity, bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. to Chicago for the first time in 1960. And when Harold Washington became Chicago's first black mayor, Travis was a leading supporter--the two men had known each other since they were students at DuSable High School.


OT What was your experience editing like?
Engrossing, and for the most part, fairly straightforward. The terrific black and white photos used in the book's first edition were mainly lost, so we were unable to include those. I made the decision to streamline the book by removing the brief biographical vignettes Travis wrote about other prominent black Chicagoans, to focus the book chiefly on Travis's own story.
 

OT What moments in the book do you find most striking?
There are many striking moments in this book, but the one I found most emotionally affecting comes when Travis, struggling with college entrance exams after completing his military service, comes to the slow realization that his literacy skills are inadequate for doing college-level reading. He essentially has to re-learn how to read. At great effort, he does so, then gains admission to Roosevelt University and embarks on his successful business career. But as difficult as that challenge must have been, you know it can't possibly stop him from achieving his larger goals. 


OT What are your hopes for the book?
I think it's a classic work of Chicago personal history, and I hope it's recognized as such. It would be wonderful to see this book taught in schools.

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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February's Hot Writer: Kat Conway


My genre: Non-fiction narrative essays, sci-fi/fantasy, short poetry and the occasional erotica.

My literary influences: In a perfect world, I'd write like Dorothy Parker and Meg Cabot had a super queer baby, then invited Margaret Atwood, Melina Marchetta and Toni Morrison to be fairy godparents. Also at the party: Donna Tartt, James Baldwin, Terry Pratchett, Naomi Novik, Anais Nin, Erika Moen, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Tamora Pierce and Li-Young Lee.


My favorite literary quote: I want to tuck this bit of "Great Things Have Happened" by Alden Nowlan into my shirt pocket and wear it near my heart forever: "... It was like the feeling / you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited / before, when the bread doesn’t taste quite the same, / the butter is a small adventure, and they put / paprika on the table instead of pepper, / except that there was nobody in this country / except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder / of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love."


My favorite book of all time: "Good Omens," by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, forever and always.


I’m currently reading: "Saga" by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan


My guilty pleasure book: I have read "Sabriel" by Garth Nix (and then stomped around the house pretending to be a necromancer) so many times that it is in serious danger of disintegrating. See also: "The Bean Trees" by Barbara Kingsolver and "Watership Down" by Richard Adams.


I can’t write without: a deadline and/or The Mountain Goats' entire discography.


Worst line I ever wrote: Oh jeez, so many. Most recently, probably "The kid looks so taken aback by the suggestion that Jeff uses the opportunity to snatch the book back, flipping through it with one hand and holding the kid’s wildly flailing arms off with the other. Somewhere, in the back of his skull, a little voice is smirking at him and sing-songing. Friends, friends, friends, three days and you’re practically almost friends. The kid flails." This is from my never-published queer YA werewolf romance novel, also featuring an all-boys' private school and a Battle of the Bands competition. Note the repetition of the word "flail," which is how I signify teenage attraction.


Brief Bio: Kate Conway is the Queer Studies Editor at xoJane.com, where she is also known to write about brunch, dragons, Jonathan Toews and liminality. Her work has also appeared on Jezebel and in BUST Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @katchatters.

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 Aaron Gang


Lucky for me, Tracey is easy to find. A fitness instructor and actor, she's a stalker's--I mean writer's dream. Not only that but she's a redhead, and as you know, I'm partial. Check out Chicago's February Crush!


Hometown: Ft Lauderdale, Florida
Profession: Actor and Group Exercise Instructor
Hobbies:
As of late, I’ve found that my lifestyle doesn’t exactly cater to having hobbies…..though I suppose one could say I’ve made a hobby of brainstorming what hobbies I’d like to one day have…..like scuba diving! Or maybe collecting antique typewriters! Those would be pretty sweet. Hmmmm……there must be SOME enjoyable things I make time to do…..ermmm, let’s see…..I don’t see movies or theater nearly as much as I should, but I whole-heartedly enjoy doing both (I suppose if I didn’t, one could really question my choice of career). I’ve also discovered a love of cider recently and will grab one with a friend as often as possible (though usually I’m the only one ordering the cider. Most of the company I keep seem to be opposed to its consumption. Why???? Whomp. Their loss.) Watching Grey’s Anatomy has been a guilty pleasure that has managed to survive ten years now (it’s just so satisfying to FINALLY see Meredith and Derek in a healthy, functional relationship!!! You go guys! I knew you could do it!) Painting and writing are also big passions, but, alas, have also fallen a bit by the wayside these days….though I do make a point of journaling daily.


What drew you to acting?
Growing up, I always enjoyed entertaining my folks and friends with skits and such….I got a lot more serious over time and made it my subject of study in college. I think what I enjoy most about acting is the learning aspect of performance. Each new project presents ample opportunity to engage with an unfamiliar subject matter, and I very much appreciate how personally transformative that research process can be. I can’t imagine finding greater fulfillment elsewhere. Peter London words my philosophy as an actor better than I can: “The essential function of art... is to become personally enlightened, wise, and whole. Then, as a consequence of the former function, the purpose of this wisdom, the purpose of art, is to make the community enlightened, wise, and whole.” Boom.


What's your proudest accomplishment as a fitness instructor?
Not passing out after teaching a three hour back-to-back block of classes is always rewarding. As is positive feedback from students….seeing them grow and accomplish goals, and knowing I contributed to their gains in some way. But as far as tangibles go, I was just made a representative of the brand of dance fitness that I teach: WERQ. That was quite the honor. Will be tough to top.


What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
Never before have I encountered so many inspiring, talented, and passionate people. I’ve lived here almost 6 years now, and I have found this city and its inhabitants to be incredibly empowering and humbling. The community of artists here is rich and encouraging to someone like myself who is trying to navigate this crazy lifestyle.


What's your least favorite thing about Chicago?
Every time a Chicago homicide is reported in the news, my dad (who lives in Florida and hates the fact that I don’t) has a minor heart attack. Come on guys!! Stop inducing so much anxiety in him!! Can’t we all just get along?


Describe your perfect day:
A perfect day would simply be a balanced one. A little bit of productivity, a little bit of relaxation. A little bit of being social, and a little bit of alone time. A little bit of focus on my passions, and a little bit of indulging in mindless distraction. I neglect my inner Libra every day I tip the scale too far to one side….which I guess happens pretty much every day. Gah. Libra? More like ZEBRA. (No, it’s not that you’re missing the joke. What I said just doesn’t make sense. Don’t worry about it.)


Relationship Deal breaker?
Lies. ALL LIES!


Who was your first crush?
My first crush was a boy named Daniel who was in my kindergarten class. I had always been drawn to him, but I distinctly remember the day he stole my heart. It was story-telling time and it was his turn to share. He created the most wondrous narrative about a king of garlic bread. Not a king that ate garlic bread. Not a king who liked to make garlic bread. But a king who was MADE of garlic bread. Inspired, I tell you. Inspired. Not only was he creative beyond his years, but we also shared the same food interests. Done and done.


Why are you crushworthy?
As an actor, theoretically I can be ANYTHING YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN A GAL. That’s right. ANYTHING. And, no, that is NOT me being egotistical. That’s me being desperate.


Any questions for me?
I know I’m bad with deadlines and that you may have had your doubts about my getting these answers to you on time, but don’t you think coming over to my apartment every night and whispering reminders in my ear as I slept was a bit much?


Bio- Tracey Green is a professional actor and group exercise instructor. She graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Theatre and holds fitness certifications from The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Keiser Spin, and WERQ Dance Fitness. She currently teaches at Cheetah Gym (Andersonville and Bucktown locations) and Midtown Athletic Club. Recently she played the role of Ann in Eclectic Theatre’s production of “All My Sons” and has been collaborating with Redmoon Theater on a number of projects as both a performer as well as a directing apprentice.


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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If there’s anything Chicago has, it’s funny ladies. Chicago comic Candy Lawrence has graced the stages of Zanies, Mayne Stage, The Laugh Factory, and UP Comedy Club. Most recently, she appeared on Fawzia Mirza’s web series, Kam Kardashian. Our Town spoke with the idiosyncratic comic about The Olive Garden and Ace Ventura. Oh yeah, and comedy.


Our Town Do you remember the first time you made someone laugh?
Candy Lawrence My best friend in 4th grade and I used to call each other up in the evenings to chat while we watched Mr. Ed together. We couldn't figure out how they got him to move his mouth and I told her they just shoved carrots up his butt. That's the truth, right? I'm still not sure.


OT What drew you to comedy?
CL The feeling I get when I can make someone laugh. It's addictive. That and Ace Ventura. No big deal.
 

OT Who are your influences?
CL Someone compared me to Maria Bamford yesterday. So, there's that. Pete Holmes. Amy Sedaris. Melissa McCarthy. 
 

OT Where do you find inspiration?
CL All you can eat breadsticks and endless salads. Olive Garden and everyday life.
 

OT How do you develop a bit?
CL I'm not the type of person that can just sit down and write. Usually, it's just something that happens throughout the day or something I say or something someone else says that will spark an idea. And then I'll just take that idea and improvise a whole lot on stage.
 

OT Best/worst onstage moments?
CL Worst moment- I entered a comedy contest (HORRIBLE IDEA) right when I started doing stand-up.  A judge, and I won't name names (Mike from Red Bar Comedy) said to me in front of an audience, "I hated it. I hated you. I hate women comics." Best moments-  I set up a fundraiser called Laughs for Lawrence to raise money for my dad who was battling lung cancer. Thanks to my friends who performed and everyone who donated I ended up raising $13,000. And I wrote a speech dedicated to him and then danced across the tables like a regular ol' Liza Minnelli. Highlight of my life.


OT Thoughts on how to handle a heckler?
CL Fortunately, throughout my four years of doing stand-up, I've been blessed with very little heckling minus the occasional chattering. Most of the time the lovely servers/hosts take care of that or I just ignore it all together. Otherwise, I tend to mimic the drunk people and that gets laughs. I feel like getting upset or yelling only fuels their fire.
 

OT Advise for wannabe comedians?
CL Get out there. Do lots of shows. Say yes. Take risks. Be yourself.
 

OT What would someone be surprised to know about being a comic?
CL I cry a lot. During a lot of commercials. Comics have feelings too. We're not always "on."
 

OT What’s next for you?
CL Pad See Ew lunch and traveling to LA to do some shows including Hot Tub with Kurt Braunohler and Put Your Hands Together with Cameron Esposito.

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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Meagan Fredette's blog, Latter Style unites fashion with feminism. She spoke with Our Town about Chicago fashion, House of Leaves, and art that takes itself too seriously.


Our Town Why do you identify as a feminist? 
Meagan Fredette There is a lot of value in standing up and being counted. If I didn't identify as a feminist, I'd be doing an enormous disservice to my beliefs.

OT What are your thoughts on peoples’ unwillingness to label themselves feminist?
MF It's irritating. But I understand, because for the longest time I didn't call myself a feminist. Part of it has to do with simple ignorance of intersectionality-- [realizing your own privilege] and trying to remain vigilant about the unseen benefits you’re afforded, benefits that always come at the cost of other people-- it's easy to dismiss feminism when you think it's just about burning bras, and not about fighting the oppression of all women. There's so much misinformation about feminism; it can seem like a radical club that isn't accessible to everyone. Most women still have reserves of internalized misogyny - that is, harboring sexist ideas about women as a result of cultural biases, which causes things like slut shaming and vicious female competition. And I think, on a base level, it's just isn't considered "cool" to care about politics in general, let alone feminism, but I'm hoping people like Tavi Gevinson and Beyonce can help change that.


OT What makes your approach to fashion specifically feminist?
MF To me, it's just the simple notion of wearing what you want. Realizing that fashion "rules" can be oppressive at worst, and at best are by-products of a patriarchal beauty standard. I don't buy this notion that clothes must be flattering in order to be considered acceptable, because "flattering" is just code for "makes you look thinner." Fashion is a wonderful tool of self-expression but I feel like that expression is hampered by misogynistic views about bodies. People should free to wear the thing that make them happy and not worry about how it makes their bodies look. I'm not a contrarian necessarily, but I love wearing things that are not "supposed" to be worn on my body type, things like long empire waist dresses. I wear what I like, period.

OT Style-wise, what’s unique about Chicago?
MF I love the weird characters. There's so many fascinating people here that would sort of go unnoticed in a bigger place like NYC. Like Claire, who works at Lula Cafe and is always wearing the raddest outfits, like mismatched plaids or printed shoes. Or Heather Lynn, a performance artist and gallery owner whose casual costumes blur the lines between fashion and art.

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Boston transplant Anne Heaton is a welcome addition to the Chicago music scene. Astute and sometimes wry, her songs unfold like tiny maps of the human condition. She spoke with Our Town about her writing process, influences and what it was like to open for Jewel.


Our Town What's your writing process like?
Anne Heaton Often I write in the morning before anyone else wakes up. Occasionally I’ll want to write to someone so my morning writing might end up being an email to a friend. I’ll save the email and come back to it later to see if I might want to further mine it for a song. Sometimes I’ll write a song while taking a walk, singing and making up words at the same time. One time this year, I was overcome with the desire to write something down while I was on a road trip, so I pulled over at a rest stop, wrote for ten minutes into my phone, and then drove on. I went back to it later and it turned into a short essay.



OT Where do you find inspiration?
AH I find inspiration in my life experiences, particularly ones that are humorous or serendipitous.  Right now, I’m working on two songs, one about how uncomfortable and nervous I feel when everything is going well. It sounds like a jazz standard but has a humorous tone. I’m also writing a more contemplative/yearning tune about how the future calls to us and how we must surrender to it. I also love telling other peoples’ stories. Sometimes I find inspiration reading poems by Rumi.



OT Who are your influences?
AH When I was growing up my main influences were Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, Tori Amos, The Rolling Stones and Debussy (to name a few).  Now my influences are often my peers, other songwriters I perform with such as Meg Hutchinson, Natalia Zukerman and Antje Duvekot. Anything that is funny influences me, even if it’s a movie like “Bottlerocket.” I love the way writers dole out information, the choices they make.
 


OT What's been your most fulfilling performance experience?
AH Probably singing in Paris and London with jazz drummer Max Roach. I sang in a small group…gospel, jazz and original tunes written by Max. The band was stellar and the audiences so enthusiastic. I’m not sure what my most fulfilling experience has been performing my own songs. I’ve enjoyed some of the bigger gigs like Lilith Fair and opening up for Jewel because it's fun playing on those bigger stages, but I’m not sure that means they were the most fulfilling. I think probably my favorite gigs have been in yoga studios or meditation centers. I don’t have a specific show in mind, but in general, the audiences that show up in those places are really present, kind, and hooked into the show in a way that’s rewarding for me as a performer.


OT Do you believe in writers block?
AH I believe in seasons. 
 
OT What's next for you?
AH I’m releasing a collaborative album of poems-turned-songs with late poet Claire Clube on Valentine’s Day of this year. It was a pleasure to set her  words to music since I usually write all of my own lyrics. Claire was a dear friend and a very inspiring person whose tragic death over the summer was very shocking. I’m hoping her amazing joyful and fiery spirit will live on through this album.

Catch Anne Heaton January 25th at Princeton Coffeehouse at 7 p.m.

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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Polar Vortex, shmolar vortex! This January while you’re holed up in your house avoiding hypothermia, I’m trolling Chicago’s frozen streets to scope out a new crush.

January’s Crush: Jim Stevens


Hometown: Born in Missouri, but I’ve lived in Chicago longer than anywhere else.
Profession: General Manager of an American Art Tile Company.
Hobbies: Music listening, searching out the odd and interesting, taking time to contemplate, sorting through pictures of comedians for my imaginary family album, people watching, playing video games, finding my own way
through life, keeping people guessing.


How'd a guy like you wind up General Manager of an American Art Tile Company?
Started part-time and worked my way up. I used the leadership skills I developed running on tech crews for television and film. I’ve always enjoyed taking on challenges that present themselves.


Recently you've become active on the live lit scene. What drew you?
I’ve always loved the forms of story-telling found in theater, film and television. When I attended a live lit event for the first time, listening to a stranger reveal something personal, and seeing the universality of it as the crowd and I reacted, I was hooked. I felt that I had some stories to share.


Any tips?
It’s important to know what story you are telling, and why you decided to tell that story in that moment. There are also a lot of live lit events to go to. There’s at least one event every week to see in Chicago to get inspired.


What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
The endless supply of stimuli. The people. The restaurants. The museums. The culture. I haven’t run out of things to discover.


What's your least favorite thing about Chicago? The endless supply of stimuli. The noise. The crowds. It’s hard to turn it off. There isn’t enough Nature here (Nature in the big sense).


Describe your perfect day.
Waking up. Followed by leisurely coffee and breakfast. Finding something I’ve never done before. A good dinner at a restaurant that is comfortable and/ or inspiring to be in. Doing a decent job of being present to what’s going on throughout the day, no matter what it is, all the way until I put my head on my pillow and drift softly to sleep.


Relationship Deal breaker?
Cheating. Lying. Disrespect. Absurd craziness, flakiness, or anything else that prevents us from relating.


Who was your first crush?
A 6-year-old girl who lived on my block. I was 5 and a half. She was Italian, cute and strong-willed. I was always getting crushes. …Five years later, it was a Heather Locklear poster.


Why are you crushworthy?
Probably because I have no clue why, and am not worried about it.


Any questions for me?
Shall we get a coffee and talk about this?


Bio- Director and producer of theater and film. Actor. Story-teller. Idea man. Enjoys his bicycle and a beer alone with his thoughts somewhere outdoors. Makes videos and philosophical musings on the side and for
festivals around the country.

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
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