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Photo by Frank Ockenfels

For singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, confidence is key.
“The level of rejection [you] experience [in] music can be devastating,” she says. “You need an underlying sense of self worth to persevere.”
And persevere Carlile has.
“I was passed on by every record label at least once - some three times,” she says.
In Chicago to play the Chicago Theatre last week, Carlile spoke with Our Town about touring, her new marriage, and tenacity in the face of rejection.

Our Town You convinced your bandmates to work with you by promising them you’d be signed and on the road within a year. What made you so certain?
Brandi Carlile What made me so certain was a completely unprecedented and underlying sense of cockiness. But at 19 years old I really believed that I could do whatever I put my mind to, plus the twins were so good, I knew it would be more like them getting me signed and on the road within a year!

OT How has your writing (both process and content) changed over the course of your career? 
BC Naturally, as one gets older, the content of a song is based a bit more on experience and less speculative than songs from your early twenties and late teens. The really challenging thing is performing these songs in light of a wiser outlook and trying to make sense of early opinions; retrospect definitely is 20/20.


OT Obviously at this point listeners pick and choose, downloading only certain songs. What does it mean to create at this point in history when people’s attention spans are shorter than ever?
BC My objective isn’t to acquire listeners in a cultish sense, my objective is only to be blessed with the opportunity to interrupt someone’s life for three and a half minutes at a time and make them happy or reflective. I don’t worry too much about the climate of the music industry, so to speak, because humans have needed music for much longer that we’ve known how to sell it. As far as live music goes, no device will ever be able to cheapen the connections between people in a room.


OT What’s your favorite song off your most recent record and why?
BC It’s ever-changing, but if I’m looking back at Bear Creek ten years from now and asking myself which song moves me the most, it would be “That Wasn’t Me.”



OT You recently got married. How do you juggle career and relationship?
BC With complete and utter co-dependence. No I’m just kidding, who really knows?

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Susana Darwin

I didn’t live in Andersonville back when the lesbian classic Go Fish was filmed here which is for the best because I would have shown up with a bullhorn.

There I would be, in the center of every frame, pleading with the filmmakers to reconsider.
“Think of the children,” I’d say, “the young lesbians who’ll be told by their elders that Go Fish is part of the Lesbian Canon, essential viewing. Once they discover the sort of dismal story lines and subpar acting their foremothers are passing off as art, we’ll lose hundreds, maybe thousands. They’ll join sororities or convents, they’ll marry men. Anything rather than be associated with this caliber of work.”
Then I’d handcuff myself to Guinevere Turner, but only because she’s really hot.

But there’s a new lesbian film being shot in Andersonville, and I have high hopes for this one.

Hatboxes, a short written and directed by Susana Darwin tells the story of Miriam, an orthodox Jewish mother and Nadine, a lesbian lawyer disconnected from her Jewish heritage. The two meet by chance and find themselves powerfully drawn to one another. Then I’m guessing hijinks ensues. Or at least brisket. Okay, no hijinks; this is a serious film. One which drew producer Etta Worthington (Jamie and Jessie are Not Together) as well as stellar Chicago actors Robyn Okrant and Kat O’Conner.

Our Town spoke with Darwin about everything from the challenges of both writing and directing to tichels.

Our Town What inspired your film?
Susana Darwin Hatboxes originated at a Christmas party in the 90s:  a man was there with his children, clearly Orthodox, [though] he was no longer observant.  I learned the story of his departure from Orthodoxy and wondered, 'What if a woman like me met a woman like his ex-wife and there was chemistry?' and started writing.  The script has always been scaled small, for manageability of production—I didn't want to try to start out with a big cast or hordes of marauding CGI monsters. I wanted to tell a story at human scale, but one that hasn't already been told from every possible angle.  

OT What are the challenges of directing a movie that you've written?
SD Nora Ephron said, "One of the best things about directing movies, as opposed to merely writing them, is that there’s no confusion about who’s to blame: you are.”  The greater challenge would have been NOT directing Hatboxes.  I wanted to do both, to take the challenge of leading production in addition to doing the writing work on the front end.

OT What surprised you about shooting the film as opposed to writing it. Did filming change your perception of the characters or your concept?
SD The story gained emotional heft in the hands of the actors.  On the shoot's last day, when we were to be filming the two most emotionally intense scenes, just watching the two leads, Robyn Okrant and Kat O'Connor, rehearsing gave me chills. Actors are not sock puppets, and you risk impoverishing the story if you treat them like that.  You can hear a line in your head one way, but an actor might utter it in a way that exposes some totally new idea.  That collaboration is part of what's made this so rewarding.

OT Who is your audience for Hatboxes? How do you think the Orthodox community will react to a love story between two women?
SD If Hatboxes gets any attention from the Orthodox community, there obviously could be some controversy.  Orthodox lesbians may appreciate onscreen representation, but there are risks for them saying so.  Both the main characters struggle with loneliness and connection, a person's place in her community, the roles that get assumed or prescribed that may or may not fit. We hope Hatboxes will find its audience not only among Jews and lesbians, since its themes are hardly unique.

OT How did you research the Orthodox traditions seen on screen?
SD I converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago, though my connections to the Jewish community have been lifelong.  I've been exploring Jewish practice and thought for all that time, but there were times when I'd dive down some rabbit hole or other—like, YouTube has some useful videos on how to tie tichels (women's head wraps).  I also talked to friends and acquaintances from across the spectrum of Jewish life, and even outside of it:  one friend was the go-to make-up artist for Orthodox brides for many years, and she had a particular perspective as an outsider that was helpful.

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Chicago based writer, actor and director Nathan Adloff can’t believe Nate & Margaret is truly finished. “We began brainstorming ideas in early 2008,” he says. “I've watched the movie close to 200 times and I’m still waiting for it to sink in that we actually pulled it off.” A quirky buddy movie in which the buddies are a 19-year-old gay film student and a 52-year-old aspiring stand-up comedian, Nate & Margaret grew out of Nate’s college experiences, but over time became something altogether new.

Our Town What inspired Nate & Margaret?
Nathan Adloff The story evolved greatly from first conception to the final film. My co-writer, Justin D.M. Palmer and I were working the same day job and began brainstorming ideas there. Our original idea was a collection of true stories about myself in college that had a younger female lead playing my best friend. Shortly after we began the writing process, we met with Natalie West [and] our concept quickly shifted to having an older woman as the female lead, which resulted in more fabricated stories, so we just scrapped the “based on true stories” tag altogether. Also, Justin and I really wanted to make a film that could be categorized as both "straight" and LGBT. Nate is gay and based on myself. Margaret is straight and is sort of loosely based on Justin (and his obsession with stand up comedy and comedians). And, obviously, a lot of it is based on our personal friendship. 

OT How does co-writing work? Do you literally construct every sentence together or do you swap scenes?
NA It all begins with bouncing ideas off of each other in conversation, then creating a rough outline. I send Justin notes and ideas, and he incorporates them into a more structured outline. After we both feel that’s solid, we build the outline into a longer treatment, then work on scripting. Justin finds order in my mess of writing. By the time we get to scripting, we get together, sit in front of my computer and work on writing the script together, which takes a few weeks. We'll share pots of coffee, order food and basically try to make each other laugh our way through the process, writing it down as we go, until we have a final script. It's pretty awesome.

OT You also directed the film. Is it difficult to change hats?
NA It was much easier having Justin as my right-hand man on set everyday. Having him there to help with line re-writes on set and such was great. So, in a sense I didn't have to switch hats because Justin was my hat. That sounds dirty.

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Photo by Patty Michels

The other night a friend and I went out for drinks (by which I mean he ordered something sophisticated sounding and I panicked because menus overwhelm me).

Waiting to be seated he said, “I’ve decided to make you my role model for publishing a first novel. What are you doing?!”

“This? This is my compliment crouch.”

From under one of the patio tables, a terrier released a low growl.

“You’re making that couple uncomfortable,” my friend pointed out.

“What do you mean I’m your role model?” I asked after we’d ordered.

“You’re acting just how I want to when it happens for me. Except for that crouching thing. And the way you made the server bring you three kinds of dressing when you didn’t order a salad. But other than that, you’re my debut author ideal.”

“But I wake each day from nightmares in which I’m late for my Book Cellar appearance because I’ve forgotten which ones are my feet. I’m afraid when it comes time to sign books the only thing I’ll remember how to spell will be ‘John Mayer.’ I keep forgetting to memorize my agency’s name and I can’t stop picturing Jodi Picoult coming up behind me in line at Starbucks and tapping me on the shoulder. When I turn, she punches me in the glasses.”

“That’s just it.” My friend sipped his beer. I dipped my pinkie in my ranch dressing.

“You’re not entitled or self-promotional. You seem ambivalent about the whole thing.”

“Ambivalence is a perfect cloaking device,” I told him. “It makes you seem less self-promotional than you are. For example, when my publicist asked for my contacts at major Chicago news outlets I realized that the only person I knew at The Sun Times is me.”

“I thought she wanted major news outlets.”

The Sun Times hasn’t declared bankruptcy in months. I think we just bought The Reader...or maybe just someone who was reading, like on Foster Beach or something and we just came up and bought them cause that’s how powerful we are. I hope they were reading something by Jodi Picoult.”

“Your point?”

“My publicist suggested I feature myself in my Hot Writer Blog.”

“Each time you say publicist, you become less ideal.”


“But I thought if I made myself my own Hot Writer I’d look like a John Mayer, so here’s what I did, I asked recent Windy City Story Slam winner and sensational blogger Samantha Irby to do it for me.”

“Why are you describing her as if you’re introducing her at an awards ceremony?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Heeeeeere’s Samantha!”

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Samantha Irby: “I’m a pretty good goddamned judge of what’s hot and what ain’t. And I know that might at first seem confusing considering the number of elastic-waisted pants in my possession, but trust me on this one: I'm an expert in hot sh*t. Being a hot writer is probably one of the easiest “hot” things one could be, as no one blanches at your pallid complexion, bathed in the glow of a computer screen for hours on end or your gnarled carpal tunnel fingers. Forgiven is that incessant muttering of new ideas and constant need to “let me write that one thing you said down.” It also helps that most people are just willing to take our word for it, because watching television and being dumb is way easier than reading a book or skimming an article.
Sarah Terez Rosenblum is the hottest kind of writer, one who does it professionally and actually gets paid to do so. Her new book, Herself When She’s Missing, knocked my socks clean off, and I pretty much hate everything. That book is a good time. Sarah is tremendously talented, so smart, so funny, and she has a body hot enough to pose naked as a figure model in front of classrooms full of snooty art kids. And if that isn’t hot, I have no goddamned idea what is.”

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All photos by Patty Michels

Most know Amy Ray as half of the enduring folk group Indigo Girls; however, it’s Ray’s solo work, ardent and propulsive, to which I’m especially drawn. Often erroneously described as the dark or angry Indigo Girl, Ray seems neither, though her newest album, Lung of Love, continues to cultivate a punk rock ethos, the perfect backdrop for Ray’s frenetic messiness. Yet like much of Ray, that messiness is in part painstaking. An apt example: years back, we discussed the fact that she uses a voice lesson system to refine her rock n’ roll scream. That’s Ray in a nutshell; a performer who knows herself well enough to consciously become herself, a sort of disciplined discovery. Her slant on punk, though more melodious and sometimes Appalachian influenced, is loyal to the genre’s stripped-down essence. Punk’s hard-edged ferocity, Ray’s easy access to passion, both are born of heartfelt engagement. So in a way, maybe Ray’s angry rep isn’t unfounded. Maybe anger is the consequence of earnestness met with life experience, and punk is the fiercer side of folk; like Ray herself, still questing and earnest but rambunctiously so.

Our Town You’ve been writing songs for years. Can you pinpoint a moment when you became more meticulous, for example, about imagery or word choice?
Amy Ray Yeah. When I started making solo records [it] freed up the Indigo Girls avenue a bit because it [didn’t] have the burden of expressing every part of myself. I had this other road and I got excited by that compartmentalized vision [but] I had to figure out a way to be prolific. Emily is a pretty prolific writer, so if I wanted to meet her in the middle I had to work harder. I started talking to other songwriters about their writing, reading books about writing. A few really changed my discipline. One was Stephen King’s book, On Writing. Even though he’s a novelist, his discipline, his approach, the way he looks at creativity, that had the biggest impact on me. And then Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird. I started taking those things to heart and really created a discipline. I’d be like, this year I’m going to write five days a week, a few hours a day--and I really did it, stuck to it. And then I started working on imagery and melody. If I couldn’t get somewhere on the melody I would go to Mitchell Froom, a producer that works with Indigo Girls and talk to him about a melody, or Greg Griffith, my fellow producer on the last record--he co-wrote four songs with me because I got to a wall. I started being willing to reach out for help to learn more. It was gradual, but my first solo record just opened up my world because if I wasn’t going to sit down and have a discipline, I was never going to be able to write enough songs for Indigo Girls and solo work.

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With Matt Lipkins

OT Writing prose, you can’t just shift the point of view midstream, not without reason anyway, and it makes a statement when you do. But songwriters seem to do that. For example, you do it in Beauty Queen Sister and Dairy Queen-so maybe point of view shifts are acceptable in songs with the word queen in the title--but I’m wondering are there rules governing point of view shifts in songwriting?
AR That’s a really great question. I think about that when I’m writing; can I change perspectives and how do I make it clear that a different voice is coming in? In a story, the author points out the perspective changes: a person speaks and you recognize in quotation marks that that person is speaking. Or there’s a chapter that’s from this person’s perspective and the next is from another’s. Faulkner does that a lot. But in a song it’s important to be short-spoken instead of long-spoken so I might do that without using ‘he said’ or ‘she said.’ Maybe instead the tone of voice changes because the perspective is changing. I don’t think of “are there rules to this?” because I think songwriting--or even all writing-- should be free in that way. The point is to get the story across, not to obscure. Sometimes if there are different perspectives in a song someone can find themselves entering into the song in a different place, which I like. But there are probably really accomplished songwriters, maybe Nick Cage or Joni Mitchell who don’t do that. I’ll have to think about that. That’s a great question.

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OT I don’t think it’s necessarily negative in songwriting. Sometimes it provides--like you’re saying-- space for people to understand a song in a lot of different ways.
AR Although the negative part might be that sometimes as a songwriter you just want to say so many different things and you want to say them so bad that you get lazy and you just plop it all into a song and don’t worry about how it shifts. I mean, I know what you mean, but when friends pass demos around and I hear a perspective shift in their lyrics if it’s not something that is smooth or has a point, it feels lazy to me and I’ll say something about it. If they ask me.

OT I asked Facebook fans to submit questions for you. First one: What are your favorite local restaurants when you tour, places you return to?
AR It’s funny you’re asking that because... Chicago Diner. I always go there.
OT They have the best guacamole.
AR The guacamole and chips, I know, it’s incredible. There’s a place in San Francisco called Gratitude I always go. In Seattle there are a million amazing Thai restaurants so I try different ones. I usually go for either Thai, Indian or some kind of specialty vegetarian place. And I like Mexican restaurants that are like, number menu type places. In New York there’s a place called East Village Thai I always go. Every city I have places I go if I’m there long enough.

OT Wait, now I have a question. Are you weird about eating before shows?
AR I’m not weird about that. I don’t have any needs around that. I do like to make sure I eat but it doesn’t matter when and it doesn’t matter what. I’m sort of hearty that way. I can eat a big meal and go right on and play and it’s fine. As a singer, I should worry about cheese, but I don’t. I take care of my voice in other ways. When you’re on a solo tour it’s an accomplishment if you get dinner--you’re loading and sound checking and trying to make all these things happen. It’s really great when we play somewhere that has a restaurant as part of the place, cause then you can just order off their menu and it’s sitting there in your dressing room.

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OT One more fan question. You’ve mentioned making a country album next, is that true and what would it entail?
AR It is true. It’s probably going to entail a couple of years cause I’m so slow and I’m probably going to want to do another Indigo Girls album before that. I have a tape machine at my house and some really great mics and I’m probably going to track a lot of it here. I live in an area where there’s a lot of bluegrass players. It’s probably going to entail that tradition-- Appalachian, country sound. I take my inspiration from early Americana, artists like Townes Van Zandt. And then country people like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. I’ll probably listen to a bunch of Dolly Parton before I do it.

OT As a performer, there’s a way that you have to be deliberate about packaging, and promoting yourself. How do you balance that and also maintain a healthy sense of self?
AR Right, like at this moment I’m working on “Amy’s” bio. Especially now when so many artists have their own labels and are putting themselves out, they have to step out of themselves to package and promote. And also be detached from criticism and praise both; don’t get led astray one way or the other. I’ve always put out my own records so I have a little trick I use inside my head, because I hate self-promotion. You have to look at it as if you’re a different person from the person you are. I don’t like looking at photos from a photo shoot [or] trying to write a bio so I’ll get friends to do my shoots and sit down with them, work on it as a team. For my bios, the same thing. I get someone who is a friend and a really good writer, hand it over and then I kind of edit after that. I look at it like, I really want to play music, I love writing songs and I love touring, and in order to do all that I have to do this other thing to keep it in that sweet spot where it sustains itself. As long as I’m honest about it, give back to the community, look for ways to help other people, that makes me feel like I’m doing it for the right reasons so I can work really hard because I’m not achieving just for celebrity. That would be an empty pursuit for me. And ultimately that would catch up because at some point you’re not famous anymore and if you’re too caught up, you grieve it. I’ve been through that part of things with Emily, where we toured with REM and everything was really heady and my ego definitely was inflated. I went through a period where my goals and my intentions got a little screwy and I had to kind of come back down to earth.

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Photo by John Orvis

May's Hot Writer: Anna Pulley

My genre: Exploiting my life experiences for money.
 
My literary influences: Reading Cheryl Strayed is like being simultaneously flayed and bear hugged. Lorrie Moore is the only author who consistently makes me laugh and cry in the same sentence. Sherman Alexie. I would seduce Susan Sontag SO HARD if she was still alive. As it is, I’m currently hard at work seducing her ghost. Margaret Atwood’s books are what I steal from people I’m dating. Pam Houston. Peter Orner. Tolstoy. Michelle Tea. Nabokov. Sloane Crosley. David Sedaris. Zadie Smith. Mary Roach. Tracy Clark-Flory.
 
My favorite literary quote: “The only transformation that interests me is a total transformation — however minute. I want the encounter with a person or a work of art to change everything.” ~Susan Sontag, Reborn
And: “They callin’ me a alien, a big-headed astronaut. Maybe it’s because your boy Yeezy get ass a lot.” ~ Kanye West
 
My favorite book of all time:
Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America is the book I refuse to lend ANYONE.
 
I’m currently reading: Terrorists in Love by Ken Ballen. The Collected Works of Eudora Welty. Just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
 
My guilty pleasure book: That would be, Dark Angels. Otherwise known as lesbian vampire erotica. If you replace “guilty” with “self,” that is.
 
I can’t write without: first doing everything in the world that is NOT writing. This includes: perpetually seeking validation on Facebook, listening to far more Glee songs than is ironically acceptable, napping incessantly, having simultaneous G-Chat therapy sessions, crowdsourcing my dinner, columns, love life. Etc. Etc.
 
Worst line I ever wrote: See “guilty pleasure question” above.
 
Brief Bio: Anna writes a weekly sex advice column for the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye, despite having sex about four times a year. She was recently a guest on Dan Savage’s podcast, talking about why lesbians are so confusing. She has written reviews of everything from bars to restaurants to films to theater to sex toys, in addition to several different relationship columns for AfterEllen, Centerstage Chicago, and Chicago Now. She also writes a weekly social media etiquette column for SF Weekly, and her work has appeared in Mother Jones, AlterNet, The Bay Citizen, Salon, and The Rumpus. Plus, one time Amanda Palmer asked her out on Twitter, with Neil Gaiman’s blessing. Find her on Twitter at @annapulley. She’ll tweet you right.

Join Anna Pulley and Sarah Terez Rosenblum June 18th at The Booksmith in San Fransisco as they discuss obsession, a subject in which both are well-versed.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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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Candy Johnson and SHE ART. Photo by Patty Michels

My idea of home decor is a vat of peanut butter and a futon, but Our Town strives to represent diversity. One of these days, we might even write about sports. For now though, let us turn our collective attention to a couple of LGBT owned Chicago stores.

SHE ART Chicago, first located in Oak Park and now opening in Andersonville is an eclectic celebration of the female form. Co-owner Candy Johnson spoke with Our Town about the store’s ambitions and esthetic.

Our Town What inspired you to open SHE ART?
Candy Johnson I have been a Treasure Huntress for over 40 years, collecting everything from hand painted tiles to antique buttons. When I met my partner Mercedes, she collected women in all forms. In 2004 we were talking about what to do with our collection, and how there were many "Female" collectors out there. We brainstormed and came up with "SHE ART Chicago", a store that would carry the female from all eras. In 2005 we opened "SHE ART Chicago"  in Oak Park.

OT How did your background in art influence your vision for the store?
CJ [Artist renderings of] the female form have been around for centuries; the stories, the history, the eclectic mediums, and textures were all inspirational for us as artists. Our background helped us dig deeper to hunt for unusual pieces from our history. We all have a story and so does art. Art is emotional...both in the eye of the artist and the buyer. We started to appreciate not only art from the past, but current local artists. So, we carried local artist on a commission basis. We totally enjoy being a part of the community of artists, were we share stories, inspiration, and a commitment to make Chicago art available to the public.

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Photo by Patty Michels

OT SHE ART has a new home in Andersonville. What are your hopes for the store/location?
CJ We want to be a part of the community. I will be reaching out to local organizations, schools, and charities to donate space for art shows;100% will go to that benefit. I want people to come in, enjoy the store, know that I am part of their community. In the future we will be exploring growth in other locations in the states and possibly other countries. Right now, I am just enjoying the store, the people, and the hunting.

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April's Hot Writer: M. Molly Backes

My genre: Young Adult Fiction
 
My literary influences: Tillie Olsen, Barbara Kingsolver, Natalie Goldberg, E. Lockhart, Sarah Dessen, Chris Crutcher
 
My favorite literary quote: “You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always very well taken care of if you are from Iowa.” – Gertrude Stein
 
My favorite book of all time: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
 
I’m currently reading: Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and a brilliant novel manuscript by one of my StoryStudio Chicago students.
 
My guilty pleasure book: Laurie King’s Mary Russell series (but I’m not guilty because they’re great).
 
I can’t write without: coffee. I’m hopelessly addicted. Without it, I’m like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland.
 
Worst line I ever wrote: “I do not care what anyone thinks / of my poetry. / Especially you, / chair.” (I may have been slightly drunk, and feeling just the tiniest bit defensive.)
 
Brief Bio:
M. Molly Backes is the author of the young adult novel The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick Press, May 8, 2012). Molly is the Assistant Director of StoryStudio Chicago, where she also teaches creative writing classes to adults and teens. She has lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Illinois. She's not the kind of person to play favorites or anything, but she might just like Iowa the best.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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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Chicagoan Anne Laughlin came to writing later in life, but since the 2008 publication of her first novel, Sometimes Quickly, she’s barely paused to breathe. Today marks the release of her new mystery, Runaway. She spoke with Our Town about the mystery genre and why, even in 2012, lesbian niche publishing remains vibrant and important.

Our Town Was writing always an ambition?
Anne Laughlin I didn’t begin writing until I was fifty years old, so if it had always been an ambition, it lurked well in the background. However, I’ve always been a big reader and I believe most serious readers at some point wonder how good a writer they’d be. At fifty I somehow stopped worrying about how good a writer I’d be and just sat down and wrote. [But] With a little experience comes the depressing knowledge that it takes a lot of work to produce something worthwhile. Over the course of these few years I’ve tried to become more serious about editing, making my work better with each pass. I suppose you could say it’s evolved from what was initially almost a hobby approach to one that’s professional.

OT Who are your influences?
AL As a young lesbian in the seventies and eighties, I spent a fair amount of time hunting down books with lesbian protagonists, many of which were mysteries. Here were protagonists with whom I could identify, battling and defeating foes. Believe it or not, that was a big deal at the time. So I’d have to say that the pioneers of that era were a huge influence – Katherine Forrest, Claire McNab, Barbara Wilson, and a little later, Val McDermid and Ellen Hart.

OT What interests you about the mystery genre?
AL People say that one of the negatives about the commercial genres – mystery, suspense, romance, science fiction – is that they must adhere to constricts of their genre and are therefore predictable and formulaic. I think that’s a crock. There’s very little that can’t be written about within the confines of crime fiction. What makes it appealing to me is the emphasis on complex, compelling stories that can only be successfully told through complex, compelling protagonists. The suspense inherent in the genre is the bonus that makes a delicious read for me, and apparently for millions of other readers, given the popularity of the genre in both the mainstream and LGBTQ publishing worlds.

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It’s no secret that I live under a rock. (I have a hell of a time receiving packages and dinner parties go downhill fast when it rains. Literally. On the plus side, my student loan company can’t find me and I’ve become great friends with a family of worms.)
But seriously folks, I’m frequently oblivious to the obvious. Case in point, I’d already written two Our Town blogs before I realized I was writing for The Sun Times. I’m not sure what I thought. Maybe “I’m wearing dirty pajamas and getting paid, no angry customers are talking to me as if I’m the product of an unholy union between a lemur and a catfish, and I didn’t take three buses to get here so this can’t be real.” Truly, there’s no viable explanation. Nor is there any reason for me to have lived in Chicago for six years and only now discover Amy Matheny.

Currently making her Timeline Theatre debut in Enron, Amy has worked for more than a decade in Chicago's GLBT community as a radio personality, producer and event host. In addition, Amy was an Artistic Associate of About Face Theatre for a decade and has appeared in more theatre productions than you can shake a stick at. (I can personally attest to this. Shaking a stick is a primary source of entertainment when you live under a rock.)

It’s pretty much obscene and speaks only to my charming obliviousness that Amy came to my attention at this late date. But nothing says belated reverence like a giant telescope aimed right at a Chicago Celebrity’s house. That’s right, Amy Matheny is March’s Chicago crush!

Full Name: Amy Matheny
Hometown: Cleveland, Tennessee
Profession: Actor, Producer, Talk show host, Sr. Account Manager for Windy City Media Group - "Renaissance Woman"
Hobbies: pilates, theatre, travel, walks with my dog, dinner w/friends, singing, guitar, collecting rocks

Our Town Enron’s made quite a splash. How has the experience been?
Amy Matheny I love being in this show! It is risky, divisive and very funny. Having the opportunity to play a strong, smart, successful Southern woman is rare. True Story: I took classes in the late 80's from a woman in Tennessee who taught Southern businesswomen how to lose their accents so they were taken seriously. And my accent was thick! Her theory was that there is the perception that being Southern and being a woman equals to most people that you are not capable or smart. Well, Claudia Roe, my character gets to be smart and capable in a male-dominated world. And she uses every asset she has...charm, brains and body. Enron is a man's world. And it is exhausting [and a] rush to play a woman who successfully navigates that world and in 5 inch heels!

OT Was working in radio always a dream?
AM Not at all. I fell into it. I was doing some voiceover work and became the What's Happening? segment girl on LesBiGay Radio (the nation's first daily gay radio show). Normally I pre-recorded my segment [but] one day I went live on the air and talked with the host the whole two hours. Afterwards he said, “you are natural. I want you to do this with me.” That was 1998 and I have been talking on the radio--now podcasting-- ever since.

OT You’ve had the opportunity to interview everyone from Margaret Cho to Patti LaBelle. Any standouts?
AM Sandra Bernhard. We've talked many times over the years. She is fresh, smart and outrageous. Also Lynda Carter. I was a Wonder Woman fan as a child, so that was a thrill. Though mostly I love talking to parents of gay and lesbians. They always move me. There is nothing more beautiful than those stories, those journeys.

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Photo by John Reilly

I first encountered Carol Anshaw’s work at a Milwaukee library. Just out of college I’d moved to Wisconsin for a relationship, was peripherally trying to initiate an acting career, maybe for an audience of dairy cows. I’m forever moving to the wrong place for the wrong reason, case in point, a few years later I would relocate to LA for another relationship and fall into a job as a sales consultant. Next thing I’ll head to Sweden in January to beat depression. At loose ends in Milwaukee, I was compelled by Anshaw’s deftly crafted characters, drawn into their imperfect world. What truly enthralled me though, was Anshaw’s voice, this amalgamation of finger-on-the-pulse authority and hot chocolate hominess. I felt certain I knew exactly what Anshaw’s life would look like, her relationships, her home.

In 2006 I prepared to move cross-country to pursue an MFA rather than a girl. A few months before the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s semester began, I spoke to a counselor. Had I chosen an advisor? he wanted to know. Thirty floors above downtown Los Angeles, I swiveled in my office chair.

“Who are my options,” I asked.
“Well, we have Carol Anshaw.”
“Wait, I’m sorry who?” Though my heart accelerated, I couldn’t initially place the name. “She’s written, oh let’s see, Lucky in the Corner, Seven Moves, Aquamarine.”

“You’re scaring the clients,” my boss tapped me on the shoulder. “Stop shrieking, did someone die?”
“I’m sorry,” I mouthed. Then into the phone, “I’ll take her,” as if Carol was a purebred dog or a shiny Corvette.

Six years later, Carol and I live within walking distance, a coincidence, I swear. We go to yoga together (She’s the type who cracks jokes during class.) and she and her partner spoil my dog with steak dinners.

I probably shouldn’t say this, because authors get huffy when readers claim to know them based only on their work (as if what one writes is somehow separate from one’s truest self), but turn a couple dials a few notches and Carol’s what I imagined, more caustic, more generous but otherwise the same.

Her much lauded new book Carry the One comes out March 6th and it was my absolute pleasure to sit at her kitchen table and discuss it while she made fun of my tape recorder and a storm whipped up outside.

Carol Anshaw That thing looks forty years old.
Our Town I think it is.
CA Does it take a cassette? I just got rid of some old ones; I wish I’d known.
OT It’s okay. Walgreen’s should be getting a new shipment from 1982 any day now. So, writing was a lifelong ambition for you-
CA As soon as I could read I wanted to write books. Where did that come from? My parents were not educated people. They could take me to the library but they couldn’t point me in the right direction, so it was just innate.

OT When did writing begin to seem achievable?
CA I was blessed with my ignorance. I wasn’t like you; I didn’t have all this information going in. I was kind of groping around in a cave. It was a whole different process.

OT Your early work-
CA First I wrote a novel that never saw the light of day, but it taught me about scene structure and all that. Then I had a novel published in seventy-eight and I thought, well, I’m on my way! But I didn’t have anything published till Aquamarine fourteen years later.That’s why I tell students until you’ve been crawling through a tunnel over broken glass for fourteen years don’t come bitching to me. During that time I wrote a lot more, I wrote a second book that went right into a drawer. Then I wrote something under a pseudonym, but it was a long tunnel.

OT Whenever I interview a writer I ask about their writing process-
CA What writing process?

OT Do you have one? Do you sit down at 2:01 p.m. exactly with your cup of earl grey just to the left of your parchment and-
CA No! I think people think that. I was reading an interview with Alice Munro and she writes from nine to one every day and I thought wow, that must be so great. I just write when I can.

OT When Aquamarine was published I assume having a lesbian main character was still a potential stumbling block. Have things changed?
CA I think so. Nobody blinked at my new book. But also in ninety-two it was a good kind of exotic, a sort of curiosity. Maybe I got in through that gate.

OT In feminism and gay rights we always talk about benefiting from the work of those who came before, but with a long career like yours, is there a way in which the work your earlier books did pushing the envelope in terms of gay acceptance or at least a queer presence in literature is something you yourself have come to benefit from?
CA Maybe. I don’t know if my books had enough reach to influence anybody about anything.

OT Take credit.
CA When I started, there was more of a cultural assumption that many readers would find gay characters irrelevant or repugnant. I was only one of many queer writers out there trying to cut through all that antagonism. For whatever reason, I don’t think it’s that big a deal now. In the beginning you just had lesbian novels about women being lesbians—that was all they did. But now you have people who are queer, but living lives that are about a million other things.

OT Speaking of change, the literary world itself has changed significantly during your career. Are the changes positive?
CA There used to be only three routes: mainstream publishers, university/small presses and self-publishing. But self-publishing was on a really low rung. Now not so much, now you can instantly publish your book, you can get an ISBN number and be on Amazon and eventually get a publisher and wider distribution. I think publishing is going to be split into more little pieces. But this fragmenting of the market has really been helpful. More different kind of books are being published. I don’t know where everything is going but I’m pretty confident that people like books—the objects. So I’m going to go on that—they’re not going to disappear. For instance, we’re talking about your really tragic cassette player, the tape you’re making here, you can’t play on any other item in your house, probably. You can have all these old LPs but you might not have a player. But my books are right over there on the shelf; I can pull them down any time I want.

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You’ve probably seen Brad Smith around Chicago. Not only did he get his BFA at DePaul’s Theatre Conservatory, but he’s worked with theatre companies from Collaboraction to Strawdog. Now he talks with Our Town about his music, his influences and his newest role in Steppenwolf’s queer-themed FML: How Carson McCullers Changed my Life.

Our Town Steppenwolf’s choice of FML was inspired by their fall production of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. FML has been called a bold response to Heart. How do the two relate?
Brad Smith Aside from the fact that characters in FML are reading Heart, there are definitely parallels thematically as well in the characters themselves. [Author] Sarah Gubbins used Heart as a jumping off point, I think, more than anything, but there are many subtle links between the two.

OT What’s your experience been like working on FML?
BS Everyone is very kind and committed and we all believe, I think, that this is a timely show whose message and subject matter are vitally important to the health of this country's youth and to society at large. Not every play is Important with a capital "I." So when the chance comes around to do one that is, you savor it.

OT As an actor what sort of work do you do to break down a script/understand your character?
BS It varies based on the play, the character, and the process of the director, but generally I just try to stay open to the character and the words and learn through doing. It’s kind of like trying on clothes. You know when it fits.

OT What’s your dream role?
BS People tell my I look like a young Michael Gross, whom you may remember from Family Ties. Perhaps Sam Shepard could write a father-son piece for us.

OT You’re also a musician. How would you describe your music?
BS Melancholy, psychedelic, up-tempo folk-pop with a defeatist literary bent. Or something.

OT How did it come to be featured in Up in the Air?
BS Dumb luck. If you leave enough CDs around, someone of importance might pick it up and like it.

OT What’s next for you?
BS I'm about to begin the mixing process for my new album, which will come out this year. I'm also auditioning for Tom in Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams here at Steppenwolf, which, if the Michael Gross/Sam Shepard project doesn't work out, would be great.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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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I’m exhausted. Harboring crushes is not the cakewalk you might think. Grueling stakeouts, expensive tracking devices, plus there are only so may stalking jokes you can make before resorting to referencing Rohypnol and we all know I’m too classy for that. Just when I began to wonder how much longer I could persist, I found Sierra Kyles, February’s Crush. . A young actor/model and filmmaker, Sierra has showed off her androgyny on runways across Chicago. Now a film student at Columbia College, Sierra is producing “The Lies We Tell But the Secrets We Keep” and she looks good doing it!

Name: Sierra "Junior" Kyles
Hometown: Chicago
Profession: Producer/Writer/Model/Actress
Hobbies: Movie Watching, JB Skating, Reading and Cuddling.

Our Town How did you get into modeling?
Sierra Kyles My mentor Milon V. Parker has her own modeling runway show, she asked me to be in it and I accepted. To my surprise, I liked it.

OT It seems your androgyny has served you well. Is that always the case in the modeling world or are you an exception?
SK Androgyny can work against you. It’s more than just looking like a guy, or at least to me it is.

OT Can you give us the inside scoop about what it’s like to walk in a fashion show?
SK Your first time is always scary. Its actually fun, a lot of people don't think they can do it because they are insecure with their bodies. If you get on stage and have confidence in yourself, no matter what you look like the crowd will respect you.

OT You also act. Have you found that being openly queer has gotten in your way at all?
SK If anything it has helped. Because so many people before me had that problem they, are making it easier for my generation. The company that I work for (MVP Productions)-- the founder is a queer and we do a lot of queer films.

OT As a film student at Columbia College, what movies have influenced you?
SK Training Day, For Colored Girls, The Secret Life Of David Gale, and of course Boys Don't Cry.

OT Describe your perfect day.
SK A twelve hour day working on the set of one of my movies, coming home taking a long bath then hoping in my comfy bed.

OT Relationship Deal breaker?
SK Clinginess.

OT Who was your first crush?
SK Jada Pinkett Smith. Lawd!

OT Why are you crushworthy?
SK I'm a nineteen year old movie producer, c’mon now...

OT Any questions for me?
SK Did I ask you to be in my film or something? Whenever I play back a scene you’re in the background in your underwear.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She 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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Photo by Johnny Knight

Multifaceted writer/director/teacher Kelli Strickland emailed me from a swamp. Out of town for the holidays, her internet connection was spotty, but Strickland’s opinions came through loud and clear. Star of the much buzzed-about film Hannah Free, Strickland is on the cusp of opening her one-woman show "We’ve Got a Badge for That." A “love letter of sorts to the Girl Scouts,” the show has been performed locally and nationally. Below Strickland shares her thoughts on lesbian films, arts education and more.

Our Town How was your experience filming Hannah Free?
Kelli Strickland It was filmed at a rather breakneck speed but the people who came together to make that happen were a force to be reckoned with. The reception to the story was pretty overwhelming. I still get emails from people all over the world who have lost partners or grew up in a very different time period that tell me that it resonated with them.

OT How do you feel about the category “lesbian films?”
KS Categories are handy and can serve a purpose and inevitably tick some people off. You could argue that to describe any work as 'lesbian' in nature is to contribute to the gay ghetto-ization of a piece or you could argue that there are films made by and for lesbians, and why not label it that? I believe that stories are important. And so long as people are working hard to tell those stories and audiences are benefiting from hearing those stories, call it what you like.

OT I haven’t seen Hannah Free, so this isn’t a swipe at that film, but I’m pretty critical of most lesbian films. I have this sense that lesbians (even in 2011) are so desperate to see themselves reflected in art that they celebrate even the mediocre. Any thoughts on this?
KS I suppose that an under-representation in media does lead to a celebration of any and all representation. But I hesitate to lay the blame at the feet of audiences for not being discerning enough or even the art makers, for that matter. As your question suggests, that desperation for representation indicates what a dearth of films there were. Film is an incredibly expensive proposition and until recently, highly dependent on the literal and metaphorical green light from people who didn't seem all that interested in telling queer stories. So, yes, I think often the projects were and are homegrown, grassroots efforts – made by those same people who wanted to see themselves onscreen. Changes in the cultural landscape are definitely afoot, however, when a movie like “The Kids Are All Right” can not only get made, but get made with that kind of budget, that kind of cast, that kind of marketing and distribution and finally that kind of reception. Artists interested in telling queer stories, like all contemporary artists, are currently learning how to navigate a new media world where you can get product out and very process is much more affordable, accessible and therefore democratic. I think that's a good thing for storytellers, especially those storytellers who want to tell the stories that the heads of major studios won't. My guess is that we're in the midst of a great upswing.

OT If you could only act in one medium, which would you choose?
KS Theatre, without question. Especially now, when we consume so much of our films, television, music in isolation with buds in our ears and [on] a tiny screen. Nothing can replace live actors with a live audience sharing that ephemeral time together. It is pure, simple and a unifying act in an increasingly divisive time.

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If this year’s unseasonably warm October was our giant flat screen TV, November is the exorbitant bill. Sure things seem unchanged this morning, sun dappled leaves, distant train whistles, drunken neighbors once again hanging their used plastic grocery bags out to dry, but soon we’ll be averaging two hours of daylight and asking trusted friends to check us in to Chicago hotspots so people think we actually leave the house.

Luckily there’s a flicker of warmth amidst November’s creeping chill: Crush of the Month Andrew Davis. Managing editor of The Windy City Times, Davis has seen Chicago’s oldest LGBTQ newspaper not only survive the age of the internet but take the shift away from print in stride. While still available weekly on newsstands, The Windy City Times attracts a growing online readership, and Davis continues to edit with aplomb! So come, Chicago, let us warm our hands in Davis’s blaze. Try not to actually touch him though; I learned not to the hard way.

Name: Andrew Davis
Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
Profession: Managing editor, Windy City Times
Hobbies: Working out, exploring

Our Town Originally you moved to Chicago to get a PhD in microbiology. Now you’re Managing Editor of The Windy City Times. Is that as big a leap as it seems?
Andrew Davis I don't know if it's a jump as much as it is a drive down a very twisted road. However, I view myself as a Renaissance man.

OT What goes into taking WCT to press on a weekly basis?
OT A great team of writers, an incredible art director, our hands-on publisher and a (now-abused) stress ball.

OT Unlike many free papers, WCT has survived despite online media’s primacy. To what do you attribute this?
AD Well, to survive in print the sales team needs to do its job—and this one's pretty darn efficient. It also helps, once again, to have some really good writers. It really does take a village.

OT What’s your most fulfilling WCT experience?
AD Some of the most fulfilling experiences have been in putting together human-interest stories. You feel honored that people are willing to let you inside their lives; they sometimes share some pretty grueling and/or intimate details.

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Erin Nekervis

I’ve been hearing about Cameron Esposito for a while now. Who was this funny woman, I wondered. And is I’ve been hearing actually grammatically acceptable? I’ve been hearing: It sounds like something the old goat farmer up the way might say. Cameron seems to appeal to the hipster lesbian demographic (See also blue, plastic 1980’s glasses, which forward thinker that I am, I was already wearing in the 1980’s.) so I decided to get close to Cameron, I’d better blend. This is a lengthy way of explaining why she opened the curtains to find me drinking PBR in her tree last night. Because Cameron is more than just a whip-smart comedian with an easy, and as it turns out, demographic-defying style, she agreed to do a quick interview before she called the police.

Full name: Cameron Anne Young Anastasia Esposito (for real)
Hometown: Western Springs, IL
Profession: Standup comic/circus ringmaster
Hobbies: yelling instructions at the screen while watching action movies; making delicious meals from various useless household food scraps (think red pepper banana pancakes, Reese's peanut butter cups dipped in salsa)

Our Town What was your first joke?
Cameron Esposito Something about how I dated a very tall Asian man in high school. [It] relied on well-placed Yao Ming reference.

OT What’s the biggest difference between being a novice comedian and a veteran performer?
CE Understanding how much work you have ahead of you. Newer comics tend to think Letterman is a year away and a lucrative film career around the corner; the longer you perform the more you are humbled.

OT With your course Feminine Comique, you teach women how to write jokes but not how to be funny. What’s the difference?
CE Jokes come from truth, from the strength of our opinions about the world. Some folks will always be funnier than others; it's inborn. But you can teach the recognition and conveyance of truth.

OT
Teach me how to write a joke.
CE Had someone say something rude to ya on the train? Write it down immediately or text yourself the hurtful comment. Add context to explain that you were just riding the train, being cool. Make sure to hang onto that feeling of being wronged. Get up at an open mic and rage. Refine wording and destroy with joke at a booked show. That rude person may never hear your come back, but you just got paid to tell it, so you win!

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Brian Posen

Whether you want to donate money to people raring to strip to their nipple tassels or attend a fantastic fourteen-day theatrical festival, this blog has something for you. If like me, you are suffering from seasonal allergies and want to tear out your eyes and flay yourself, I suggest an oatmeal bath. It won’t actually help much, but you’ll become distracted trying to understand why sitting in a bathtub full of breakfast cereal is supposed to soothe your skin.

First the festival: Stage773 Artistic Director Brian Posen, a twenty-year veteran of the Chicago theater scene has created 14@Stage773, a two-week celebration of performing arts. Not only does the event feature vaudeville, solo performance, visual arts, children's theater, music, film and comedy, but it also kicks off renovations on the Stage 773 space.

In curating the event, Posen was particularly concerned with providing a performance opportunity for acts that might not often have the opportunity to perform in venues like Stage 773. Says Posen, “we are providing the space for free. We believe in the community and are a strong part of it, so ticket prices reflect that. They are stupidly low and Chicago loves that.”

With only a few days of the festival remaining, Posen is excited about the closing night Graffiti Party, a “lively night of performance and visual arts. We want the neighborhood to come and say good-bye to the old space and help us welcome the new and improved building.”

As for what to expect of Stage 773’s new incarnation, Posen says the theater will “no longer be a place where you come and see a show and leave. We are striving to create a thriving, vibrant artistic home for all of the Chicago arts community. It's going to be home for so many different theater companies and artistic events. [And with] four spaces, two of those turning around shows every two hours, [the space] will be alive!”

Excuse me for a moment; I’ve got to chew off the skin on my upper arm.

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But what of the naked burlesquers you ask? Saturday August 20th, queer burlesque troupe Ties and Tassels presents Queerpocalypsee hosted by Chicago comedienne Cameron Esposito. For over a year the troupe has held monthly drag/burlesque variety shows in order to raise money for the event which will take place at The Abbey Pub. However, they’ve not quite hit their goal and in order to make Queerpocalypsee a night to remember, they’re looking for Kickstarter supporters.

If you feel like helping but want some entertainment out of the deal, you can also attend Ties and Tassels’ July 16th performance at Lizard's Liquid Lounge, funds from which benefit Queerpocalypsee.

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I’d write more but Lady Gaga is petting a goat in my living room. Either that or the Benadryl I took is making me hallucinate.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She 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 followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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The New Colony Artistic Director, Andrew Hobgood thinks lesbians are funny. And nuclear holocaust. And quiche. But then, who doesn’t, really? Originally a seven-minute sketch which stole the show at Collaboraction’s 2010 Sketchbook, Five Lesbians Eating A Quiche tells the story of The Susan B Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, who, when catastrophe strikes, find themselves responsible for America’s future. Due to audience demand, the show is back, and more absurd than ever.

Our Town Describe the show.
Andrew Hobgood Whenever we're asked, "What's it about?" it's always fun to deadpan back, "five lesbians eating a quiche." But the show is really a dark absurdist comedy exploring America's obsessive over-active imagination which has fueled both the greatest achievements of the country and our greatest embarrassments. It tackles our sense of adventure, our fears, our idealism and our country's relationship with devout belief in a religious body. However, we take it one step further. To make the audience understand that they are just as much a part of the American persona, we have created a fully realized environmental experience. The audience walks in and is immediately treated like they are one of the fellow sisters of the society, all women in 1956.

OT What originally inspired the piece?
AH A couple years ago, during a New Colony party, Sarah Gitenstein, who is directing this show, jokingly gave me a pen and a notebook and told me to write down the title of a show The New Colony would produce someday. And as any well-intoxicated Artistic Director would, I wrote the first thing that popped in my head and found myself committing to it before I'd processed the absurdity.

OT Why remount it?
AH To develop our shows, [we ask] the actors to create their characters well beyond the needs of the script. The more that they have in their heads; the more realized the show is. The Sketchbook version could only be seven minutes; however, the cast developed enough material for a twenty-five minute show. Then reviewers and audience members started asking when we were going to do the full-length production, and then it won the Audience Favorite award at Sketchbook. This is the first New Colony show ever produced due to audience demand.

OT What went into developing it into a full-length show?
AH All the creative team members and cast [went] back into their notebooks and pulled material we’d cut from the seven minute version. The show became about specifically these five women, and what happens to them after they realize that America has been nuked.

OT How does FLEQ jibe with New Colony’s artistic mission?
AH The most valued part of our mission is the goal of attracting and educating a new arts-supporting audience. When theater is competing against film and television, we try to seek out the experiences that are impossible to recreate on film. So this show's fully realized environmental approach, performed in real-time, integrates the audience into the piece. Even though it takes place in the 50's, we work to align the vernaculars, thoughts and feelings of that period and our current times to make it emotionally and intellectually accessible. We want audiences to look at a lesbian in 1956 and say, "I totally know her!”

OT What’s it like to work both as a business consultant and in the theater?
AH Art needs structure to succeed. Business needs creativity to succeed. And both tend to believe they don't need the other. That's [how] my consulting career was born. I solve theater problems with my business expertise and I broaden businesses' imaginations to help them launch to the next level. Really, all artists are entrepreneurs. Most don't think of themselves that way. But that's the truth. You're your own boss. You handle your own marketing. You handle your own money. You handle your own sales. I wish theater departments in colleges would inspire a love of business in their students. They are doing a huge disservice by not making entrepreneurial passion, strategy, and business management a key take-away for any theater graduate. Hopefully I'll get to see that happen. And hot damn I'd love for TNC and me to be a part of that change.

Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche runs June 23rd through July 30th. Go here to purchase tickets.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She 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 followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

ChicaGO

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Photo by Patty Michels. Left, Darrick Malone.

Now that it’s summer and you can step outside without risking exposure, Our Town is introducing a new weekly feature: ChicaGo.

Each week, we’ll post a speedy little street interview with one lucky Chicagoan. Keep your eyes out for us, because next time it could be you!

Location: Andersonville’s Midsommarfest

Chicagoan: Darrick Malone

Our Town So what brings you to Midsommarfest?
Darrick Malone I’m here volunteering with Equality Illinois to help support marriage for all, not just for some. I’m also registering people to vote.

OT What’s your favorite summer activity?
DM The festivals. Anytime people are out getting rambunctious but staying safe.

OT Favorite Chicago restaurant?
DM What’s the name of that place? I was just there last night. Club Lucky in Bucktown.

OT What’s your favorite make out spot in Chicago?
DM Home.

OT Cubs or Sox?
DM Whoever is winning.

OT What’s the worst thing about Chicago?
DM There is no worst part of Chicago. Chicago is perfect!

To learn more about Equality Illinois, visit http://www.eqil.org/

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I can’t be the only one. I can’t, because it happens to all of us. No, not getting Katy Perry’s "Teenage Dream" stuck in our heads. Death. I don’t remember how I found out about death, but from the age of four on, I feared it. Not a quiet terror, but a sobbing, sleepless, wake up the neighbors who call the police because they suspect I’m being hacked to death by my parents kind of panic. Now I knew that each person, each animal and tree and--God help me-- the planet itself held within it an expiration date, I couldn’t comprehend how my friends went on playing foursquare and eating glue.

Though my death fixation lasted a decade, ultimately, through some peculiar combination of imagination and denial I managed to force my dread to the periphery of my consciousness, where it reached up to bop me over the head only every few months. Recently however, the apprehension has sidled center stage again, upstaging my usual obsessions. While it’s a relief to no longer worry that the eunuch vampire from "Let the Right One" In lives between my washer and dryer, this mortality anxiety sure is taking up a lot of my time.

While very few people join me when I run nightly down Foster street screaming, “We’re all gonna die,” I know others like me exist and it’s for you I’ve compiled this list.

Things to do in Chicago When You’re Terrified to Die

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1. Attend A.J. Durand’s Queer Yoga Workshop at Yogaview.
Running every Saturday July 2-July 30 from 2:00-3:15p.m., this class is specifically geared to provide queer folks curious about yoga with a safe, supportive, and fun environment. If you’re lucky, the practice will lend you peace and clarity. If you’re like me, you’ll have to flee the room because shavasana means corpse pose.
(Note: Heterosexuals can achieve a similar state of serenity by drinking twenty beers at a Cubs game and then preventing the Clark bus from moving more than two feet at a time.)

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2. Visit XOJane, the new website launched this week by 90’s alternative women’s magazine darling, Jane Pratt. If you had a subscription to "Sassy" as a teenager, the familiar names of her contributors and editors will induce a form of nostalgia, which, if you are lucky, will fill you with awe as to how far you’ve come. If you’re like me, you’ll drop to the floor moaning as if trampled by time’s grime march.

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3. Come to A Taste of StoryStudio, an evening of wine, cheese, and StoryStudio classes designed to help students interested in honing their writing skills at this Chicago mainstay. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. sharp May 20. If you’re lucky, you’ll come away pleasantly buzzed and brimming with inspiration. If you’re like me, you’ll spend the night certain the end of the world is mere hours away.

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4. Sample free frozen yogurt at the opening of Red Mango’s new Loyola location. The giveaway runs 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., also May 20. If you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy a delicious, low fat desert in the vicinity of an institution of higher learning. If you’re like me you’ll convince yourself it’s possible to choke to on yogurt. Or maybe freeze to death from the inside.

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5. Adhere to out-of-touch-rich-celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow’s list of places to visit while in Chicago. (This item is kind of like if a genie granted you three wishes and you used one to wish for a bunch of extra wishes, because it allows me to refer readers to a slew of other Chicago options while technically not exceeding five selections. I’m very clever.) If you’re lucky, you’ll have a number of lovely dining experiences and learn how it feels to sleep on 100,000 thread count sheets. If you’re me, you won’t be able to afford any of Paltrow’s suggestions, but the smoldering envy you’ll experience just might distract you from your mortality.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. 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 followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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