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Art Talk with Robyn Okrant (aka 'That Crazy Lady Who Followed Oprah')

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It’s that time of year again, and The Chicago Art Department is trolling for funds. Dedicated to the watering and feeding of burgeoning Chicago artists, CAD was founded in 2004, and since has generated exhibitions, artist residencies, classes and workshops.

This year their telethon-themed benefit will feature a tuxedo-clad host wrangling all manner of entertainment, including Paper Machete, a live magazine focused on political and cultural commentary. A guest of Paper Machete, Chicago jack of most trades Robin Okrant will perform.

I’ve known Robyn since, as students in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s masters program, we met in some forgettable performance-related class. Robyn proved more memorable. Not only does she remind me of everyone with whom I made Challah at Jewish day camp, but endlessly creative, she always seems to have some new endeavor up her sleeve.

Our Town: You’re perhaps most recognized for your “Living Oprah” project. How did that come about?
Robyn Okrant: My inspiration for “Living Oprah” was a burning desire to learn why the media and celebrities have such a strong influence over women. I decided to be a crash test dummy for a whole year and see what would happen if I lived according to Oprah Winfrey's Best Life advice. I thought of my project as part social commentary, part fascination with Oprah's fervent fans, part honest investigation. Is it even possible to live according to someone else's ideals and find happiness? And if it's not, why are we knocking ourselves out trying to live up to a bar that's set impossibly high?

OT: Much of your work is performance-based. Was transforming “Living Oprah” into a book a departure?
RO: I think of myself as a performative writer and a storyteller. How's that for pretentious? When I write, I imagine I'm speaking directly to a live audience, rather than writing for readers. I always hope the reader feels engaged by me directly, even if my words are in print, rather than performed onstage or heard on the radio. It might not be the most sophisticated style, but I always write in the same manner, regardless of the medium.

OT: What are you up to now?
RO: I'm really trying to focus on new projects. I don't want to forever be the Crazy Lady Who Followed Oprah Winfrey for a Year. My newest endeavor is called “Ready, Set...Wife!” My partner on the project, Cathleen Carr, and I seek to investigate what on earth it means to be married in 2010.

OT: How did you get involved with CAD’s fundraiser?
RO: Paper Machete's host and founder, Christopher Piatt, invited me after my performance at a special Labor Day Machete show. I was really honored. Chicago Art Department's mission to cultivate the art practices of emerging talent in the Chicago community is really admirable and very close to my own heart.

OT: What can we expect?
RO: I'll be reading "Multitasking and the Modern Woman,” a comic look [at] how I developed into a multi-tasking fiend, and like most women I know, I've completely lost touch with my off switch. As I answer these interview questions, I'm texting my mom that I'm in the midst of answering interview questions. One day my head will explode, but before that happens, I plan to entertain the masses with my Whirling Dervish comedy and social commentary. Just don't be offended if I knit a sweater at the same time.

Tickets to CAD’s Sept. 18 benefit are available here.

Find out more about weekly reading series Paper Machete here.

Follow Robyn Okrant here.

Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Wood published on September 16, 2010 1:42 PM.

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