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September 2011 Archives

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Photo by Brian McConkey

A few months back I blogged about The Landmark Project, an inspired but uneven ode to Chicago comprised of twelve short plays. Though I’m not wildly enthusiastic about watching pre-teens riff on The Wizard of Oz, my patience paid off when Victoria Blade hit the stage. In Laura Jacqmin’s quirky “Logan and Milwaukee,” Blade showed off both her singing voice and comedic timing, and everyone from Hedy Weiss to my mother agreed she stole the show. Opening tonight in Slingshot Productions Low, Blade delighted my mother by making time to speak with Our Town. (No word yet on how Hedy feels.)

Our Town You studied theatre at Western Michigan. Do you think a degree is necessary?
Victoria Blade I loved college, but, no, I don't think a degree is absolutely necessary. What is most imperative for getting work as an actor is focus and work ethic. But for me, college was exactly what I needed at the time. College provided the freedom to focus solely on developing my artistic skills. It gave me time to be young. I had amazing professors that encouraged and believed in me. Starting out in this career, you don't get a ton of artistic liberty. It's more about learning business and marketing skills, so I'm glad for my time at Western when all I had to think about was the art.

OT Looks like you’ve been working consistently since moving to Chicago in 2010. What’s the Chicago acting scene like for a newcomer?
VB I didn't know what to expect coming here. I just put my head down and started researching and auditioning all the time. Slowly, things began to unfold. I have now been here a year and I have met so many wonderful people. I am truly overwhelmed by the warm welcome I received from the Chicago theatre scene.

OT In The Landmark Project you got the chance to do a lot of singing. What’s your voice background?
VB My Dad loves to play this cassette tape recording of me singing "Jesus Loves Me" when I was two years old. I keep forgetting the words but I refuse to let him help me sing the song. I think that tape still pretty much sums it up. I come from a big family of musicians so it's in our genes I guess.

OT Hedy Weiss specifically mentioned your performance. What was that like for you?
VB That was a total surprise. I went into this project thinking, "This will be fun." I didn't even know there were going to be reviews. So to be mentioned by these major Chicago theatre critics was incredibly exciting.

OT How do you tackle a given role?
VB I don't really have a set method for approaching a role. Some roles require more work than others, depending on how much I relate or don't relate to the character. When a role is particularly difficult, I do a lot of journaling. Writing really helps me. Or approaching a role physically; that is, beginning with the physical life of the character. I'm starting to realize that what works best for me is to just stick with my instincts.

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I’m the last person you will ever find at Oktoberfest. Just picture a continuum, on the left end there’s Heidi, an up-for-anything blond who rock climbs on the weekends, brings back a shot glass from every country she visits, and can run a marathon in Louboutins. On the right, imagine an agoraphobic nun, allergic to alcohol and incensed by lederhosen. I’m just to the right of the nun.

But if this blog were just focused on my personal interests, I’d only write about Don Draper. And unicorns. This great city has much more to offer (Seriously, Chicago’s paltry unicorn selection is embarrassing.), and starting today, Chicago offers up Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest originated in Munich in 1810 as a celebration of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig (aka King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. I know this because Heidi told me. She’s big into German history. (Actually, Sonja Martinez, Assistant Manager of German American Services, Inc. told me. But I bet she can run in heels.) In its modern incarnation, Oktoberfest boasts carnival rides, music and of course beer, specifically Spaten, the original Oktoberfest beer.

According to Martinez, “An original Oktoberfest can only be put on with the support of an original Oktoberfest beer. We were fortunate enough to get support from Spaten brewery.”

This year, Oktoberfest will be held at Navy Pier, freaking awesome for Heidi (she loves the Ferris wheel), but bad news for the nun (she once tried to see a Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production there but experienced heart palpitations when she saw the line to get into the parking garage).

Attendees will find the experience authentic in a way Martinez says most local festivals are not. “This starts when you walk up to the tent, which is made to look like the authentic tents as can be found in Munich. The beer steins, which were specially made by a German company, are another detail, which makes this event stand out. Also, Germany’s Best & Oktoberfest will not only have the Oktoberfest portion but will also showcase many areas of modern Germany.”

Expect to see venders such as Fehrenbach Black Forest Clocks (Heidi collects them! It’s one of those quirky traits that cements her identity as the GerManic Pixie Dream Girl.), Goethe Institute (Heidi pronounces this 'goathee,' but her skin's like a baby's and she laughs at fart jokes, so who cares?), Front Porch Coffee and Gifts, and many more. When Heidi has kids at a perfect age twenty-seven, she vows she’ll make this event a family tradition; they’ll love watching wheel gymnastics and buying Gingerbread hearts to hang around their necks—just like the kids in Germany do!

So, if you’re fun-loving and know the difference between a Lager and…something that’s not a Lager, check out Oktoberfest. I’ll be watching Madmen with the nun.

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Oktoberfest runs through October tenth. Learn more at www.germanys-best-and-oktoberfest.com

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 Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint 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 following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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Photo by Amy Boyle

My coworker gave me a lacy bra…. because I had cancer.
I love boots…. but then I got raped.
I wore this sweet maternity dress when I was pregnant with my son…who died at eighteen months.

There. I just saved you seventy bucks and ninety minutes. Go buy an Eileen Fisher sweater and take a yoga class. Or grab your bestie and get facials, or just binge on Entenmann's and clean your closet; anything that reminds you of your ovaries. Bonus points if it makes you feel bonded and nostalgic too.

Because that’s what Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love Loss and What I Wore wants: to grant a women of a certain age and means the opportunity to nod wryly and swear that, even with all her problems, you know, like those spats with her sisters, the difficulty finding a pair of heels that doesn’t pinch, she’s still got grandkids and lots of swoopy scarves, so gosh darn it, she’s doing just fine!

Based on the 1995 book by Ilene Beckerman, LLAWIW began as part of a summer series in East Hampton NY. (Of course it did.) Since its inception, it has been produced internationally and often with a star-studded cast. To be fair, the low-tech show has plenty of laugh out loud lines and offers the sort of offbeat moments distinctive to the Ephrons. Set up Vagina Monologue style-- women, music stands, a bunch of somewhat interchangeable characters—LLAWIW uses Gingie (Barbara Robertson) as a focal point, interweaving hundreds of other women’s stories as well. Though many monologues grow mawkish, due in large part to the “now I’m going to tell you something sad voice” nearly all of the cast members employ, several are saved by the quintessential Ephron ability to counter the listener’s assumptions, leaving them somewhere fresh and new. Hard to come by in a show rife with dated references and passé slang. Set in its midst, young actors Roni Geva and Katie O’Brien, strain credulity. In a saccharine gay wedding scene that hijacks the show’s already flabby middle, Geva maintains stellar timing, but O’Brien fares poorly as the least believable tuxedo-sporting lesbian in history.

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A Kansas born outsider, artist Ellen Greene is compelled by contradictions. Feminine and masculine, highbrow vs. lowbrow, all inform her current project, the vintage leather gloves she reworks with flash inspired tattoo imagery. On display starting September 16th at Firecat Projects, Greene’s show, Ballad of the Tattooed Lady “finds beauty in repetition,” showcasing gloves linked by themes both visually apparent and subterranean.

Our Town Why gloves?
Ellen Greene Just two generations ago a woman wore gloves to every formal occasion, every wedding, funeral or dance. They remind me of a certain time and a certain woman, one who was very formal and followed rules. As a daughter of the 70's, I find that formality exotic. I’ve always picked up odd things to paint on. Painting gloves came from a love of fashion, punk rock, myths and painting on non-traditional surfaces. I have been working on gloves since the late 90’s, but I was unsure how to present them. They were awkward to just stick on the wall; unwearable because of their delicate size and the paint I used, or expensive to [frame.] I would make them once in a while, try and find some inexpensive shadow box [but] never was happy with how they looked, [though they] always sold. It wasn’t until I met Tony Fitzpatrick and showed him a pair and he said “make more, I want to see a whole show of just gloves” that I finally got serious.

OT What might inspire a particular pair?
EG Songs, mythic stories, movies or personal experiences. I have a whole file system of images I look through to gather inspiration. My pin-up women are usually beastly and aggressive while my sailor men are feminine. I use words like 'faggot,' 'witch,' 'slut,' 'whore,' which some may see as offensive. I grew up around a lot of narrow-minded people in my small town, so my friends and I were treated to those names on a daily basis. There's still a lot of hatred toward people who don’t conform to religious or social norms. I see the gloves as representative of social norms-- conformity and chastity. The tattoo images represent the underside or shadow experience of that woman who wore those gloves. The act of making them is a ritual balance between these opposites, like letting the ugly underside of human experience come to the surface. I think of each pair of gloves as a person each with its own story to tell.

OT Is there a specific type of tattoo to which you’re drawn?
EG I am very interested in the old American style tattoos. They are classic in their basic vocabulary- skulls, daggers, clipper ships, sparrows, naked ladies, stars, jaguars; often not that well drawn. The tattoo artists weren’t art school trained, at the worst they were con men just trying to make a living at a carnival or dime museum. I like the crude way the designs are drawn.

OT Where does your aesthetic fit in on the art scene?
EG I deal with personal issues in my work but strive to make art that touches a wide variety of people. I don’t hide behind stuffy concepts. Though I went to art school, I was very much against how I saw the system working. People were rewarded by the way they fit into popular conceptual frameworks or by social climbing. My work is much more related to the traditions of folk art, the art of the mentally insane, the kind of art that is made by people who hear voices. So my imagery comes from a lot of lowbrow sources; pulp magazine illustrations, fashion magazines, old photographs, tattoo flash, circus freaks, belly dancers, strip shows, punk rock posters, B-movies, Mexican folk art, and American folk art.

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By age fifteen, Alexander Maksik hoped to be a writer, but, he admits, “it wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized I wanted to do the work. For a long time I was more concerned with being a writer than writing.” Recently, Maksik’s evolving commitment to his work produced You Deserve Nothing, a much-lauded rumination on power, idealism and morality. Maksik, based in Paris and Iowa City, will visit Chicago’s Seminary COOP Tuesday, September 13th, to discuss his debut novel with Adam Levin. But first he spoke with Our Town about inspiration, practice and Paris.

Our Town What was the original kernel of inspiration for You Deserve Nothing?
Alexander Maksik Both my parents were teachers and school administrators and from an early age I was acutely aware of the distinction between their public and private lives. Who they were at the dinner table was different from who they were in the classroom. As a result, I was never entirely capable of seeing any of my teachers only as teachers. That subject - the divide between the public and private self - has always fascinated me. In many ways, I feel as if I've been writing You Deserve Nothing since I was a teenager.

OT What are the pros and cons of setting a first novel in a place as symbolically loaded as Paris?
AM The advantage, of course, is that the city means a great deal to so many people and so perhaps I didn't have to do quite as much work as I might have if I were writing about a lesser-known place. On the other hand, a certain version of Paris has been filmed and written about over and over and over so the real challenge then was to do something original with the city. I tried my best to reveal it in ways inconsistent with the postcards.

OT Why utilize multiple points of view in your book?
AM It seemed the best way to deal with the novel's primary questions. In large part "You Deserve Nothing" is a book about the difference between the way we imagine ourselves and the way we are, the way we imagine others and the way they are. Those varying versions of "the truth" are also consistent with much of what is discussed in Will's classroom and I liked the idea of mirroring those seminars structurally.

OT What was it like to work with Alice Sebold as your editor?
AM A pleasure. She's an excellent editor. She has such respect for language and she misses nothing. Above all, it was her dedication to the novel as a whole that mattered most. She saw what I wanted to do, and refused to allow me to stray too far from that intention.

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We all have Facebook friends we don’t remember adding, the 21st century equivalent to penciled-in contact info in an outdated address book. The difference? Back when updating an address book meant whiteout and thick black ink, we didn’t call everyone else in our phone book to let them know they survived the cut. Another key distinction, smudged names rarely post pictures of themselves riding a mechanical bull. You don’t flick to their page to find they’re suddenly grateful for Whisker Tomkins, the best cat EVER!! They don’t subject you to dispatches from the Jason Mraz tour. But this also means they can’t pleasantly surprise you and wind up the subject of your blog.

So, I’m scanning FB the other day, and Amber Tillet’s status update catches my eye:

“If I could,” she writes, “I would have a torrid sexual tryst with this weather, but that might look weird.”

And I think to myself (as opposed to thinking to Rahm Emmanual who’s still on my porch btw) “I’ve got to find out more about this remarkable yet totally unfamiliar Amber person.

Turns out Ms. Tillet’s job is as inspired and self-generated as her Facebook updates. Along with Monika Lotter, Tillet co-founded Flight Chicago, an innovative restaurant tour offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Chicago's world-famous food scene. Each three-hour flight visits three different restaurants, allowing guests to tour kitchens, meet chefs and sample food pairings.

Though Tillet had no earthly clue how we came to be Facebook friends, she was nonetheless delighted to discuss her burgeoning business. And me? Today I’m grateful for Amber Tillet, the best random Facebook contact EVER!!

Our Town How did you generate the idea for Flight Chicago?
Amber Tillet Years ago, my partner and I were discussing a walking neighborhood food tour she took in New York. There are plenty of tours that focus on neighborhoods and easy bites of food. We wondered why no one focused more on the food, and more specifically, on the chefs and behind-the-scenes. We riffed on the idea, removing the touristy aspect and zeroed in on finding intimacy with the food and chefs behind it.

OT Why focus on chefs and staffs?
AT Let’s compare a restaurant’s food to a movie. If you love the movie, wouldn’t you love to hear the director and actors talk about its creation? For people who love food, there’s often a built-in fascination. How do chefs come up with their dishes? What goes into the daily life? What inspires them? We think it’s cool to get to ask those questions – in person.

OT What else separates Flight Chicago from other food tours?
AT Everything. Unlike progressive dinners, we operate our flights when the restaurants are otherwise closed to the public, so we’ve got the place to ourselves. No one else offers that kind of intimacy. Unlike neighborhood walking tours, we don’t incorporate neighborhood or city tourist info. Finally, unlike many other food tours and events, we are casual and relaxed in nature.

OT Who’s your ideal participant?
AT Most people who come on flights are pretty friendly and outgoing. No need to be a foodie. In fact, our chefs and we approach most guests as if they aren’t. It’s all very warm and on the level.

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Photo by Jeremy Rill

What could be better than a Sondheim show? How about a Sondheim show set in Chicago? Though purists may balk, Porchlight Music Theatre kicks off their seventeenth season with a Chicago-centric version of the Sondheim classic, Putting it Together. Our Town spoke with the show’s director, longtime choreographer Brenda Didier about Porchlight’s unique choice and more.

Our Town So, why set the show in Chicago?
Brenda Didier To make it accessible, put a fresh and unique perspective on [it]. Our Theatre Wit playing space has a wonderful exposed brick wall that our set designer, John Zuiker, used to our advantage, [setting the show] in a loft as opposed to a penthouse apartment. There are no gowns or tuxedos here; we are in a different world now than 1999 when the show was on Broadway with Carol Burnett.

OT What do you risk and/or gain by altering a well-known show?
BD When any director changes a show, some audience members may come in expecting the original version. I always like risks because you surprise people and usually the gains are much greater. I love it when an audience members tells me that they were moved and entertained most unexpectedly and that they experienced a familiar work in a whole new way and learned something about themselves in the process.

OT You’re a director and a choreographer, how do the two inform each other?
BD I’ve choreographed for years and just recently begun the transition into directing. Choreography tells the story through movement. As a director you find the peaks and valleys of a script, the stillness and movement to make the story move along. The two really go hand in hand.

OT What unique challenges does a Sondheim show present?
BD Sondheim shows are like no other. The lyrics and music are some of the most brilliant and complicated songs for any actor to sing- let alone do it with blocking and acting behind it. As I started this process, I came to realize that each of Sondheim's songs are a play- with a clear and defined beginning, middle and end.

OT What’s most compelling to you about the rehearsal process?
BD The rehearsal process is a joy for me because I come in with my ideas and vision, but it’s the collaboration between actors, musicians, designers that really inspires me. When you add the preview process, then the final piece of the collaboration puzzle is the audience. They quickly inform you of what is working and what is not and then you go back and re-visit sections and make adjustments.

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I’m a shell. A husk; all my sweet yellow corny bits gone, eaten, tossed aside at the end of some soulless street fest. You see I’ve lost sight of my purpose. Since launching my crush blog and my subsequent meteoric rise, crush suggestions have flown thick and fast. Where once I might follow a crush from Evanston to Pilsen, content only to stare at his back and perhaps tap him on the shoulder before ducking into a Dunkin' Donuts, now I wake sometimes to find crush wannabes camped out in my entryway.

People, crushes are about risk, the potential for public humiliation, sometimes a mild sedative and a telescope. If you prostrate yourselves at my feet and I eat a peeled grape then nod languidly in your direction, is it really a crush?

This month I decided to take a risk. I would renounce my influence, surrender control, I would do the twenty-first century equivalent of standing beneath my crush’s window blasting my boom box. I would tweet. But who to target approach?

In real life, crushes take root slowly. First you spot an attractive stranger at your local five and dime, next she’s cropping up at all your favorite haunts. What’s the online equivalent? I wondered, stepping over Rahm Emanuel, still sitting glumly on my front stoop. That’s when it hit me.
“Not now, Rahm,” I said, averting my eyes from his tattered “make me your crush” sign.
"But I ride the brown line!" He called as I locked the front door.
Back upstairs in my office, I toggled over to Twitter. Heart in my throat I tweeted:

@Zulkey Wanna be interviewed for The Sun Times Blog? This is my first PUBLIC crush request. Be honored.

Claire Zulkey. Blogger, author, critic and local performer. Increasingly, I’d seen her work at various web hangouts, linked to on Facebook, blogging for WBEZ, even moonlighting at Jezebel. Clearly Claire and I were meant to be.

An excruciating ten minutes later she responded:

@SarahTerez me! blush. Thank you--yes, crush on!

Just like that, I was back, adrenaline-fueled and dreamy, all because I took a chance! I encourage you, dear reader, to do the same.

Name: Claire Zulkey
Hometown: Evanston, IL
Profession: Editor's Assistant/Writer
Hobbies: Cooking, Reading, Travel, Chicago Sports, Running, Dogs

Our Town You’re pretty active on the Chicago scene. Tell me about the reading series Funny Ha-Ha.
Claire Zulkey Around 2003 my friend John Green (the future famous writer) and I were talking about how at literary readings, everyone always enjoys the funny pieces most and how it would be great to have a reading that was all funny, nothing serious or pretentious. People seem to enjoy the series despite my constant fear that everyone only comes to be nice and secretly resents me the whole time for passive-aggressively forcing them to attend.

OT So many writers go into writing so as never to speak to a live human being. How important are the increasingly ubiquitous live storytelling/reading series/ stand around having a persona events for a writer’s career?
CZ Unless you're a super famous important person and people are lining up to buy your book and have you sign it, I'm not sure you're very likely to build an audience based off reading appearances. However, I think building a coterie of like-minded people is integral to having a successful creative career and doing and attending readings is great for that. You need friends with whom you can have a beer and bitch about writing [without worrying] they're going to say "Must be nice having 'problems' like that."

OT What inspired your book, An Off Year?
CZ It began as a short story I wrote to entertain myself in an attempt to emulate this book I love called Celine by Brock Cole--it's about an idiosyncratic, strong-voiced female protagonist and I wanted to write a story like that. Over many years it mutated into a full book.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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