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November 2011 Archives

My Shocking Secret

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I have a reputation for no-holds-barred honesty, shockingly intimate revelations and naked disclosure. (I’m not sure what that last part means, but it would be a nifty title for an exposé about the figure modeling industry except that there is no figure modeling industry, just a bunch of naked, broke people who haven’t taken enough drugs to make the leap to stripping.)

This intimacy we’ve developed over the past year and a half, it’s vital. You think I have what we have with anyone else? And the reason for our connection is my high-octane candor. (Coincidentally also the name of a buddy flick I have in development about a racecar driver and his therapist.)

My word is my bond, people. Great phrase, feel free to quote me, but keep in mind it carries a lot more heft on the page than when you get to the register to pay for your crème brûlée latte.

My point? Honesty is the cornerstone of our relationship, that and my nominal blogging fee. Which is why it pains me to tell you that I’ve been keeping something from you.

Not the ‘snuggling’ dream I had about my sister’s boyfriend.
Not the fact that I dress the dog up in swimwear.
Not my long-term emotional affair with Levar Burton.

I’ve never told you about my werewolf.

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Everything you’re feeling right now is totally normal. Go ahead; let it out. But when you’re done rending your garments and wait, could you not throw that particular vase, it was a gift from my…ooookay, nevermind. Easy come, easy go. Listen, believe it or not my not telling you about the werewolf was an oversight rather than a conscious decision. The werewolf represents such a quotidian aspect of my existence that I even neglected to mention him to my therapist. He only came up in passing.

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This is totally normal.

“So in the dream,” I said, “I was trying to take a shower in another closet with my sister’s boyfriend when I realized the werewolf-” And there I caught myself. “The werewolf is real, actually. My father is a poet and he wrote a poem cycle called The Werewolf Sequence and before I was born my mother made a six-foot tall werewolf out of paper-mâché to sort of go with the book I guess and anyway, I grew up with the werewolf--”
My therapist: “Wait a second, you grew up with a six foot werewolf around?”
Me: “Well, he wasn’t really around, he was mostly in the basement.”
My Therapist: “Oh, that’s better.”

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Portrait of a Werewolf as a Young Man (Also my mother.)

Lately I think about the werewolf a lot more than I used to. Probably because he’s always behind me.

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Peter Cieply is back in Chicago and he couldn't be more pleased. Although a notable force in the Chicago theatre scene, Cieply previously relocated to San Francisco to work as managing editor for Stagebill. In 2007, he returned to the windy city where he’s since reestablished Immediate Theatre, originally founded in the 80’s. He spoke with Our Town about his influences, Immediate Theatre's current show and a dynamic new business model.

Our Town What’s it like to be back in Chicago?
Peter Cieply I’ve loved being back in the Chicago theatre world, but now I also work as a private investigator, which puts some limits on what I am able to commit to. I hear the clock ticking very loudly these days—I’m not getting any younger—so I decided to form a production company and start doing what I have been saying I want to do for way too long. My job — and my amazing wife, who started the P.I. agency we run together — is flexible enough to allow me to do this and help support it. I’m excited to see what happens next, and what my career becomes. Life has been so totally full of surprises, and I’ve been so lucky to be able to go wherever things have led me. I have to say they’ve turned out pretty swell so far.

OT What directors would you count as influences?
PC I’ve seen and loved the work of directors like Sam Mendes, Richard Eyre, Matthew Bourne, Mark Rylance, Nicholas Hytner, Max Stafford-Clark, Deborah Warner, Declan Donnellan … the list goes on, [but] I think I’ve been more influenced by the types of theatre I am drawn to than by specific directors. I came up in the Chicago theatre of the ’80s and am steeped in its naturalism and — for me and a lot of my colleagues at the time — its Stanislavsky and Meisner training. I also have spent a lot of time in London and am drawn to British theatre and its slightly larger, more theatrical style.

OT Describe your directing process.
PC Hmm…Idea, enthusiasm; insecurity, terror; conquer terror, make progress. Repeat.
I do consciously work to be kind, grateful, receptive, and collaborative, having worked both sides of the equation. But I’m also pretty strong-willed.

OT How does your approach as a director differ from your approach as an actor?
PC I sometimes find myself wanting to jump to results when I’m directing; I have to stop and invert it, frame it as process — figure out how to elicit what I think is needed in an open-ended, collaborative way, rather than asking for a result from an actor.
I think as an actor I work more instinctively in a Method-oriented way, which for some reason I have to remind myself of when I’m directing.

An Open Letter

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The dog is ashamed.

Confidential to the guy who wrote me expressing disgust with the online Sun Times sports section’s use of “borderline pornography” involving “boobs popping out of women's clothing (or lack thereof), 13 total images,” in fact, which amount to “spoon-feeding pre-packaged sexual pleasure meals to anyone who will take a bite.”

I just want to say Sir that I too am appalled and disgusted by The Sun Times sports section—it’s got sports in it! And there is nothing I find more atrocious than sports.

With respect,

Sarah Terez Rosenblum

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 Traci Griffin

Peter Orner may no longer live in Chicago but his romance with the city rivals that of any resident. A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and faculty member at San Francisco State University, Orner counts William Faulkner, Grace Paley and Chicagoan, Stuart Dybek as influences. Like Dybeck, Orner uses concrete imagery and issues of object permanence to ground his new novel, Love And Shame And Love. A rumination on memory, loss and renewal, the novel tells the story of the Popper family, but throughout Chicago exists as both supporting player and touchstone.

Our Town You went from law school to an MFA program. What provoked the switch?
Peter Orner It was actually in law school that I started to write seriously. I'd sit in a class like trusts and estates and think how sad it was that a law text book could make people fighting over a will so dull. Families arguing over money! What could be better? So, while the professors droned on, I'd be writing short stories about the people in the cases.

OT Thinking back to when you published your first novel, what surprised you most?
PO That anybody in their right mind would want to a read a novel about a remote place in a remote country, rural Namibia. To my surprise, a few people did read The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo. Not that many, but I'm still surprised when I meet people who have read it, and who might have no relationship to Namibia. You sit there alone, in my case in my garage, and you imagine things, and then, after a few years, these things you imagine, other people are sometimes interested in. I guess this is what I'm most surprised about with anything I write.

OT What was the inspiration for Love and Shame and Love?
PO A desire to write about home. Namibia was tough, and though I lived there, it will never be where I am from. But I found that writing about where you think you are from can be just as hard as writing about places you aren't from.

OT The city of Chicago seems almost a character in the book. Why?
PO Because I love the city, and though I now live in San Francisco, a part of me will always be standing on the beach by the lake. But Chicago, in my imagination, is as much a myth as a real place. Our imaginations warp real places. They become like our personal Oz. For a time I was student at Northwestern, and [I remember] looking at the city and thinking, there, there's where want to be. Now I could have just gotten on the train. And of course I often did. But in some ways, and this may be because I'm just a kid from the suburbs, Chicago is always just a little out of reach.

OT San Francisco vs. Chicago, go.
PO San Francisco is beautiful; Chicago though, fires up my imagination in ways that San Francisco, for all its splendor, never will. There's a scene in the novel that I think dramatizes this. Popper is heading east on Irving Park Road, and he takes a right and begins to drive south on a side street. It's late at night, and yet in the apartment buildings are some lighted windows. He thinks about the people and their lives, all the stories that are behind those lighted windows. It's the most autobiographical scene in the book. I've done this many times, driven around Chicago and thought about all the countless stories beyond late night lighted windows. Could I do this in San Francisco? Sure. But I never have. And this, I think, is the difference for me. It's just me.

OT What are you looking forward to doing while you’re here?
PO Taking my daughter to Oak Street Beach and then, if she doesn't trash the place, to the lobby of the Drake Hotel where I once went with my own dad when I was real little. I remember crawling up those white marble steps. But maybe I miss-remember this too.

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All photos by Jeff Wasilko

Every musician dreams of crafting the perfect hook to catch our collective attention, drive hot gay dudes to lip-sync and deployed soldiers to upload their dance moves to Youtube. But sometimes the knack for writing of-the-moment music traps an artist in a certain era. Maybe she becomes complacent; possibly it’s public perception that confines her, or perhaps she’s paralyzed by the fear that she’ll never transcend an early hit.
Not so for artists Nerissa and Katryna Nields, a cult folk/rock duo with a relatively small but matchlessly fervent fan base. Set to release their sixteenth album, the sisters have performed together for over twenty years.

Interviewing Nerissa, I was struck by the similarity between her take on the foundation of their longevity and a comment by R.E.M.’s Micheal Stipe in a recent salon.com interview. “I’m so glad we haven’t had a hit yet,” Nerissa told me. “Because that means the hit we have is still inside of us.”

Speaking of R.E.M.’s 1994 album “Monster,” Stipe said “in classic R.E.M. style, we were yet again out of time. We were doing something that was either a little too before or a little too behind what was actually happening.” Though he does not relate this tendency to the band’s staying power, the two seem inexorably linked.

Such is also the case for Nerissa and Katryna Nields. “We’re not willing to follow the rules in order to have a wider audience,” Nerissa said. But by making their own rules these talented siblings have ensured their permanence.

Our Town I’m sure you constantly field this question, but what’s it like to blur the line between family and career?
Nerissa Nields It’s a great question and I’m never tired of answering it. We don’t understand how people can work creatively with anyone other than their sibling. We work really hard at our relationship. We’re only two years apart and we’ve always been exceptionally close, really became best friends in our late teens and always had this dream to make music and have a career together. Eighty percent of our work together is about strengthening our relationship. We’re very intentional. I’m the songwriter and I’m the older sister and when I asked Katryna if she would be in a band with me, she said, “okay but only if you promise that I’m never going to feel like Art Garfunkel.” If one of us is getting too much attention, we say, “it’s not fair. (We talk the way we did when were little), “I need more attention,” and the other one says “okay.”

OT Your shows feel like a visit with old friends. Was it a conscious choice to let your between-song patter become so much a part of your performance?
NN We grew up in the folk world and early in our career saw acts like Cheryl Wheeler, Moxy Früvous, Ani Difranco and Dar Williams, who is one of our best friends, and it was always part of the show. Certainly Cheryl Wheeler; I love her music, I love her songwriting, but I go to her shows just as much to hear what she’s going to say. When we were sort of forming our identity as an act we were watching a lot of David Letterman and Conan O’Brian and we naturally tried to infuse our shows with comedy. Basically, we’re giving back what we like to see.

OT In addition to your music, you’ve written several books, most recently All Together Singing in the Kitchen. How is writing a book different than crafting a song?
NN I’m a person with a short attention span and I love the song for that reason. You can write a song in an afternoon. I also love the challenge of writing a book, but it’s a much bigger deal than writing a song. We wrote All Together in two years and that was from start to finish. It was a lot of rewriting and thinking and discussing. I feel really lucky I get to both write songs and books.

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Noémi Schlosser came all the way to Chicago to get a date. A Belgium native, Schlosser graduated from the Antwerp Drama school of Belgium before founding the “fixed-fluid” collective, Salomee Speelt in 2004. Since then, Schlosser has worked in both traditional and experimental theater and her collective has performed all over the world. But never mind that. Let’s get back to dating. Her show, "DATE ME!" offers an absurd but heartfelt look at the trials and tribulations of just that. Schlosser spoke with Our Town about writing, internet dating and her unusual relationship to Occupy Wall Street.

Our Town You’re hot. Can you really not get a date?
Noémi Schlosser First, thank you, [but] a good date, is hard to find. I’ve been single for more than three years. Some blame it on me traveling so much for my work, but now I’m going to be in Chicago for a year, so my dating status will hopefully change. The winters are terrible here, so I hope to find someone who will keep me warm, anyone?

OT What was the inspiration behind "DATE ME?"
NS In Belgium, where I am from, boys have forgotten how to behave as gentlemen; the whole courting thing got lost. The women have no other option than to become the hunters, as the men are very self absorbed. In our society men tend to be afraid of women who own their own homes, have high-income jobs and are self-sufficient. We kind of don’t need them anymore, but our little hearts miss being loved. To write the show, I dated sixty men in one month, all through an internet dating site (still taboo in Belgium, meeting people online) but 99% of the dates were boring as hell. Or not boring because they were with a crazy guy, a shoe fetishist or someone who had a five year plan as if I was going to marry him after this date.

OT What compelled you to found Salomee Speelt?
NS I just wanted to create my own stuff and strangely enough I had amazing people willing to jump with me, and even more surprising I got grants from cities, governments and private people to do so. By now my company has become such a part of my life, or even more it is my life.

OT You perform in both experimental and traditional shows. Which do you prefer?
NS It depends; with every show you start from scratch. I like to work with mixed media, because the musicians, people who build installations, moviemakers or the guys who come from a graphic background have all have different way to tell a story. When people find a way to build a show together, when we find that common language to tell what we want to share with an audience, that for me is very rewarding.

OT Are you braver as a writer or an actor?
NS I don’t know, I just want to tell things that I think are important. I think most of all I am brave as a young, female, producer. That [requires] guts and that's what I find hardest.

OT You joined Occupy Wall Street to ask for a date. What was that experience like?
NS Occupy Wall Street was just asking for us to come and ask for a date! But Occupy Wall Street was not on Wall Street so when I was preparing for my mini "DATE ME!" flashmob, I couldn't find it! Once we were there people really enjoyed us, we talked, danced, and hung out with the locals. Let's be real here, a democracy does mean a date for everyone, right?

OT Why bring "DATE ME!" to Chicago?
NS Chicago is the city of comedy, so DATE ME!" was meant to come here.

OT What are you looking forward to doing while you’re here?
NS I hope to work with local theater companies, hopefully teach, give some workshops, get a few gigs, write my new one-woman show, find an agent, do some TV, you know be the girl with the accent.

"DATE ME" opens November 11th at Theater Wit.

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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November's Hot Writer: E.C. Messer

My genre: short stories/poetry/fairy tales

My literary influences: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Milan Kundera, Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, Kit Smart, Ernest Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bin Ramke, Jesse Ball

My favorite literary quote: “Instead of adopting Rimbaud’s gospel, The time of the assassins has come, young people would do better to remember the phrase Love must be reinvented. The world accepts dangerous experiments in the realm of art because it does not take art seriously; but it condemns them in life.”
~Jean Cocteau, "Le Livre Blanc" (The White Book)

My favorite book of all time: "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust

I’m currently reading: "The Talented Mr. Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith

My guilty pleasure book: Anything from The New York Review of Books Children's Collection Children’s Collection.

I can’t write without: 1960s/70s French pop

Worst line I ever wrote: (from a play called "The Adrian Story," written during my freshman year at UCLA) “That’s why the sky is falling! Because we broke the fourth wall!” Gratuitous use of exclamation points makes every bad line just a little bit worse.

Brief Bio: E.C. Messer lives in a yurt under the Golden Gate Bridge, but still goes out of her way to buy coffee at the one place in San Francisco that sells Intelligentsia. At The School of the Art Institute of Chicago she learned to embrace plagiarism, reject genre, and that “constraint” works just as well in the classroom as it does in the bedroom. She would like very much to know you.

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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I’ve said it before. One of my favorite parts of blogging (aside from getting 2000 emails a day from Sugardaddie.com) is meeting and promoting interesting Chicagoans. I love spotting that talented someone, currently flying under the city’s radar and knowing that even if I don’t write about her, it’s only a matter of time before someone does.
Tuesday night, I had the honor of taking part in Fictlicious, Micki LeSueur’s fantastically cohesive reading series. Not only did the event introduce me to The Hideout, some kind of magical Milwaukee-esque bar set down in the sort of bleak area Frank Sobotka’s ghost probably haunts, but it also brought to my attention one Stephanie Tonnemacher.
A convivial folk/pop singer/songwriter, Tonnemacher wooed the crowd with her lovely voice and sharp lyrics. Recently back from Nashville, Tonnemacher spoke with Our Town about her guitar playing style, her dream audience member and the Chicago music scene.

Our Town When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
Stephanie Tonnemacher I’ve always participated in music related activities: church choir, band, music ensembles, and private guitar lessons. It wasn’t until high school that I realized people actually could do it for a living. I dove in by going to music prep high schools, then majoring in composition and arranging in college. I can’t imagine doing anything else that would be as fulfilling. I’m just lucky enough to have parents that encouraged me to go for it from a young age.

OT Who are your influences?
ST Lyrically, I’d have to say Joni Mitchell and Nashville singer/songwriter Patti Griffin. Musically, I’d say a blend of Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon.

OT Finger style guitar picking is not necessarily the norm, what made you
gravitate toward it?
ST I started out playing classical guitar and finger style was just a natural progression for me when I ventured into pop genres. I want to have an interesting accompaniment for when I sing solo without a band. Finger style is a fun, challenging way to break out of the conventional “chick-singer” guitar playing style that people sometimes try to box me into.

OT Do you more closely identify as a singer or songwriter? If you had to
give one up which would it be?
ST Tricky, tricky! I’ve asked myself this question before, trying to figure out which post-graduation musical career path I wanted to take. I don’t think I could stand going a single day without singing. Songwriting is a much more recent skill that I’ve honed. But it’s also something that I’ve started to do on a daily basis, a great outlet for problem solving and saying obnoxious things that without the artistic license excuse could be considered socially unacceptable. So, I guess I’m not willing to give up either.

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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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