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February 2012 Archives

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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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All Dog Show Photos by Patty Michels

At five years old, I made an announcement. “I’m not going to get pregnant with a baby when I grow up. I’m going to have puppies!”

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In junior high my friends whispered and pointed when a senior with a hip mushroom cut sauntered by, but I only had eyes for the giant German Shepherd who paced the yard across from school. “He totally looked right at me,” I squealed.

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Meanwhile, my future Significant Other grew up enamored with a family member’s Boxer that threw up with excitement whenever she came over to play. “He did that because of me!” She said.

She’s an amazing driver, my SO, her record marred by a single incident wherein she rear-ended a truck paused at a red light. Why? She couldn’t tear her gaze from a wind-ruffled retriever in an adjacent car.

Not long after we met she told me with total sincerity and absolutely no prompting, “We need to have puppies together.”

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So when the International Kennel Club of Chicago asked me to check out their annual International Cluster of Dog Shows, I knew I’d found the perfect anniversary present. Okay, that’s a lie. Never once in five years have I remembered our anniversary, but this year instead of belatedly running to Seven-11 to buy SO a Twix bar and a copy of Maxim, we were already at the dog show when she asked if I knew what day it was.

“Of course,” I told her. “Why do you think we’re here?”

She didn’t answer. A Golden Retriever had sauntered past. And he was just the beginning!

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Held at Chicago’s McCormick Place, IKC show draws 10,000 purebred dogs from 170 breeds, not to mention a whole cache of rescue dogs and anti-cruelty organizations. In a family friendly move, the event is one of few to offer spectators access to the competing dogs. Ringing the booths and competition rings is a benching area where dogs go to bathe, primp and possibly have a post show cigarette. Rather than being cordoned off, the benching area offers attendees the option of meeting and even petting the fluffy show dogs.

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Photo by Johnny Knight

If Stage Left Theatre’s mission is to develop plays that raise debate around political and social issues, they’ve found their ideal playwright in Jayme McGhan. His new play, The Fisherman was inspired by “sweeping job losses in Minnesota after a high-profile airline bankruptcy.” As such, it takes a hard look at the economy’s impact on the life of a desperate everyman. McGhan spoke with Our Town about the show’s origin and the exhilaration of seeing characters come to life onstage.

Our Town Why playwriting?
Jayme McGhan There are far less frustrating and certainly more financially lucrative ways to tell stories. The moment I stop being wholly enamored with storytelling in live performance I’ll go be a park ranger or snowboard bum [but] I’m deeply committed to the theatre and the people who populate it. A good play, to me, demands thought. It entertains, informs, and posits huge questions. If a play is really doing a knockout job, it provokes--it sees the button on the wall that says “do not push” and it chucks a brick at it…then grins and covers its ears.

OT What’s it like for you to see characters who existed only in your mind, brought to life?
JM I used to feel either completely exhilarated or completely petrified by the process. But now it just seems natural. I’ve come to find that, for me, the words are nothing more than the skeletal frame. My job is to put the bones together, to give the body form and function. The actors, director, designers--they put flesh on the bones, give the frame its heart and lungs. If we’re blessed and everyone has done their job right, we collectively put a soul into that bad boy.

OT Any issues giving up control of a show as it moves into production?
JM Nah. Being in the rehearsal environment early on establishes those much-needed relationships and avenues of communication between the writer and the production team. But if you’re a writer hanging on tightly come late in the rehearsal process then you probably have more problems than just a flawed script. It’s theatre. Crap happens. Frequently. At some point you have to let go and have faith that you’ve done your work and that everyone else is doing theirs.

OT What’s your writing practice like?
JM Writing a play is definitely a committed relationship. I have a rule where, if I think of an idea for a play, I won’t write it down. If it’s still with me after three months, then I get a little crush on it and I’ll jot it in a notebook. If it’s still there after six months, things are getting a little more serious and I’ll start playing with it in my head. If it’s still there after a year, I generally put a ring on it. If you try to marry an idea prematurely it turns out bad for all parties involved. You’ve got to buy the idea ice cream, take it on vacation, and meet its parents first.

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Photo by Patty Michels


Hey Chicago writers!

Quit playing Words With Friends/standing in front of the sink eating cold fried rice with your fingers/reorganizing your bookshelf/tweezing your eyebrows/singing to your dog or whatever you’re actually doing when you tell people you’re writing.

Instead, check out Our Town’s Short Story Contest. You could also call it a Flash Fiction contest if you’re so inclined. Of course I might judge you for it. Wait, I’ll be doing that anyway if you submit your writing.

Let me break it down: Our Town (this, what you’re reading, right here) and Fictlicious (Micki LeSueur’s fabulously successful new reading series, the one Stuart Freaking Dybek contributed to last month, yeah, that one) are teaming up to offer you some artistic exposure.

Here’s what you need to do:

Submit one and ONLY ONE short story. By short we mean under 2000 words (we’ll let you get away with 2005 but they better be the most amazing words ever—“serendipity” or “lackadaisical” are two possibilities, definitely not “snot” or “kelp.”) You got that, right? One entry per writer.

The theme for the contest is “Lucky.” Take that as you will.

The contest deadline is midnight April 15 2012.

The contest winner will receive the following:
Publication on The Sun Times website—right here on Our Town.
The opportunity to read at the one-year anniversary of Fictlicious, that’s May 15th 2012. You MUST be available May 15th. I’m going to put on pants and leave the house to introduce you so you better show.

Please email your entry to ourtownstorycontest@gmail.com subject line “Lucky.”

Your entry should be IN THE BODY of your email, DO NOT attach your entry.
Your name should appear only on the email, not within the story. Here’s how the entry should look:

YOUR Name
YOUR Contact email
YOUR Entry

The contest is blind. It has a service dog and everything. Ok, not that funny. But that’s because we’re serious about keeping your name separate from the entry. An unbiased third party will be opening each email and pasting your entry into a new document for the judges’ perusal. Which brings us (by which I mean me) to….

Your judges:
Sarah Terez Rosenblum (by which I also mean me)- Author of Herself When She’s Missing forthcoming in June 2012 from Soft Skull Press and teacher at The StoryStudio.
Micki LeSueur- writer/founder of Fictlicious.

Any questions? Email ourtownstorycontest@gmail.com, subject line “Question.”

What are you standing around for? Go! Write! (Or take another bath, whatever.)

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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Fadi Freij’s “Picture Chicago.”

Congratulations to Fadi Freij. Though we received tons of fantastic submissions for the "Chicago" themed photo contest, Our Town judges Amy Harkess and Patty Michels unanimously chose Freij's photo. Here's what the judges have to say:

Harkess: I really appreciate this photographer's use of aperture settings to put emphasis on the subject, but still include details of the background. The bus, headlights, cabs and all the bustle are what makes this image sing Chicago to me.

Michels: Love the crisp focus of the subject and the vivid color. The bokeh provides a warm feel. This is the people's Chicago, not the Chicago tourism bureau's.

And what inspired the picture? Here's Freij:

Freij: It was taken from Millennium Park and is a view down Washington Street at the intersection of Michigan Avenue. The colors and movement of the photograph capture the vibrant personality of the city, while one man stands still photographing the lively scene. The photo manages to convey multiple truths about Chicago; the bustling, fast paced nature of daily downtown life, as well as the residents and visitors alike who pause to enjoy and appreciate Chicago's excitement.

Thanks to all who participated in Our Town’s first annual photo contest and special thanks to judges Patty V Michels (Sun Times/Our Town blog photographer) and Amy Harkess (special events/weddings).

Photographer Info: Based in Chicago, Fadi Freij specializes in portraits, events, and live action photography.

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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Writer Natalie Edwards wants you to come to her party. A development associate for Ox-Bow School of Art and Artist's Residency, Edwards is on the cusp of all things hip and current—case in point, The Rumpus named her one of the funniest women of McSweeney’s-- but the thing she cares most about was founded in 1901.

“Ox-Bow” she says was established “by artists from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago who wanted to create a place to make work in an environment that was both beautiful naturally, but also one that could support their mutuality of purpose as creative thinkers and makers.” Since its inception, Ox-bow has continued to compel artists and foster their work, and now the artist’s residency needs you. Edwards spoke with Our Town about the Ox-Bow Winter Benefit and what it’s like to be a writer in Chicago.

Our Town What’s so special about Ox-Bow?
Natalie Edwards The artists that participate in Ox-Bow often remark on how productive their time was at Ox-Bow, both in terms of the amount of work they made there, but also in terms of how the atmosphere at Ox-Bow recharges them with fresh energy, ideas, and connections to bring back to the studio after they've left. Most artists spend about one or two weeks at Ox-Bow, but the impact of the experience influences the work that they make for a long time after.

OT How did you become involved?
NE I was a student at Ox-Bow for several years. I took a painting class where I learned that painting is difficult and I am terrible at it. I took a printmaking class where I learned that printmaking is difficult and I'm ok at it, and then I took a playwriting class with the amazing Beau O'reilly where I learned that writing is the best thing ever, and then I learned that producing a play is the most difficult thing I could ever do. Those classes made such a tremendous impact on my personal and artistic life, that when a job popped up there I hopped on it. It's nice to work for a place you care about.

OT Chicago is bloated with gala events. Why is this one important?
NE Well, I wouldn't really call this a gala, because that sounds stuffy. I would call it an awesome art show where you can actually take the art home. I would also call it a super fun dance party. All proceeds from the event go to keeping the place running and in good shape. It also goes to our artist-in-residence program and scholarships and other ways that we can help artists enrich their lives. I think Jerry Saltz said this, and I'm going to paraphrase it terribly, but here goes: even if artists don't become all famous and rich, isn't it good to have creative thinkers out there in the world solving problems in inventive ways? Yes. The answer is obviously yes.

OT What are you most excited about?
NE I'm excited about seeing who takes what home from the auction. I'm always surprised to see what people scramble over. I'm also really excited about drinking the cocktails that City Provisions is providing. We also have beer from Half Acre--they are consistently amazing--and we have wine from this great winery in Michigan called Good Harbor. So I'm excited that I get to be grateful for all these generous people coming together to make this event awesome.

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Check out any edgy Chicago institution and musician Miki Greenberg is somewhere in the mix. A writer, pianist and singer, Greenberg has had a hand in everything from the Lunar Cabaret to Curious Theater Branch to This American Life to art-punk band World Gone Mad. He even spent twelve years running The Old Town School of Folk Music’s café. Now Greenberg is back performing after a four year hiatus and along with new band mates Elizabeth Breen, Lindsay Weinberg and Jason McInnes, he’s released Havin’ Stuff and Bein’ Pretty. He spoke with Our Town about his influences, wide-ranging career, and his new band, It’s a Girl.

Our Town Tell me about your new album.
Miki Greenberg With "It's A Girl" we wanted to do a project that was positive and sweet, something that would make a thoughtful person glad they were alive. It is for sunny days or the good kind of rainy day. It is not for tornadoes, floods or funerals. "It's A Girl" is about re-affirming joy and hope as the starting points of a life worth living. It is much easier to make dark, sad art that feels deep. Making happy art that is fulfilling is a huge challenge. The story and theater of [each] song is vital. We use props. Each song has its own very distinct arrangement and live presentation that grows out of the content of the song. Our sound is one or two instruments with two to four singers, no drum kit or electric guitars. Jason plays acoustic guitar, ukulele, banjo, and trumpet. Lindsay and Elizabeth have rich, clear tone and they can blend voices seamlessly; they know how to get inside the emotion and humor in any lyric. The positive and the feminine are two engines driving this CD. Jason and I are men who love life and embrace girl power.

OT What’s your songwriting process like?
MG My songwriting is very intuitive as far as initial melody, structure and story. A lot of my songs write themselves in less then an half an hour. The last song on the CD, "So Aloha" is a perfect example. I signed an e-mail to a friend " you're so a love, so alive,” I looked at it after hitting "send" and the whole song tumbled out. It has an elaborate rhyme scheme that I would never have arrived at by working over time. I do have a huge bag of tricks for editing and making arrangements more interesting once the initial idea forms. Sometimes when an idea is super catchy I wonder if it is new or pulled from memory. Sometimes it is both.

OT Who are your influences?
MG The two bodies of work I try to live up to are the Beatles and Cole Porter. Setting your sights high helps you fail high.

OT You’ve described some of your music as “pop and catchy” yet your songs/albums boast titles such as The Oral History of Anal Sex. This seems like a schism. Is it?
MG Pop music has always been filled with mature images. "I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" is Beatles in the summer of love. Its A Girl is all joy but also silly/sexy. I think we are completely accessible even though we're a little offbeat. Kids like our goofy energy and adults like well written lyrics.

OT Throughout your career you’ve moved from band to band. Did each fulfill a specific function?
MG I was in Maestro Subgum and the Whole for ten years. A lot of folks loved that band and some were deeply moved. The Whole is every emotion all side by side. There is a tremendous freedom in that approach but it can be overwhelming. After that I tried to focus each album around an emotional or lyrical concept and find the people who could best embody the idea.

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Photo by Bret Grafton

“Dance is in my blood,” says Chicago fitness professional Haley Stone. “My mom has a BFA in dance, my sister went to Juilliard on a dance scholarship [and] I’ve been in love with the dance since I was four. It seems really natural with me to fuse my passion for dance and fitness.” As the creator of WERQ which she founded with Julie Steffen, that’s just what Stone has done. “WERQ,” she says “is a dance term. It means you are killing a dance move, dancing with your heart on your sleeve, and living that moment on the dance floor.” Stone spoke with Our Town about group exercise trends, fitness secrets and WERQ’s growing popularity in Chicago and throughout the US.

Our Town What attracted you to the fitness world?
Haley Stone I’ve participated in sports since I was about eleven, but it was in college where I truly got hooked on Group Fitness classes. One of my favorite instructors suggested I get certified. I worked a “real job” for a few years and teaching fitness classes was always an a la carte gig. I decided that the fitness world motivated and challenged me in a way my full time job couldn’t, so I committed to the fitness industry full time and love it.

OT What have been the most significant changes in group fitness over the last decade?
HS What I love about the fitness world is the ever-changing trends. Currently, metabolic conditioning and dance fitness are the popular kids on the block. Step and choreographed kickboxing…not so popular anymore. You have a lot more men participating in classes, which I think is thrilling. To be able to teach men, women, young, old, pregnant, obese and more in one class is a true challenge.

OT What inspired you to create WERQ?
HS WERQ has been in my head for a long time. After working at various gyms and teaching loads of different formats, I just thought I can do this, and if I fail, I’m no worse off than I am right now. My friend and fellow Fitness Pro, Julie Steffen and I were driving in my car after a high-energy class we had taught together. It was apparent to me that we could work together as a team in the fitness studio and in business, so I spilled the idea and she immediately got it. The name, the bigger picture…everything and we began to hash out the details of WERQ.

OT How is WERQ different than Zumba?
HS I get this question all the time. Zumba is Latin and international rhythms with core dance moves you see in every class-salsa, merengue, cumbia, raggaeton. WERQ is all pop, rock, and hip hop, top 40 hits, most popular songs of today. When people already know the songs, they catch on to the steps quickly. Plus, we change up the dance moves so that your body doesn’t get used to doing the same thing over and over and risk repetitive use injuries. Beyond the basics, WERQ has a unique warm up that previews the moves you see in class to “burn the circuit” in the participants’ muscle memory. The cool down combines yoga-inspired static stretching with balance poses for increased ROM and injury prevention. Another major difference, WERQ Instructors are all certified Group Fitness Instructors and are educated on how to deliver a safe and effective WERQout. Once you take a WERQ class, you’ll feel the difference immediately.

OT What if you are the worst dancer ever?
HS Every new person says “I’m the worst dancer ever.” Doesn’t matter. The point of WERQ is to move and have fun doing it. My advice to new people is always the same; give yourself time to get into a groove. The first time you take WERQ, it will be a lot for your brain to handle. But instructors only rotate out a few songs at a time, so the next week, you’ll get to do the same songs again and you’ll be better. The vibe in a WERQ class is fun and free. Give yourself permission to throw your arms in the air, sing along, move your feet and WERQ.

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Recently Salon.Huffington/Slate-Gawker.Jezebel ran a piece claiming that the average Valentine’s day celebration costs upwards of $400 dollars. (XoJane was too busy live blogging a pill-popper’s death rattle, out fat-accepting Nomi Lamm and posting dispatches from asexuals who promote egregious footnote abuse to weigh in.)

To me such extravagance feels smarmy and overwhelming although I did just start Netflixing Gossip Girl for the first time and watching Blake Lively flit around the upper east side being hoarse and vaguely Grecian is enough to make Gandhi sneak out to buy a pair of Tori Burch flats. And I’m no Gandhi. (God, I say that all the time!)

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Really though, the point of Valentines Day is not profligacy, the holiday’s purpose is much more exceptional, far more significant: Valentine’s Day’s sacred function is to allow me to buy as much glittery pink heart adorned clothing and jewelry as possible. Also to provide me with a blog topic and here we go.

Sure it’s Valentine’s Day but that doesn’t mean you have to go the expected route, reserving a table at Blackbird and burying your significant other under mounds of Margie’s Candies. Instead I’ve made you a list of personalized alternatives.

Valentine’s Day Roundup (Off the Beaten Path Edition)

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1. If you grew up wanting to star in (insert one) The Red Shoes/Save the Last Dance/Saturday Night Fever: This weekend River North Dance Chicago’s Harris Theater engagement offers two world premieres, "The Good Goodbyes" featuring choreography by RNDC Artistic Director Frank Chaves as well as the first U.S. commission by Italian choreographer and Artistic Director for Spellbound Dance Company, Mauro Astolfi, entitled "Contact-Me."

River North Dance Company member Lauren Kias says this weekend’s premieres are “based around love and passion.” Specifically, “Good Goodbyes” she says “is a warm and cheerful piece celebrating relationships we have with very special people in our lives. Sultry and romantic pieces by Sidra Bell and Frank Chaves, a comedic scat driven solo by Robert Battle and a intense suite of tangos choreographed by Ruben and Sabrina Veliz round out the six piece Valentines day performance.”
Visit rivernorthchicago.com to learn more.

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Attention Chicago Photographers:

Our Town announces our first PHOTO CONTEST.

Theme: Chicago (Take that as you will.)

Judges: Our Town photographer Patty Michels and Chicago wedding and portrait photographer Amy Harkess.

Send Submissions to: Ourtownphotocontest@gmail.com

Subject Heading: Photo Submission. (If you are emailing with a question, put “Question” in the subject line.)

Specifics: You can submit one photo only. Please put your name and contact information in the body of the email NOT on the picture itself. This is a BLIND contest; the judges will not know the identities of those submitting until they have chosen a winner. Please resize the images such that the photo’s longest side is no greater than 800 pixels. Files should be saved as jpegs.

Contest closes at Midnight February 14th.

The winning photo will appear on the Our Town blog!

Ready-set-go!

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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All Photos by Jill Howe

Scott Whitehair believes in the spoken word. Not spoken word as in a sullen Barnes and Noble cashier’s twenty minute poem about her vagina, although who knows, he might be into that. Whitechair believes in the stories we tell each other, their distinctiveness but also their universality. For three years, his reading series “This Much is True” has compelled enthusiastic audiences to pack The Hopleaf. Our Town spoke with Whitehair about the mounting popularity of reading series in general, and what makes his unique.

Our Town What inspired “This Much is True?”
Scott Whitehair About four years ago, I took a solo workshop at The Annoyance Theater with a wonderful instructor, Paula Killen. Still buzzing from the rush of our performance, a few of us decided it would be fun to continue. We were nomadic at first, just drifting around doing random performances in various coffee shops, some of which would attempt to close for the night before our show was finished. Over the years, we lost some original members and gained some new ones, before landing at The Hopleaf in 2009. Our first shows there were populated by close friends, spouses, and people who owed us money. Currently, we get to standing room only almost 45 minutes before the show starts, which blows our minds every month. A lot has changed, but our goal as a group has remained fairly consistent: tell quality personal stories in an inviting, intimate environment. Also, we love bringing guests in on the fun, and have been blessed with some outstanding featured performers from all corners of the Chicago creative community.

OT What separates yours from other Chicago series?
SW Our audiences make this show special. They are, hands down, the best audiences I have ever been in front of. Not only are they attentive and enthusiastic, but they also have a strong sense of community. We do our part by making the show welcoming and accessible. We want this evening to feel like a gathering of old friends, even if it is your first night joining us.

OT In terms of content, how does a spoken story differ from a story meant to be read alone?
SW There is a huge difference between the written word and oral language. Words are just one element of the told story, arguably no more important than tone of voice, gestures, body language, facial expressions, etc. With the written word, the reader is in control of the experience, alone with the text on his or her own time. However, with storytelling, the experience is much more immediate and collaborative. It is impossible for the storyteller to be absent from the equation in the way that a novelist is. I will say, though, that the written word is definitely easier to bring along to the beach.

OT You’ve studied improv—is there an improv element to successfully articulating a story to a live audience?
SW Absolutely. Storytelling is a conversation, and to ignore what you are getting from the audience is to miss the whole point, in my opinion. The connection and relationship between the teller and the audience dictates the flow of the story. Really, a story should almost never be told the exact same way twice, as every audience is going to have different needs and desires, and a unique energy it brings to the table.

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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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February's Hot Writer: Rachel Bertsche

My genre: Memoir

My literary influences: AJ Jacobs, Tim O'Brien, Gretchen Rubin, Sloane Crosley, Malcolm Gladwell, David Sedaris.

My favorite literary quote: “When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time -- the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes -- when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever -- there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” -- John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

My favorite book of all time: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I’m currently reading: Earlier this evening I finished Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close. Tomorrow I'll start The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

My guilty pleasure book: The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

I can’t write without: procrastinating for three hours first.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Like getting a 99 on a test. It's almost perfect, but not quite." This comes from a poem I wrote in fifth grade. I thought it was very profound.

Brief Bio:
Rachel Bertsche is a journalist in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. Her first book, MWF Seeking BFF, came out last month. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, More, Teen Vogue, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, Women's Health, CNN.com, and more. Before leaving New York (and all her friends) for the Midwest, Bertsche was an editor at O: The Oprah Magazine.

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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