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August 2012 Archives

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Last year writer/performer Kate Healy was a Chicago Fringe Fest newbie but this year she’s back with a rave from Time Out Chicago under her belt and Lie Light, a new show which uses literal bindings to illuminate the repercussions of small, daily lies. Healy spoke with Our Town about the purpose of lying and the ethics of using real people as inspiration.

Our Town Is lying necessary?
Kate Healy It is if you want to be liked by all, never get in trouble, and never change. We say we like the truth but we tell and accept lies because we don’t want to own our mistakes and deficiencies. In some cases our pride is more important than someone else’s feelings, in some cases hiding evil is more important than watching innocence suffer, in some cases pumping someone full of faith is necessary to get the opportunity you’re after. But that choice, because it is a choice, alters you permanently.

OT What inspired your new show?
KH At the end of a relationship, I was feeling particularly vulnerable and started protecting myself with little lies. They felt harmless, but I was anxiety-ridden and impossible to get to know. My play is not autobiographical, but it comes from the feeling I had of wanting to appear in control.

OT As a writer what are your responsibilities when you write about other people?
KH I think they have a right to know. If you write about others it's not fully your story. I think it’s important to know why you’re writing, why you’re compelled to record and share the selected events and people. Lately it seems I only learn from true stories.
 
OT
What are the ethics of using another person's experience in your art?
KH There is no need for apology. I don’t know if a true artist ever apologizes [but] you have to be brave enough to state the source, approach the source, and honor the source. It is humbling to admit that you learned from others, that who you are is a constant work of progress with contributions from anyone you’ve ever met or read or listened to. I believe it says something beautiful about art, that one might live and work in the voices of others to eventually arrive at what they want to express and find their own form of communication.

OT Your show uses actual bindings to represent lies. Employing a visual metaphor, how do you avoid being heavy handed, yet also get your point across?
KH I wanted to show in a physical and material way, how we guard our feelings. The visual of a rope being attached to each character gives the audience a complicated agency. It allows them to discern a character’s strength, see the insecurities that the lies are coming from, and watch how that spirals out of control or gets reeled back. It will be clear who is lying, but very difficult to decide who is right, who is good, and if the truth should even come out. The world of this play is set up by a narrator who is experimenting. I play Gracie, and she builds this thought-machine that allows her to see when she is being lied to, but as soon as hears truths about herself the world starts to break down. To me it is a symbol that if you’ve been lied to, the bigger problem is that you can’t believe again.  

'Lie Light' shows at the Chicago Art Department Shows are August 31 at 8:30 p.m., September 1 at 7 p.m., September 7 at 10 p.m., September 8 at 5:30 p.m. and September 9 at
2:30 p.m.

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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Want to know what your therapist is really thinking? Yeah, me neither. Writer/performer and yep, therapist Jude Treder-Wolff is here to tell you though. Her one woman show Crazytown: My First Psychopath hits the Chicago Fringe Fest this week. A comic take on an over-eager therapist's wake up call, Crazytown evolved over years of solo performance work. Treder-Wolff spoke with Our Town about the relationship between art and therapy and how to nurture a heckler.

Our Town How do performance, therapy and writing relate?
Jude Treder-Wolff From my perspective, an effective performance, therapeutic process or piece of writing deals with some kind of transformation. A person who begins in one circumstance or state of mind, faces obstacles, tries various ways to overcome the obstacles and is changed by the process. It may not be the change one envisioned or even wanted at the start of the process, but that is often because in facing down the obstacles we discover things – inner strengths, hidden connections between events or people, secrets or truths that redefine the problem - that could not be discovered without those obstacles. The role of performer and therapist are linked in the sense that an effective performance takes an audience through some kind of emotional experience, but entirely different in every other way. As a psychotherapist, my opinions, feelings, and concerns have to be put to the side so I can give my full attention and connect as deeply as possible to the person or group in front of me. The role is about good listening, good timing and creative guidance to help a person discover their own strength, creative capacities and path out of the problems they face. The performer role is me with my big opinions and big mouth out in front of people sharing what I really think about things. Being a performer made me a more effective therapist because I had this outlet to express ideas and work through my own perfectionism, fear of being judged, negativity, desire for control and disappointments which continue to flare up all the time in the process of creating or writing anything. Working through those issues has the side effect of expanding awareness about other people and their stories, which translates into being a more effective therapist.

OT Molding real life events into a story with a compelling narrative arc can be tough. How did you go about deciding what was interesting to you vs what might interest an audience?
JTW This is a great question. Just because something interesting or dramatic happened in real life does not make it viable as an entertaining story onstage. Because I started writing monologues exploring an idea or a theme and I often use vignettes or experiences from my own life when doing training or shows on these themes, I have lots of opportunity to see how a story lands on an audience. For example, I run a Smoking Cessation Program for a very large company on Long Island, and most of the participants are pretty cranky about having to be in the program. If I can get a laugh from a group in an 8 a.m. workplace smoking cessation group or staff meeting, I know I can get that laugh from an audience in a theater. So I have a great deal of real-time opportunities to try out and sharpen the stories of real experiences from my own life that make the point I want to make. The evolution of Crazytown has been almost an 18-month process of improvisation. Every performance was different, because I was trying out different ways to tell the overall story. The audience response is immediate and shows me clearly what works, what should be changed, and what needs to be cut.

OT I’m curious about what sort of moral quandaries might have resulted from using real-life clients to create entertainment.
JTW I’ll clarify right away that although until about two years ago I was seeing psychotherapy clients, I never used any of their stories in my shows. While the material and the characters created for my shows are rooted in real-life dilemmas common to many people who show up for psychotherapy, they are about my failures, flaws, and flops. It would be a terrible violation of the therapist/client relationship – not to mention of their ethically-enforced right to confidentiality - to use what I heard in sessions onstage. That said, in Crazytown I am telling a story about my struggle, my fear and my obstacles through a real event with a real person in a real place. Details of everyone involved are completely disguised.

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Chicago-based cookbook author Anupy Singla has cultivated a devoted following by showing readers how to master Indian spices and make great-tasting Indian food at home. In her second offering, Vegan Indian Cooking, she tackles the perhaps more difficult endeavor of demystifying vegan cuisine.
Our Town spoke with Singla about the benefits of eating vegan.


Our Town
What originally inspired you to write your first cookbook?
Anupy Singla I have always wanted to write an Indian cookbook for the slow cooker. I know. It sounds a little crazy, but my mother was one of the first in America to cook Indian food in a slow cooker. I always told her that I would write a cookbook filled with her and my recipes. She never thought people would buy it, but it's now been the No. 1 Indian cookbook on Amazon.com for essentially two years.

OT How did you go about compiling recipes this time?
AS The recipes in Vegan Indian result from years of being predominantly Vegan. I started eating like this in graduate school in 1994. Many recipes are also basic Indian recipes that I love to make and are inherently vegan to begin with. I also took many Indian recipes and made them with whole grain options like brown rice and quinoa - an ode to the way I love to eat and feed my family - also something I learned from my mother.

OT Why go Vegan?
AS I [compare] vegan eating to clean eating. It's just less taxing on your digestive system. But I advocate taking it day-by-day and meal-by-meal. Don't feel like you can never eat an egg again. Look for delicious recipes to fill the gaps for you and you may find that you don't even miss the meat. I grew up eating this way, and so home-style Indian just seems so intuitive to me. I was shocked to learn that it's not something many others know about. I'm so excited to share my way of eating now with the world.

OT What’s the most common misapprehension about Veganism?
AS That it's a 'kookie' way to eat - that somehow all of US want to convert YOU. That the folks telling you to do it are the ones that are looking to deprive you of the foods you know and love. That's why I approach it from a place of going vegan is not about what you can't eat. It's about what you can now eat. Add the flavor from spices and the beans and lentils and you'll just naturally need less and less meat to fulfill you. So many of my readers write that they are not vegan - but love my recipes because they are hearty vegan options that can serve as go-to recipes when they want to limit the meat in their meal or in their day.

OT What is a good replacement for ghee in vegan Indian cooking?
AS I never grew up cooking with or eating ghee so it's a myth that all Indian households must use ghee in their cooking. In South Indian households they rarely use ghee. I love any vegetable-based oil. My favorite these days is grape seed oil, because it's a clean tasting oil that pairs well when used with Indian ingredients, and it has a high smoke point. Other oils like canola and vegetable works fine as well.

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Jazzy Chicagoan Jennifer Hall writes music that combines youthful exuberance and old fashioned sincerity. Hailing from the Chicago suburbs, Hall is a versatile vocalist influenced by the likes of Edith Piaf and Ray Charles. Her new album, “In This” provides a snappy blend of pop, jazz and soul. Our Town spoke with Hall about the Chicago music scene, her writing and um, Glee.

Our Town You count jazz as an influence. How does that express itself in your writing?
Jennifer Hall Throughout high school I listened to a lot of old jazz standards sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. I loved the way Ella would linger on certain notes or hold her  phrases  almost as if she were stripping the emotion out of the words. I love how in jazz you are allowed to play around with the rhythm  and then catch up later.  Ben, our keys player and Mat, our drummer also happen to be excellent jazz players. Their parts definitely reveal their jazz influences.

OT How does the band write?
JH It feels great to say that the ways the songs are being written lately are changing.  Before, I would  bring lyrics and melody to our guitarist, Noam. He would write chords and do the arranging. Now our writing process has diversified and every band member contributes. 

OT Do you feel more at home as a songwriter or performer, or do both experiences inform each other?
JH Coming from musical theater and choir growing up, I think I will always feel more at home as a performer, although I am embracing writing more as time goes on.

OT Right, you grew up participating in choir and show choir.
JH I learned how to have strong work ethic in that the best songs didn't come easy but required immense focus and a great deal of work.  Those things have really stayed with me almost ten years later and have shaped how I approach making music.

OT Okay, but is show choir anything like Glee?
JH It was a blast. We did shows for the local elementary schools, nursing homes, community events.  Although I've only seen Glee a few times it seems like it was pretty similar! There was definitely some high school drama, plenty of young love  but mostly it was about people coming together to sing and have fun. 

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OT What’s your favorite aspect of the Chicago music scene?
JH The Chicago music scene is really supportive. From the talent buyers, to the artists to the concert goers, everyone seems to really appreciate one another and sees how we all need each other to have a great night of music.

OT Favorite venue?
JH If I meet someone out of town who needs something to do for the evening I send them to The Metro or Lincoln Hall.  At Lincoln Hall the food is incredible and the staff is so friendly.  Metro has  a beautiful stage and the sound is awesome.  

OT I’ve heard the national anthem is pretty vocally tough. What was it like to sing it at Wrigley Field?
JH I guess it is tough because the range is pretty wide. This year,  I brought a pitch pipe to Wrigley Field to make sure I started off on the right note!  It was a such a great evening, singing there this year. The Cubs staff was so helpful and supportive.  I hope to be back next year.

Jennifer Hall plays The Metro August 31st at 8 p.m.

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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“Doesn’t this remind you of life with your sister?” my friend asked. Onstage, three corseted actresses clung to each other, sobbing, philosophizing and exchanging barbs. My friend was joking of course, pointing out the melodrama inherent in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, but she’d unwittingly identified the source of the playwright’s strength and staying power. So what if his work is punctuated by suicide attempts and fatal duels? Blame my Russian ancestors, but I absolutely relate. Life’s like that sometimes and its Chekhov’s ability to harness life’s heartbreaking absurdity that has kept his work relevant for over one hundred years.

Our Town spoke with Three Sisters actress Caroline Neff about Steppenwolf’s solid production and Chekhov’s dexterity concerning the union of pathos and mundanity.

Our Town You’re from Texas. Why head to Chicago rather than one of the coasts?
Caroline Neff When I moved here at nineteen, I knew someone that lived here and Columbia had accepted me [but] as I get older, it makes more sense why Chicago was the place I landed. I stay because there is an integrity that I cherish and hope that I do justice to. The level of work here is unprecedented. There is a community of people who essentially work two full time jobs (day job plus theater job) because they love it and they think it's important. That kind of dedication is really breathtaking and it compels everyone in the community to work harder.

OT How do you go about breaking down a script?
CN Breaking down a script is tricky. Everyone has their own methods and mine is by no means the "right" way. If I'm not careful, I will read, and re-read a script that I'm working on until I've cemented a ton of decisions, making it difficult to change those opinions once I'm in a rehearsal room with the director and the cast. So I try to do the technical elements of it, like learning my lines without imbuing it with anything until I've sat down and read it with the group. I always try to make choices that I believe in, but that I can change. 

OT What sort of work do you do to create a character?
CN I think there is a part of a well written character that anyone can identify with, so that's the first thing I look for. What about this person can I identify with, from the type of clothing they wear to their reactions to certain situations. We've all made good and bad decisions, so finding where those come from can be really universal and incredibly cathartic. A lot of creating a character just comes from rehearsal time though, finding the modes of interaction that are successful with the other people in the room, but sometimes, even though you do all the work creating the character in your rehearsal room, the identity can be solidified with the things your designers put you in. The lighting, costumes, set and sound can inform your choices like crazy. In Three Sisters, it is hard not to be aware of the corset which changes the movement, so I can't make the same physical decision that I would were I in something different.

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Jeff Kauck Photography

Photographer Jeff Kauck is a man of few words. Good thing his pictures are worth a thousand--or more. Perhaps most famous for his food photography, Kauck has garnered a multitude of accolades including a James Beard nomination for his work on The Spiaggia Cookbook, as well as a Clio Award, one of the advertising industry’s highest honors. Though Kauck began as a watercolor painter, he made a smooth transition to commercial photography, relocating to Chicago and opening a studio with his wife. Kauck spoke with Our Town. But only a little.

Our Town How has your training as a watercolor painter influenced your photography?
Jeff Kauck Painters have a tendency to know more about getting light to lift then photographers. They have to understand the color of the highlights versus the color of the shadows. In addition a watercolor painter typically does not use white paint. They need to leave the unpainted white paper to represent white. So they must be aware and protective of that area before they start painting.

OT What’s interesting to you about food photography? 
JK I love to eat great food. And the quality time that eating together represents. It's also the closest thing to painting for me.

OT You must have some favorite Chicago restaurants. 
JK My wife's kitchen. She is an amazing cook.


OT Any dishes that you love but don’t translate well to visual representation? 
JK It's more a personal thing. Some people don't like to look at a whole fish or dead game. But they love how they taste.

OT What have been some travel highlights from your work in food photography?
JK I've been very lucky to work with the light from many parts of the world. No two are alike. Southern France, Asia, Mexico, New England-- all have a unique color and feel
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August's Hot Writer: Ben Tanzer

My genre: I think it's called, "Pop culture infused real time domestic dramas rife with confusion, coping and endless attempts to communicate, something, anything, and in any way the characters can think of doing so." Though some just call it fiction.

My literary influences: Endless and varying. And more about the look, taste and feel of the storytelling, than theme or language. Jim Carroll. The Ramones. Don DeGrazia. Dorothy Allison. Scott Haim. Junot Diaz. Andre Dubus. Raymond Carver. Ray Bradbury. The Beastie Boys. Chris Ware. Jay-Z. David Cronenberg. Joe Meno. Lynda Barry. Bruce Springsteen. And Patrick Ewing. 

My favorite literary quote: "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

My favorite book of all time: The Basketball Diaries. Isn't that everybody's favorite book?

I’m currently reading: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. And literally just finished a number of books including AYITI by Roxane Gay and Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell

My guilty pleasure book: Flowers in the Attic. The greatest guilty pleasure book of all time. Hands down. Done. Outside of Hollywood Wives of course. 

I can’t write without: Time. And Cow Tales.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Dad explained that while our family would never accept help from anyone, especially the government, there were good people who needed it. I immediately felt sorry for Mrs. Olsen — sorry for anyone who needed to rely on others for that kind of help. And I was glad that we would never be in that position."  Oh wait, that's not me, that's from The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck. Sorry. Let me confirm with my publicist what I'm allowed to say here.

Brief Bio: Ben Tanzer is the author of the books 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You and My Father's House among others. Ben also oversees day to day operations of "This Zine Will Change Your Life" and can be found online at "This Blog Will Change Your Life" the center of his vast, albeit faux media empire.

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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