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September 2012 Archives

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My Significant Other is painting the apartment. AGAIN. To clarify, she’s finishing the job she started before the temperature hit 100 degrees and stuck there for roughly 1.2 million weeks. The dog is having the worst day of her life, by the way. Every time SO climbs a ladder, she starts trembling. We think her former owners were abusive stilt-walkers. This has nothing to do with Ever Mainard and Rasa Gierstikas’ stand-up comedy showcase but have you ever tried to write a blog while a dog has an anxiety attack? Not to mention the paint fumes. I’m pretty sure they haven't affected my writing ability though. PINK RHINOCEROS LAP-DANCE HORCHATA. But back to Mainar and Gierstikas. Sh*t Show, their monthly comedy variety show is going gangbusters and they spoke with Our Town about the Chicago scene and more.

Our Town Why change format from traditional open mic to showcase?
Ever Mainard Numbers were low and Rasa and I knew we had to do something.
Rasa Gierstikas We wanted a fun atmosphere where new/seasoned comics felt welcome to perform without the fear of being judged and criticized.
EM We needed the change. We know people miss the open mic, but this is also such a fun, hip, unique show that people - comics and audiences- can be involved in. We have a grown man in a hot dog suit handing out Malort!! 

OT How did you get into stand-up?
RG I was always interested in it but had the worst stage phobia and relied on others to do comedy related things.  When I realized that people weren't always reliable, I decided it was time to suck it up and do stand up.
EM As a child, I really wanted to do something in comedy. When I set out, I wanted to be on SNL. Then as I got older, I started becoming more and more interested in stand up.

OT Ever, your ‘here’s your rape’ bit got a lot of attention. Can you talk about that?
RG Ever stole that from me.
EM I stole it from Rasa..... Well, the joke stemmed from an experience of being followed and being threatened. Of that bit that went viral, only a minute [was rehearsed]. The rest is just a riff.   
 
OT Obviously you think rape jokes have a place in stand-up. Are they always okay? Does it depend on the comedian? Their intention? 
EM Well, that joke started as a joke of being pursued and being threatened and then just morphed. I actually dislike rape jokes. Especially from men. Part of the reason why SH*T SHOW became a show is so we wouldn’t have to listen to poorly structured rape jokes time after time and then have the word "RAPE!" inserted for shock value. We get it. You're edgy.
 
OT What do you like/dislike about the Chicago comedy scene?
RG Like: Some of the people I've met.  Dislike:  Some of the people I've met.
EM I have to agree with Rasa.

OT Every single Chicago performer I’ve fallen for has left for Los Angeles. Are you going to abandon me too?
EM Sooner or later, but for now, I'll keep building here. 
OT That was cold, man.Tips for wannabe comedians? 
RG If this is really your passion, pursue it, but don't let other comics’ insecurities affect your confidence level.
EM Agreed. The first time I did ChUC (chicago underground comedy) a comic came up to me right before my set and said "You? How did YOU get this show?" I had a great set and then later became a cast member. You really just have to stick to what you're doing. It gets hard not to get sidetracked, but stick to it!

PINK RHINO OSTEOPOROSIS. I mean...go see their show at Shambles Bar. Last Friday of every month. 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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Anne Elizabeth Moore wants to you to see Cambodia through her eyes, or at least through her camera’s lens. A Fulbright scholar, UN Press Fellow and award winning author, Moore has “spent much of the last five years in and thinking about Cambodia.” Now she’s ready to tell an image-driven story that celebrates a country rife with contradictions.

OT Your book is called Hip Hop Apsara: Ghosts Past and Present. Can you talk a little bout the title?
AEM Well, Hip Hop Apsara was what I'd always called these public dances down on the riverside, because they really do combine blasting hip hop music (and other kinds, too) with intricate Apsara dance moves. The dance scenes I photographed—it's sort of becoming standard now, for films shot in or about Cambodia in any way, to show these big dance parties. They're very tourist-friendly, and they do make for some amazing images. But it is an extremely odd mix of very traditional Khmer ballet with a deliberately janky, clunky, hip-hop sound and fashion aesthetic, especially when, earlier in the evening, you see it's mostly survivors of mass killing and genocide out busting a move. The subtitle, Ghosts Past and Present, is equally important. Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people were killed in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and before that American bombings killed hundreds of thousands of people and livestock, which some estimate eventually killed about as many as under the brutal regime. Then after that, there were 20 years of civil war and poverty. A lot of people died. Its important to remember why and how, even if you're getting over the loss.

OT How does one unite words and images? Were the photos and essay done independently? Did you write essays to compliment chosen photos? Did you snap pictures that related to already written pieces?
AEM After five years of traveling in Southeast Asia, I had all these images, experimental things I would do with my camera when we were out at these big aerobics gatherings—the young women I was living with, and who are still my friends, who took me there—they were not terribly impressed by my dancing ability. So I photographed. Almost every night I could, actually: I loved being out in public that way with Cambodians enjoying themselves, taking up space, being loud. I did end up with several thousands images, though. Once the images were edited down, I sat down and was like, OK, my publisher says I have to write something. I'd wanted to create an interesting and complex enough narrative from the images alone, but she kept saying, I think a little bit of explication would be nice. So when I sat down to write, I didn't let myself get caught up in, is this factual? Will I be able to get permission to quote this? Am I saying it in a way that will damage the people I know there?—These are all the dangers of journalism in Cambodia: that the people you write about will be prosecuted for saying the things you have written down. It's pretty nerve-wracking. A journalist, covering the illegal logging trade, was just discovered dead last week; another one was shot a few weeks before that. So loosening the stories from this journalistic directive and letting them stand as solitary narratives that maybe aren't hinged in traceable location—it let me tell a different kind of story. A deeper story, and one that's maybe more true than anything else I've been able to write about Cambodia before. But it's not journalism.

OT Cambodia seems in flux at this point. What have your experiences been like relative to the rapidly changing culture?
AEM That's actually the subject of my next book, which is a follow-up to Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh—which just won a SATW Foundation Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism! It's called New Girl Law, and it looks at the impact of neoliberalism and globalization—like the kind Nick Kristof espouses in Half the Sky—on the women I've worked with over the last five years. Although it's great that fewer people are in poverty, women are still paid about half of living wage to work in the garment factories there—70% of which export clothing to the US. Even if we pay attention to someone like Kristof and focus on education, we see loss: young people's traditional values are being replaced with a very Western set of desires, which directly benefits global media and disadvantages folks there who might have something to say. And that's really just the good side, still: Press freedom doesn't exist, corruption is still out of control, domestic violence common. This White Savior Industrial Complex business is, in even the medium run, going to be very, very damaging—I mean, I've already seen it. If we can foster critical thinking and support communities of resistance there—local folks, like the Messenger Band that show up toward the end of Hip Hop Apsara—who have a good idea of how to make international support useful—at least we can mitigate some of the negative effects of globalization.


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All Photos by Patty Michels

I first found out about cake artist Michele McAtee through a friend, appropriate, because that’s also how McAtee began her business: word of mouth from friend to enthusiastic friend. As the owner of Maddiebird Bakery, McAtee works out of Metropolis Coffee Company, designing cakes and cupcakes for all manner of occasion. Not only did she speak with Our Town about her company’s origin and possible future, but she also gave me four cupcakes. I will never be the same.

Our Town Actor to baker--logical trajectory?
Michele McAtee Well, no. But what both careers did and do for me was to provide me with an artistic outlet. I wanted to be a visual artist when I was a little girl, but right around high school, around that time when I really started to grapple with tough emotional growing-up stuff--identity stuff--I was drawn into the theatre world. I loved pretending to be someone else. It was a great escape. It was never a question that I would major in Theatre and after graduating from Northwestern, go into theatre as a profession. For fifteen years after graduation, I was fortunate [to] work professionally here in Chicago and regionally. However, my priorities and perspective changed steadily and significantly, and by the time I became pregnant with my daughter, I pretty much knew I was done. I finally decided after all the years of trying to pursue roles and portray characters and tell stories written, directed, and cast by other people for other people, I wanted to tell my own story and just be myself, whoever that was. It was during that first year of new motherhood that I went through this total identity crisis and eventually reconnected to the visual artist inside.

OT What makes baking a creative outlet?
MM I find baking very scientific, and mathematical. It's basically chemistry--tasty chemistry. The designing and decorating is where my creativity thrives. I remember when I first started seriously doing this I told my husband, “I just don’t really feel like a baker, though, you know?” And he said, “You’re not a baker. You’re a “cake artist.” You bake your canvases. And they just happen to taste real good.”

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OT The first cake you baked was for your daughter. Can you talk about that experience?
MM As Maddie's first birthday approached in May of 2010, I decided I was going to make Maddie’s cake myself. I’d never decorated a cake in my life. I didn't even own a mixer; I borrowed my friend’s KitchenAid by dragging it in a big red wagon down the block to my house. I started looking online for recipes, and then decorating ideas, and that’s how I discovered what fondant was, where to get it, and how to work with it. It became a real project, and I loved it. The best part was that it really ended up being as lovely, adorable and spirited as Maddie herself. And it tasted pretty good, too. Our friends who were at the party were impressed, if not totally perplexed, that I’d made the cake myself, and started asking me to do their cakes. Word got around and soon enough, total strangers were contacting me, asking if I could do a cake for them. I was just as surprised as anyone else that I had any kind of talent or skill at baking or decorating cakes.  

OT So you learned on the fly. What was that like for you?
MM When I started making cakes for friends, they’d tell me what they wanted, and I just said “yes.” Then, I’d totally freak out because I had no idea how I was going to pull it off! Eventually, after some experimentation, I’d figure it out and make it happen for them. There’s a small sense of pride I feel in that learning process, but I wish I’d had a mentor or been someone’s apprentice because it would have saved me a lot of anxiety, grief and self-doubt. The only baker in my family was my grandmother Virginia, for whom Madeline is named. I never got to know Virginia, she died when I was six months old. I like to think that whatever talent I have for baking is a gift from her.

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Ever wonder if Bill Pullman’s romantic comedy career has taken a toll on the actor? Does he resent Tom Hanks? Get tired of losing the girl? Playwright Brian Work did so he created Once Upon a Rom Com: A Bill Pullman Story. But one fictionalized famous guy wasn’t enough for work. Says director Neal Fischer, “with the backdrop of a fairy tale, [Work] needed a good Fairy Godmother, or in this case, Godfather. He decided to pick one of his favorite actors, and someone who he knew would be a terrific and neurotic narrator. That man is of course Jeff Goldblum.” Fischer immediately warmed to Work’s script and he thinks audiences will too.

Our Town The show seems to both gently mock rom coms yet fit within the genre. How does that work?
Neal Fischer When I approached the script, I had one thing on my mind: Story. Whether it's film, TV, stage, poetry, books-- the most important element is always the story. You can have all the effects, bells and whistles, big name actors, but with no story it won't work. At the center of this play is a love story [about] a guy down on his luck, who is misunderstood and always pushed aside. I think most guys have felt that at one point or another and I knew that's what I wanted to build from. So as far as mocking rom coms, but fitting in, it was a delicate balance I was always cautious of. There are some pretty slapstick moments, and funny one-liners, but there are also some very sweet moments. Some of that was in the script, but with my direction I wanted to capitalize on the chemistry between Bill Pullman (Philip Platakis) and Karen (Madalyn Mattsey). I needed to make sure that their arc was strong enough to stand on its own. If their relationship wasn't believable, even with all the crazy antics, then no one would buy the show or the story.

OT Any qualms about working with a fictionalization of an actual person?
NF When I read the title for the first time I was excited but cautious. I'm a big movie buff, and film is my passion. I knew before reading it that I couldn't sign on to direct it if just made fun of the actors. Luckily Brian had that figured out, and I directed it in a way where I hope Bill and Jeff would be proud and flattered. I think in any situation like this your first thought is, "Will Bill Pullman be mad at me?" "If Jeff Goldblum sees this, will he punch me, or Brian?" After that initial thought, I completely forgot about it. Brian's script doesn't make fun of Bill Pullman, or Jeff Goldblum, but really celebrates them and the characters they played.

OT As a director, did you encourage your actors to emulate the real people they represent? How did you guard against caricature? 
NF That's a great question. I was very conscious of that; in the audition posting for Bill and Jeff, I put "mannerisms and vocal impression welcomed but not mandatory." I didn't want this to be an hour long impression show, with some dialogue in between. I had a lengthy conversation with Phil when he asked if he should study Pullman and get him down exactly. I told him that above all else, people need to relate to him, to feel for him, and that must come first for the story. So Phil did his research, and we worked on a few minor character traits that Pullman possesses and Phil got them down to a point where if you know Pullman, you get it right away. If not, Phil is just a very real guy.
Jeremy Eden on the other hand. Wow. He has Jeff Goldblum down. With Phil as the straight man, I basically let Jeremy loose with his Goldblum.

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What if men wore makeup and earned less than women? What if they clicked around in heels and were afraid to walk alone at night? Chicago writer/performer Vincent Truman asks these questions in his new play Venus Envy. He spoke with Our Town about directing, feminism and “Glen Steinem.”

Our Town Stereotypically, one might expect a play like Venus Envy to have been written by a woman. Thoughts?
Vincent Truman I think that's a marvelous idea.  I wish one would have.  

OT What was your original inspiration for the play?
VT The year 1920.  That was the year that women, after a 40+ year struggle, finally got the right to vote.  Although this was pretty common knowledge amongst my peers when I grew up, I have been appalled to discover that the majority of my younger female friends had no idea of this date or the importance of it.  Perhaps it is because there are not enough monuments for women's history - there are few Martin Luther King Drives or Stonewalls for women - but I do not see the ignorance (not stupidity) of their own history to be a primary cause for the erosion of women's rights, especially recently.  That bothered me intensely.  I knew I could not write a play about women's history, but I could do a "flip," make it a woman's world in which women deride men for not knowing their history.  That way, I could get the point across without being too aggressive or preachy.
 
OT The concept you're working with is one seen before--in 1986 Gloria Steinem wrote an essay imagining the sort of world you’ve set up--how do you move beyond a clever idea to create the depth needed to fuel a full show?
VT Indeed!  And before that, Norman Lear concepted a short-lived show called 'All That Glitters' which had the same conceit.  What I did with Venus Envy was gave lip service to the surface issues - men wear make-up in the play while the women do not - and did a great deal of research into how society and civilization evolved thousands of years ago.  Prior to the emergence of the three major monotheisms that are so prevalent, many theologies were based on and around woman.  The three monotheisms have, for millennia, made a concentrated effort to keep women in their place (making them, literally, chattel, along with cows, pigs, homes and other things owned by men).  For Venus, I stripped those out of history altogether (replacing them with a female version of Christianity), which affected the majority of the writing, attitudes and performance.  The hunter/gatherers in Venus are errand boys, not claimants of power.

On that score, there was much discussion about the word 'empowered.'  Most of the female actors responded favorably to the concept when we first started discussing the piece.  I then asked them, 'what would the world be like if you weren't empowered at all... but you simply had the power to begin with?'  There were so many eye-opening moments in the rehearsal process for everyone, but that was a big one.  Everyone's performance changed.

Incidentally, Gloria Steinem is namechecked in the play, but is remarked on as 'Glen Steinem.'  There are so many references that have been flipped - the three main characters meet at a restaurant on Coretta Scott Boulevard, there's discussion of how many children President Rodham has - that I don't think I can count them all.

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September's Hot Writer: Brendan Detzner

My genre: Kind of all over the place- I tend to submit stories to horror magazines and get told they're not horror enough. The novel I'm working on is set in a maximum security prison for teenage girls and is only a little speculative, while the novel I'm shopping around is a dark fantasy "Young John Constantine adventures" type deal.
 
My literary influences: Also kind of all over the place, and very dependent on what I'm working on. For the novel I'm working on right now, Andrew Vachss, Richard Price, George Pelecanos, Edward Limonov. For short stories, I always end up circling back around to Kafka, and as far as contemporaries are concerned I look up to Neil Gaiman and Caitlin R. Kiernan quite a bit.

My favorite literary quote: "Writing is like sex. It's only fun for the amateurs." --Hunter S. Thompson

My favorite book of all time: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I’m currently reading: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

My guilty pleasure book: Not that guilty, but any Order of the Stick collection.

I can’t write without: A variety of low-key distractions.

Worst line I ever wrote: "Someone had to be the bitch." Not that it's that bad, but it was meant to be a lot less dirty in context, only to be made about ten times more dirty sounding by the very British actress who did the audio production of the story. Totally worth it, even if it wasn't the plan.

Brief Bio: Brendan Detzner is a Chicago horror-and-other-stuff writer whose work has been featured in Chizine, Pseudopod, Edge of Propinquity, Ruthless Peoples, Gothic.net, and the Twilight Tales anthology "Book of Dead Things". He has been a featured reader at Reading Under the Influence and Twilight Tales, and was a part of the late lamented Cult Fiction quarterly performance series. You can read and listen to his work at brendandetzner.com, where you can also purchase his short story collection "Scarce Resources" (a fantastic way to fill a stocking if you're so inclined). He also runs Bad Grammar Theater, a reading series that takes place every second Friday of the month. New stories start every hour and half hour, come in any time you want!

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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