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December 2012 Archives


Name: Shayna X Kramer

Age: 33

Day job:  Retail Manager

Why do you run? Running fulfills me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

How long have you been running? I had never done anything athletic before the summer of 2005 when I did my first sprint triathlon.  A few years later, I did my first running only race and realized I can do this! 

What makes someone a runner?
Whether a few blocks or a few marathons, anyone who runs is a runner. 

Miles per week:
Majorly varies 20-50

Mile time:  Nine minutes. I am a long distance runner, so I need to work on a killer one-miler. 

Select races you’ve competed in (if any):
7 Marathons, Chicago Marathon, of course! Other favorites (besides Chicago): Detroit- You run over the bridge to Windsor, Canada and then under the tunnel back, and the Twin Cities-You run the rolling hills from Minneapolis to Saint Paul, 4 Half Marathons, 3 Olympic Triathlons, 7 Sprint Triathlons, and some fun runs, including Proud to Run.

Favorite running route(s): Destination run:  Where I run to a desired destination, like a BBQ; Commute run: Run from one place to another, usually from work to home; Theme run: Use a route according to a specific theme, such as diagonal streets; Educational run: Create a route with a specific educational goal. For example, a 12 mile run on Martin Luther King Day where I ran by 18 black historical landmarks in Chicago; Nature run: Route through nature, usually Lake Shore path; Social run: Running with a friend.  Love this because it is great to chat and usually a faster-paced run; Holiday run:  Running on a holiday.  For example, a 13 mile run ensures the best Thanksgiving feast ever; Meditation run: Running and balancing your soul at the same time. 

Best run: Running 10 out of 13 miles with a complete stranger on Thanksgiving day because it seemed someone in a car was stalking me.

Worst run: Any run that I have to go bathroom bad and can't.


January's Hot Writer: J. Yael Katz

My genre: Brevity. Whether fiction or personal essay these days I am trying to keep things short. 
My literary influences:  This week I'd say James Joyce, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jhumpa Lahiri, Raymond Carver, Kurt Vonnegut, Shel Silverstein.  And of course  L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, who really turned me onto to run-on paragraphs and abusing adjectives at a young age. 

My favorite literary quote: "For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." - Hamlet. I need to start carrying this quote on my person. 
My favorite book of all time: Forgive me for not following directions.  One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez is probably tops. But close behind? Atwood's Alias Grace blows me away every time. Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos is divine. As is The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. He pulls off a First Person Plural Narrator like a sweater on a warm day. 
I’m currently reading: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Devastating. But  needed.
My guilty pleasure book: How to Be a Jewish Mother, by Dan Greenburg. It teaches you how to put the pleasure back in guilt. 

I can’t write without:
A pen and paper next to me. You never know when you're going to need to doodle.
Worst line I ever wrote: Quote from a poem I wrote at age 12: "Yesterday, life was so simple, so carefree. What happened to yesterday? What happened to me?" I think this was written shortly after discovering that I was the only girl in my ballet class who had "blossomed" over summer vacation. Clearly, I was having a newly pubescent moment of mortification. Leotards will do that.
Brief Bio: J. Yael Katz has a B.A. from the University of Michigan in English and Creative Writing. Until most recently, she has been taking a sojourn from publicly sharing her work, comprised mostly of storytelling, short fiction, and personal essay. She is currently accepting audiences. 

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

Photo by Johnny Knight

Stage Left Artistic Director Vance Smith is pumped to be directing Pygmalion, in partnership with BoHo Theatre. An actor himself, Smith says he depended on his cast to use their creativity to shape the show. The result? an exciting new take on a classic. Smith spoke with Our Town about his directing style, rehearsal highlights, and what he’s up to next.

Our Town
Stage Left’s mission is to produce and develop plays that raise debate on political and social issues. How does Pygmalion fit?
Vance Smith We have dedicated this entire season to plays which examine societal perceptions and expectations of women, so Pygmalion is a slam dunk.  A rich man takes in a poor woman and attempts to transform her in a way that will elevate her position in society.  Shaw, of course, is one of the fathers of political theater and while this is certainly one of his most accessible works, the gender and class issues inherent in the premise are at the forefront of the conflict.  But in a funny way!  It's a comedy!

OT When tackling a classic like Pygmalion, do you look to other productions for inspiration?
VC I looked at some pictures from other productions.  I read a couple of reviews of recent revivals that informed my approach.  I watched the 1938 film and have of course seen My Fair Lady, which was adapted from this play and features a lot of the same dialogue. But what struck me when I first read this script over a year ago was how contemporary it felt.  Our production commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first production.  And while I wanted to be familiar with and honor the great history of this script, it was very important that I not come into the process with too many preconceived notions.  I wanted to make sure we had the flexibility to create our own interpretation and I feel like that is what we have done. 

OT What’s your directing style?
VS I have a general approach and an aesthetic in mind which guides the hiring and casting processes.   Once I get all of the right people together, I want their ideas to shape the piece.  I think of the rehearsal process as a conversation about the script with a room full of really talented people. The best ideas won't always come from me and sometimes I won't even have an answer to the question at all.  It's my job to hire the right artists and then synthesize their work into a cohesive whole. I am also working this time with an Associate Director, Peter Robel from BoHo and his voice has been very valuable.

OT You’re an actor as well as a director. How do the two inform each other?
VS I was an actor first so I tend to approach the script initially as an actor, focusing on the words, characters and relationships.  I think my experience onstage helps me talk to actors and get excellent performances out of them.  I think they trust me because they can tell I know where they're coming from.  Directing has given me a lot of perspective as an actor.  It has demystified the processes of casting and rehearsal.  I have a better understanding of what a director wants and expects than I did before.  Also, before I directed, I had a lot of curiosity about it and would become distracted by parts of the process that had nothing to do with me or my character.  Now when I get a chance to act it's like a vacation to be able to focus intently on only one piece of the puzzle. 

Seth Glier

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In just a few short years, Singer/songwriter Seth Glier has gone from opening act to headliner to Grammy nominee. He took time before his upcoming Chicago show to speak with Our Town about his influences, his work for Autism Speaks and how much he like's Hot Doug’s.

Our Town How would you describe your sound?
Seth Glier I like to describe myself as a writer-song-singer. I think my style is storytelling pop music. I love big melodies that get in your head, but I also believe in lyrical content and I want to bring that content back into pop music.

OT Who are your influences?
SG I love Randy Newman, Jackson Browne, & Joni Mitchell. Right now I'm listening to Indian music.

OT You’ve shared the stage with a diverse group of musicians. Who have been some favorites?
SG I've been really lucky to see and get an upfront perspective of some of the greats in the music business. My dad always used to say to me "it's nice to be important but it's important to be nice" and I think that really rings true with my experiences. I'm a fan of the nice people out there. I don't think I have a particular favorite but Edwin McCain & Livingston Taylor certainly come to mind as a role models not just musically but as also as human beings.

OT What led you to become a spokesman for the Autism Speaks?
SG My brother is 27 years old and autistic. He's non-verbal and requires 24 hour support. I am one of his personal care attendants and I talk about him and his role in my life often on stage. I think my brother is one of reasons I write songs. Learning how to communicate with my brother, who doesn't use words, vastly changes how I communicate with words. Now Autism effects 1 in every 86 children being born. I'm lucky enough to be given a microphone each night so you can be sure I'm going to do something about it.

OT Some of your songs have a political bent, others are more personal. Does one type of song feel more comfortable/come more easily to you?
SG Not really, songs are songs, and writing is writing. It's always really hard work for me and I have no idea what a song is going to be about when I start writing it. I thought I did once, but the more I do this the less and less I feel like I have any particular hold on it. Earlier this year, Ani Difranco said to me, “Don't just write the songs that you feel like writing or the songs that others want to hear. Write the songs that need to be sung." Those words really helped navigate my writing.


It’s no secret that Chicago’s Burlesque scene is booming. From Michelle L’Amour’s Chicago Starlets to the Belmont Burlesque Revue, troupes are cultivating enthusiastic followings. Kiss Kiss Cabaret may be one of many, but according to producer Chris Biddle, the weekly show stands out. Our Town spoke with Biddle and burlesque performer Bella Ciao about why burlesque is so popular, performance anxiety and Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s much anticipated New Year’s Eve show.

Our Town Chicago’s Burlesque scene is going strong. Why do you think that is?
Chris Biddle I think Chicago's burlesque boom is reflective of the national resurgence of the art form. The neo-burlesque movement really began in New York and LA and by the early 2000's, it had reached Chicago. Chicago is notoriously friendly to small start-up theater troupes. There are affordable black-box theaters for rent and bars that will host an evening of erotic entertainment. Pick some music, design a poster and Boom! You're producing your own show. 

OT What makes Kiss Kiss special?
CB I’m inspired by the fearlessness and courage of our burlesque artists. They take the stage and completely transcend common social anxieties about nudity, the human form and sexuality. They display their vulnerability onstage, defying judgement, inviting the audience to look at them and take them in. And in the process, they win the audience, men and women alike, over to their side.

OT Bella, for you, what’s the difference between Burlesque and strip tease?
Bella Ciao First of all, burlesque is a form of striptease, in the most classic sense! While we both remove clothing for an audience, contemporary burlesque acts are much more about presenting a story to the audience in a sensual, entertaining style, while paying homage to the history of the art. My experience has been that strip clubs are selling the idea of sex, while burlesque is selling a style of entertainment that historically includes humor, social commentary, and/or narrative storytelling in addition to the element of tease. It's sexy, but it's not just about the commodity of sex. I think this is something that helps us reach a wider audience, which is another distinctive aspect of the burlesque community - the audiences are so fabulously diverse. Strip clubs have a very specific clientele that they cater to, but burlesque shows are incredibly inclusive, welcoming environments -- We get everyone from bachelorette parties to college guys to couples celebrating their anniversary at Kiss Kiss Cabaret. 

OT Chris, how would you describe the show’s aesthetic?
CB Artistically, we are pretty heavily inspired by the roots of burlesque performance, specifically the German cabarets and the New York style of classical burlesque. Big comedy and sly burlesque.  I also worked with The Belmont Burlesque Revue for 8 years and I gratefully acknowledge that they were a big influence on our show. It's also a not-very-well-kept secret that I am also creatively inspired by The Muppet Show and Bozo's Circus, for their wild, anarchic energies. Both of those shows were wild and unpredictable,a style we definitely emulate.

OT Bella, how do you approach your act?
BC My personal background is primarily in dance and acting, so I tend to approach my acts as storytelling through movement. One of the things that really inspired me when I was creating my burlesque persona was silent film and how actors from the era used their faces - how to convey a story or emotion when you can't use words. As a result, the character of Bella Ciao is more than a little rooted in that aesthetic. 


From Hot Writers to Chicago Runners to Music to Theatre, it’s been a banner year here at the Our Town Sun Times Blog. In fact, so many important things have happened in 2012 we’re finding it hard to compile a comprehensive list. Still, when you’re a high paid blogger (Pause. Beat. Wait for laugh), you’ve no choice but to deliver the goods. So we’ve done our best to sift through the events of 2012 and highlight those that truly represent this unique year.

The Top Ten Most Important Events of 2012

1. Monica Lewinski alleges she had nine sexual encounters with our president, Bill Clinton.


2. Milli Vanilli’s (Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus) Grammy is revoked after it’s revealed that the lead vocals on their record were not the actual voices of Morvan and Pilatus.


3. The fall of the Berlin Wall paves the way for German reunification.


4. George Michael is arrested for "engaging in a lewd act" in a public toilet in a park in Beverly Hills, California.


5. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt release a joint statement announcing their separation which says in part “for those who follow these sorts of things, we would like to explain that our separation is not the result of any speculation reported by the tabloid media. This decision is the result of much thoughtful consideration.”


6. The first in the Harry Potter Series is released. Potter mania ensues.


7. American Apparel, a unique clothing manufacturer committed to being profitable without exploiting its workers, opens. No exploitation here, clearly.


8. Michael Jordan announces his retirement from the Chicago Bulls.


9. After skater Nancy Kerrigan is struck in the knee with a metal baton, her rival Tonya Harding is convicted of conspiracy to hinder prosecution and banned from figure skating for life.


10. The Soviet Union launches Sputnik ushering in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments.


I don't know about you, but I'm hoping 2013 will bring changes as singular and startling. For example, maybe Britney Spears will do something unprecedented like shave her head! Nah....

Deck of Dames

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2Dames fun pic.jpg
All photos by Joe Baldwin

Jess Gisin and Sherra Lasley are a pair of performers with their hearts on their sleeves and their cards on the table. They created 2 Dames to raise funds to fight Domestic Abuse and have recruited fellow Chicago performers to lend their support. Their newest project, The Deck of Dames, features pin-up style pics of a bevy of local beauties. Our Town spoke with Gisin and Lasley about the projects conception and execution.

Our Town So often we have great ideas and don’t act. What carried your Deck of Dames project through?
Jess Gisin/Sherra Lasley We both are entrepreneurs and work on our own schedules so it was and is all about making this 2 Dames project a priority. Joe Baldwin at A & B Photo also really stepped it up a notch. His willingness to photograph, edit, and design each individual card really made the whole thing come together. We call him our third dame.

08 Diamonds.png
Claudia Wallace

OT You first did a pin-up calendar. What’s interesting to you about pin up photography?
J&S At first, it was just the idea that everyone wants to look sexy sometimes. Even extremely strong, tomboyish, hilarious women who make fart jokes want to look sexy. That’s where we started. As the project continued, though, it was satisfying and exciting to see a bunch of women go out of their comfort zone to show how strong AND sexy they could be especially if it was for a cause they truly believed in.

OT How did you decide where to donate funds raised?
J&S Domestic violence is not something that either of us has been affected by personally, but I think it infuriates both of us. After a little research, we found that not only was there a pathetically small amount of support for battered families in Chicago but also a 9 to 1 ratio of fundraisers for dogs over victims of domestic violence. We thought the pairing would be perfect: women helping women. We chose Family Rescue specifically because of it’s long term housing and extended career and legal help.

B Joker.png
Jess Gisin

OT How did you go about attracted performers/photographers to the project?
J&S Between the two of us we know a lot of performers. We just got in touch with women we knew who had big hearts with a very carefully worded email in order to catch their eye. It was simple after that. I think it will continue to get easier now that we have two years under our belt.

OT How much input did each model have into the look of their card or which card they modeled for?
J&S This year, we had each girl doing the same pose. We wanted the cards to be consistent. We put them into position and directed them from behind the camera to bring their strong proud faces to the deck, which they all absolutely did.

A Clubs.png
Carisa Barreca

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

December's Runner: Ben Thiem


Job: Director of Member Services at the League of Chicago Theatres 

Why do you run? I run mostly to do something active and stay healthy but I also like the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a long run or a big race.

How long have you been running? About six years.

What makes someone a runner? If you enjoy running then I think you’re a runner.

Miles per week: 15-20 miles on average but more if I’m training for a race. 

Mile time: I’ve never actually been timed to see how fast I can run a mile, but on longer distances a 9 - 9:30 minute/mile pace is average.

Races you’ve competed in: The Chicago Marathon (2x), Twin Cities Marathon (2x), Grandma’s Marathon, Grand Rapids Marathon, Austin Marathon, Wisconsin Marathon, Illinois Marathon, Oakland Marathon, Arizona Marathon, Outer Banks Marathon. 

Favorite running route(s): The North Shore Channel Trail along the Chicago River. It’s scenic and quiet and not crowded like the Lakeshore Path.

Best run: The 2009 Grand Rapids Marathon was probably the only time that I’ve felt like running a marathon was easy. I ran it with a friend two weeks after I had done another marathon and I didn’t have big expectations other than finishing. It was a perfect, cool fall morning and I ended up running my marathon PR. I’ve never had another race like it. 

Worst run: The 2010 Chicago Marathon. It was really hot and I hadn’t trained very well that summer. I finished the race, but it was a tough day. 26.2 miles has never felt longer.

Do you run with music? No. I like to be aware of my surroundings when I run alone.

Favorite Running Gadget: I’m not really into running gadgets, but a Garmin watch is helpful for training and racing if you have a time goal.

The Treadmill-- Discuss. Ugh. I hate treadmills and avoid them as much as possible, but sometimes there’s no other options on really cold or icy Chicago winter days.

Favorite time to run: In the evening especially during the fall.

Best pre-run meal: Peanut butter toast. 

Tips on running through a Chicago winter: Sign up for a race so you have a reason to get out there and convince a friend to do the same so you aren’t training alone. It’s also helpful to be prepared with several layers of warm running clothes, hats and gloves for different temperatures and conditions.

What running gear do you love?
I love my Brooks Adrenaline shoes. I’ve worn several versions of them and they are the most comfortable running shoes I’ve ever had. I’ve never had a blister or lost a toenail from wearing them. 

Biggest accomplishment: My first marathon (Arizona) wasn’t my fastest race, but it is probably still my biggest accomplishment.

Brief Bio: Since 2004 Ben has worked as the Director of Member Services for the League of Chicago Theatres. In his position he serves as a resource for more than 200 member theaters and manages many of the League’s audience and professional development programs and services. Ben is also a company member at TimeLine Theatre, a company dedicated to producing plays inspired by history that connect with today's social and political issues. Ben hails from the state of Minnesota and is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University. He lives in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood with his wife Cassandra.

Photo by Beth Rooney

I'm obsessed with peanut butter, but all that's ever gotten me is a closet full of stained clothes. Poet Kathleen Rooney on the other hand, used her obsession with poet, musician and painter Harry Weldon Kees to fuel her own work, ultimately creating Robinson Alone, a Novel in Poems. She spoke with Our Town about their shared Midwestern roots, how her work as a teacher informs her writing, and most importantly, Kees' mustache.

Our Town What originally drew you to Harry Weldon Kees?
Kathleen Rooney His mustache, obviously. Kidding! (Although I do love the mustache.) Pinning down a single point of attraction would be impossible. I first heard of him while I was studying in the UK, in a poem by the British poet Simon Armitage called “Looking for Weldon Kees,” in which Armitage writes, “I’ve heard it said by Michael Hofmann / that Collected Poems would blow my head off…” At that time, 2001, Kees’ Collected was not so easy to find, so the very effort required to track the book down set me up to love it even more than if finding it had been simple. Once I began to read it, I found his formal facility and his distillation of the best tendencies in midcentury poetry appealing. I also found his gift for the mordant and the grotesque, his poised disappointment, and his overall style—as a person and as a poet—to be eerily resonant and instructive in the twenty-first century. Adding to the appeal was the fact that not only Kees’ poetry but Kees himself were tricky to track down: he disappeared in 1955 and is believed either to have leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge or to have vanished into Mexico. I connected with Kees in part, too, because he and I both have roots in Nebraska; he grew up in Beatrice, and I grew up in (among several other places) Omaha.

OT What do your shared Nebraskan roots mean to you?
KR Even more than the shared roots, the intentional moves that Kees made from an environment that he found provincial and parochial to environments that were cosmopolitan and lower-case-C catholic struck me as highly relatable. With his balance of sharp wit and careful civility, Kees is to me a very Midwestern artist, but one who, like many Midwestern artists, found it hard to be who—and to do what—he wanted in the place he came from.
OT You determined that the protagonist, Robinson, in four of Kees’ poems is his alter ego. How did you come to that conclusion?
KR It’s not that Kees’ Robinson character has a biographical correspondence to Kees himself (which is closer to what I do with my reinterpretation of Robinson in my novel-in-poems), but more that he possesses a sympathy in attitude, affect and emotion to Kees. Kees’ Robinson is, like Kees, someone who is aware of the enormous gap between the way the world actually is and the way he’d prefer it to be—the yawning divide between the world as a hopeful dream-come-true and the world as an absurd and disappointing nightmare. Robinson, like Kees, is a flâneur, a thinker, a wanderer, wry and dissatisfied. The correspondence between Kees and Robinson is close but not exact, comparable that between John Berryman and the figure of Henry in Berryman’s “Dream Songs.”

OT How did you conceive your novel in poems? Did you start writing the poems first and then realize they related, or did you have the concept in mind right away?
KR Kees’ original Robinson series seems to invite addition and elaboration. When I began, I thought I might write four or five of my own “Robinson” poems and be done with it. But I quickly realized that the depth of my interest was considerably greater than a handful of pieces, and I began to immerse myself not just in Kees’ own writing, but also in research about the time period—American from the late 1930s to the early 1950s—more generally. I concluded that I wanted to write a hybrid work—a novel, but in poems—that would depict Kees/Robinson not merely in fragmented glimpses, but as a fully rounded character engaging in a narrative arc. It took me roughly ten years of work—on and off, but still—to get the project into a shape that I considered finished and publishable.

Photo by David Sutton

December's Hot Writer: David Tabak

My genre: Transubstantiation Autobiography
My literary influences: Gogol, Kafka, Allen, God, Poe,Chekhov, Sophocles and assorted muses and ghosts.

My favorite literary quote: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita." (Nabokov)

Works equally well in Russian, which is absolutely not fair.

My favorite book of all time: Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
I’m currently reading: Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott. What can I say? I love an economist grudge match.

My guilty pleasure book: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman. The Black Death and a failed crusade make for one juicy read.

I can’t write without: My fingers
Worst line I ever wrote: Usually the last one.
Brief Bio:
Born – yes
School – yes
College – yes
Graduate School – some
Work – yes
Wife – yes
Kids – yes
Dog – yes
Cat – yes
Hedgehog – yes
Turtle – no
Existential dread – and how
Lather Rinse Repeat – a collection of cautionary tales now available from your favorite e-book purveyor or

David will be reading from "Lather Rinse Repeat" tonight, December 3 at the Hop Leaf at 7 p.m.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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 and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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