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January 2014 Archives

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Meagan Fredette's blog, Latter Style unites fashion with feminism. She spoke with Our Town about Chicago fashion, House of Leaves, and art that takes itself too seriously.


Our Town Why do you identify as a feminist? 
Meagan Fredette There is a lot of value in standing up and being counted. If I didn't identify as a feminist, I'd be doing an enormous disservice to my beliefs.

OT What are your thoughts on peoples’ unwillingness to label themselves feminist?
MF It's irritating. But I understand, because for the longest time I didn't call myself a feminist. Part of it has to do with simple ignorance of intersectionality-- [realizing your own privilege] and trying to remain vigilant about the unseen benefits you’re afforded, benefits that always come at the cost of other people-- it's easy to dismiss feminism when you think it's just about burning bras, and not about fighting the oppression of all women. There's so much misinformation about feminism; it can seem like a radical club that isn't accessible to everyone. Most women still have reserves of internalized misogyny - that is, harboring sexist ideas about women as a result of cultural biases, which causes things like slut shaming and vicious female competition. And I think, on a base level, it's just isn't considered "cool" to care about politics in general, let alone feminism, but I'm hoping people like Tavi Gevinson and Beyonce can help change that.


OT What makes your approach to fashion specifically feminist?
MF To me, it's just the simple notion of wearing what you want. Realizing that fashion "rules" can be oppressive at worst, and at best are by-products of a patriarchal beauty standard. I don't buy this notion that clothes must be flattering in order to be considered acceptable, because "flattering" is just code for "makes you look thinner." Fashion is a wonderful tool of self-expression but I feel like that expression is hampered by misogynistic views about bodies. People should free to wear the thing that make them happy and not worry about how it makes their bodies look. I'm not a contrarian necessarily, but I love wearing things that are not "supposed" to be worn on my body type, things like long empire waist dresses. I wear what I like, period.

OT Style-wise, what’s unique about Chicago?
MF I love the weird characters. There's so many fascinating people here that would sort of go unnoticed in a bigger place like NYC. Like Claire, who works at Lula Cafe and is always wearing the raddest outfits, like mismatched plaids or printed shoes. Or Heather Lynn, a performance artist and gallery owner whose casual costumes blur the lines between fashion and art.

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Boston transplant Anne Heaton is a welcome addition to the Chicago music scene. Astute and sometimes wry, her songs unfold like tiny maps of the human condition. She spoke with Our Town about her writing process, influences and what it was like to open for Jewel.


Our Town What's your writing process like?
Anne Heaton Often I write in the morning before anyone else wakes up. Occasionally I’ll want to write to someone so my morning writing might end up being an email to a friend. I’ll save the email and come back to it later to see if I might want to further mine it for a song. Sometimes I’ll write a song while taking a walk, singing and making up words at the same time. One time this year, I was overcome with the desire to write something down while I was on a road trip, so I pulled over at a rest stop, wrote for ten minutes into my phone, and then drove on. I went back to it later and it turned into a short essay.



OT Where do you find inspiration?
AH I find inspiration in my life experiences, particularly ones that are humorous or serendipitous.  Right now, I’m working on two songs, one about how uncomfortable and nervous I feel when everything is going well. It sounds like a jazz standard but has a humorous tone. I’m also writing a more contemplative/yearning tune about how the future calls to us and how we must surrender to it. I also love telling other peoples’ stories. Sometimes I find inspiration reading poems by Rumi.



OT Who are your influences?
AH When I was growing up my main influences were Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, Tori Amos, The Rolling Stones and Debussy (to name a few).  Now my influences are often my peers, other songwriters I perform with such as Meg Hutchinson, Natalia Zukerman and Antje Duvekot. Anything that is funny influences me, even if it’s a movie like “Bottlerocket.” I love the way writers dole out information, the choices they make.
 


OT What's been your most fulfilling performance experience?
AH Probably singing in Paris and London with jazz drummer Max Roach. I sang in a small group…gospel, jazz and original tunes written by Max. The band was stellar and the audiences so enthusiastic. I’m not sure what my most fulfilling experience has been performing my own songs. I’ve enjoyed some of the bigger gigs like Lilith Fair and opening up for Jewel because it's fun playing on those bigger stages, but I’m not sure that means they were the most fulfilling. I think probably my favorite gigs have been in yoga studios or meditation centers. I don’t have a specific show in mind, but in general, the audiences that show up in those places are really present, kind, and hooked into the show in a way that’s rewarding for me as a performer.


OT Do you believe in writers block?
AH I believe in seasons. 
 
OT What's next for you?
AH I’m releasing a collaborative album of poems-turned-songs with late poet Claire Clube on Valentine’s Day of this year. It was a pleasure to set her  words to music since I usually write all of my own lyrics. Claire was a dear friend and a very inspiring person whose tragic death over the summer was very shocking. I’m hoping her amazing joyful and fiery spirit will live on through this album.

Catch Anne Heaton January 25th at Princeton Coffeehouse 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
afterellen.com 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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Polar Vortex, shmolar vortex! This January while you’re holed up in your house avoiding hypothermia, I’m trolling Chicago’s frozen streets to scope out a new crush.

January’s Crush: Jim Stevens


Hometown: Born in Missouri, but I’ve lived in Chicago longer than anywhere else.
Profession: General Manager of an American Art Tile Company.
Hobbies: Music listening, searching out the odd and interesting, taking time to contemplate, sorting through pictures of comedians for my imaginary family album, people watching, playing video games, finding my own way
through life, keeping people guessing.


How'd a guy like you wind up General Manager of an American Art Tile Company?
Started part-time and worked my way up. I used the leadership skills I developed running on tech crews for television and film. I’ve always enjoyed taking on challenges that present themselves.


Recently you've become active on the live lit scene. What drew you?
I’ve always loved the forms of story-telling found in theater, film and television. When I attended a live lit event for the first time, listening to a stranger reveal something personal, and seeing the universality of it as the crowd and I reacted, I was hooked. I felt that I had some stories to share.


Any tips?
It’s important to know what story you are telling, and why you decided to tell that story in that moment. There are also a lot of live lit events to go to. There’s at least one event every week to see in Chicago to get inspired.


What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
The endless supply of stimuli. The people. The restaurants. The museums. The culture. I haven’t run out of things to discover.


What's your least favorite thing about Chicago? The endless supply of stimuli. The noise. The crowds. It’s hard to turn it off. There isn’t enough Nature here (Nature in the big sense).


Describe your perfect day.
Waking up. Followed by leisurely coffee and breakfast. Finding something I’ve never done before. A good dinner at a restaurant that is comfortable and/ or inspiring to be in. Doing a decent job of being present to what’s going on throughout the day, no matter what it is, all the way until I put my head on my pillow and drift softly to sleep.


Relationship Deal breaker?
Cheating. Lying. Disrespect. Absurd craziness, flakiness, or anything else that prevents us from relating.


Who was your first crush?
A 6-year-old girl who lived on my block. I was 5 and a half. She was Italian, cute and strong-willed. I was always getting crushes. …Five years later, it was a Heather Locklear poster.


Why are you crushworthy?
Probably because I have no clue why, and am not worried about it.


Any questions for me?
Shall we get a coffee and talk about this?


Bio- Director and producer of theater and film. Actor. Story-teller. Idea man. Enjoys his bicycle and a beer alone with his thoughts somewhere outdoors. Makes videos and philosophical musings on the side and for
festivals around the country.

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
afterellen.com 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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On Deck Theatre emerged in 2012 promising to promote new Chicago artists by producing original plays and premiering new actors and directors. The company’s second show, "Three Days of Rain," opened January second. Our Town spoke with Artistic Director, Eric Martindale about On Deck’s goals and the Chicago theatre scene as a whole.


Our Town Chicago is full of theater companies. How is On Deck different? 
Eric Martindale From the very beginning, the goal of On Deck was to showcase artists around Chicago who are, figuratively, "on deck." The first show we produced was a play called Empty Bottles, an original work, that included one actor who was making their Chicago debut. The city is full of people that have written amazing original works, or who have just arrived to audition. Fortunately, even with the saturation of wonderful companies, there is plenty of talent to go around. 

OT How would you describe your directing style?
EM Active and Collaborative. I probably burn 800 calories an hour. Sitting down feels completely unnatural. I like to inject the actors with the same energy and passion for the text that I have. It's interesting, having been someone who was an actor, you get a better feel of what's required from you. Half of that is knowing when the note has been taken and it's time for you to shut up so they can work. But the whole process has to feel absolutely collaborative and I think the key to that for me has always been to respect what actors have to go through. On opening night, they're the ones that have to tell your story. 


OT You’re also a writer, what are some of your influences?
EM Name a famous playwright and chances are they've had some influence on the way I write. Not the playwrights themselves, always, but specific plays they've written. With [On Deck's first show] "Empty Bottles," a lot of my inspiration came from conversations I've had with people at bars, and failed relationships.


OT What are the pros and cons of the Chicago theater scene?
EM I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Most of the cons lie in the sheer expense of the entire venture. Which is something that can't be helped, and was an obvious expectation we had going in. The artists you meet, the stories you get to see and create, far outweigh the cons. It's wonderful how interconnected the theatre world is here. I see people in shows that have worked with friends of mine who are in shows I've done and so on. It's a tight-knit group.


OT What can audiences expect from the production? 
EM A hilarious, warm, but distressing tale. It's the kind of story that makes you wish you could speak to the characters and restore their faith in each other because you know what they don't.  It's quite suspenseful in that way. I know it stuck with me for a long time after the first time I read it. It's a feeling we were intent on passing along.

OT Who is your dream audience member?
EM If there was a talkback session, then George Bernard Shaw. Otherwise, Elia Kazan all the way.


"Three Days of Rain" runs January 2-12 at The Den Theatre.


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
afterellen.com 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 facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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January's Hot Writer: Megan Stielstra

My genre: 
Fiction and essays. 




My literary influences:
 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Franz Kafka, Dorothy Allison, Flannery O’Connor, Hubery Selby Jr., Margaret Atwood, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ana Castillo, Joy Harjo, Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri, Nami Mun, Tim O’Brien, Kelly Link, Joe Meno, Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender, Elizabeth Crane, Gina Frangello, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Matt Bell. Also: The Danger of a Single Story, a TED talk by the novelist Chimamanda Adichie, inspires and challenges me to consider the kind of writer – and reader – I’d like to be.




My favorite literary quote: “You stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting”—Ray Bradbury


My favorite book of all time: 
It changes a lot, based on what I’m working on. Right now it’s Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison.



I’m currently reading: 
The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner; White Girls, by Hilton Als; Divergent, by Veronica Roth; 2nd Story submissions for next season; and my students’ final personal essays, which are blowing me away. Look out, future.



My guilty pleasure book: Screw guilt. I think there’s something to be learned from everything we read; about craft, about the world, about ourselves.




I can’t write without: There used to be so many of these: specific types of notebooks, pens, music; wine or coffee, depending on the hour. Now, between my job(s) and my five-year-old, all I really need is time. I can’t write without the time. An hour a day?—I’ll take it. More would be great, sure, but I’ll take the hour. I’ll take it in a heartbeat.




Worst line I ever wrote: If you’re going to use your baggage as an excuse to treat people poorly then you shouldn’t have asked for my number.
 


Brief Bio:
Megan Stielstra’s personal essay collection, "Once I Was Cool," is forthcoming in May 2014. Her work has been included in The Best American Essays 2013, The Rumpus, PANK, Other Voices, and elsewhere, and her story collection, "Everyone Remain Calm," was a Chicago Tribune Favorite of 2011. She is the Literary Director at 2nd Story and teaches creative writing at Columbia College.

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