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February 2014 Archives

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February's Honest Parent: Brian Murphy

My great parenting strength is: I like to joke around and be as goofy as my kids are. I'm not sure if that's a strength but, cracking them up makes all of us happy and that can't be bad.

My greatest parenting weakness is: My lack of patience. I hate losing my temper but, it's just un avoidable sometimes. They have the energy to go full steam all day and by 7 pm, I'm exhausted. And although I've never said "shut the f-ck up!" out loud - I've thought it pretty damn hard.

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
 That I had the capacity to BE a parent. Going in, nobody knows what having children really involves, and you get tested every minute, every day. You pretty much make it up as you go along and you've got one chance to get it right. All you do is second-guess yourself and go from a proud poppa with a heart so full of love you want to have a dozen more babies to unfathomable depths of misery and self loathing because you're an utter failure as a parent and husband. All of that usually happens before dinner.

What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?
 Get more sleep. Take naps. Oh, and realize your life is over. That part of it before kids anyway. Leave it behind and move on.

How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?
More often than I care to admit. Although I'm judging them too.."Can you believe what XXX is letting them stay up till eleven?!?"

Describe your worst moment as a parent.
 One time I ran into the house while they were in the car (NOT running, btw.) and they crawled into the backseat thinking they were being funny. I didn't realize what sheer terror was until I was convinced my child was missing.

Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on?
 Letting them watch tv. And the computer. I had such grand plans about not letting them watch more than 15 minutes a day... then I realized how niave that was. Sometimes you just need to go to the bathroom ...alone.

How has having kid/s affected your sex life?
Morning sex is the new normal.


Love or hate The Hypocrite’s innovative interpretation of Steven Sondheim’s seminal musical "Into the Woods", you can’t deny the talent of one of its key players. As The Witch, a role made iconic by Bernadette Peters, Hillary Marren shows off an enviable singing voice and spot-on comedic timing. Our Town spoke with the Chicago actress about her influences, vocal care and why she loves Chipotle.

Our Town Why theatre?
Hillary Marren To tell someone’s story, and share it with people in real time is a feeling unlike anything else on earth.  You don’t get the chance to go back and redo a line, you can’t edit out the things you didn’t like, and you can’t always control the variables on stage. There’s beauty in the imperfection.  It’s also a moment in time where a group of strangers meet in one room so they can all feel something together, and how cool is that?

OT Who are your influences?
HM There is a wide range of people who influence me.  growing up, comedy and music were always at the forefront for me.  Though I was too young to be watching, I was enthralled with Jan Hooks on SNL, and Cheri O’Teri was another favorite.  I spent a lot of time listening to folk music like Jonatha Brooke and Bonnie Raitt, but I also fell in love with Mariah Carey and Mary J Blige.  I had dreams of becoming a pop star all through my adolescence, and because of that, I was heavily influenced by contemporary musicals when it came to theatre.  Some of my favorites are "Wicked," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Avenue Q," and I could sing you the entire score (male vocals included!) of "Jekyll and Hyde."

OT What makes the Hypocrite’s production of "Into the Woods" unique?
HM The Hypocrites are known for their high theatricality and their penchant for combining honesty with presentation.  Our director, Geoff Button, found a way to use the heightened playfulness of the company to help tell Sondheim’s story in a fresh way, in turn also allowing it to eventually be deconstructed.  In doing so, the comedy of the show really comes through in a way that you wouldn’t normally see with a traditional production, and it’s this juxtaposition that makes the harsh reality of Act 2 even more apparent as the show goes on.  There’s a dichotomy of simplicity and complexity all around.  And I’m also pretty sure that no one has ever attempted to do Sondheim with balloons.  

OT What was it like to step into a role made famous by Bernadette Peters?
HM The most challenging thing about playing a role like this, is that people who are familiar with the original production bring their own expectations of what the role should and shouldn’t be.  As an actress, I had to trust my own instincts, and that of the creative team, and like any other role, focus on giving an honest interpretation of the character.

OT In the production, the cast play multiple roles. Was there any way in which that felt prohibitive?
HM Yes, it is certainly a challenge to play multiple roles, especially with this particular musical, which is difficult enough on its own.   It is especially difficult to switch into such contrasting characters almost simultaneously, and all while being onstage.  If the Witch were my only focus, maybe the audience would have perceived my character differently.  Maybe I would have gone a different route with her.  Who knows!

Photo by Jerry A. Schulman

From the beginning, Filmspotting founder and host Adam Kempenaar took podcasting seriously.

“We didn’t want to do what we saw other podcasts doing-- no structure, subpar audio quality, this sense that people were kinda babbling. If we were going to put the time in, we were going to take advantage of the podcast format.”

This was back when podcasting was untried, a new media platform. Nearly a decade later, Kempenaar’s keen adherence to his vision has paid off. After being picked up by iTunes and later WBEZ, Filmspotting is more than a Chicago phenomenon. Co-hosted by former Sun Times film critic Josh Larsen, the show offers listeners across the country lively debate, top five lists, and a thoroughly modern take on film criticism.

Our Town’s Sarah Terez Rosenblum and Andrew Weir spoke with Kempenaar and Larsen about the show’s genesis, the purpose of film criticism, and the top five quintessential Chicago films.

Our Town (Sarah Terez Rosenblum) What drew you to film criticism?
Josh Larsen- I always enjoyed writing and movies so it was just the merging of the two. I can remember as a kid being as excited about the reviews in the paper as about the movies in the theaters. And being a Chicago-area kid, you grew up with film criticism, Siskel and Ebert-- as a really rich part of the culture.
Adam Kempenaar My goal was to be a director. After I had the experience [of film school], I realized although I was passionate about film, I was not going to be the guy who went out to LA and maxed out my credit cards to make a film. It just wasn’t in my DNA. I needed more structure, but I didn’t want to drop film completely. I was getting my masters in Journalism and it turned out there was an opening for a film critic at the University of Iowa newspaper. I got the gig, and I had to figure it out as I went along--what being a film critic meant.

STR So what does it mean? What’s the purpose of film criticism?
AK Early on, I decided that I didn’t care that much about whether the person reading the review felt compelled to see the movie. The thing that annoyed me as I got more serious about film criticism was critics who saw themselves as box office guides, as if their goal was to influence what people spend their money on. There may be some validity to that, but I ultimately hope-- and I don’t know that we always succeed-- but I’d like there to be, in every review, at least one good idea that maybe the person listening wouldn’t have thought of on their own. That it makes them shift their perspective a little. I think one of the best compliments we get is when there’s an email from someone saying, “I can’t believe you guys were so hard on that movie!” And then like two minutes later, an email with the exact opposite response: “You guys were way too easy on that movie!” People hear us in totally different ways which reflects where they stand. Rather than seeing that as a failure, I like that people can interpret us how they want. There’s a lot of hostility toward film critics; this impression we’re in an ivory tower passing judgement, but just because I’m here talking about a movie for twenty minutes doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. We’ll put the show up, people will start responding, and they may change my mind.
JL- Both of those models, the ivory tower and the consumerist approach, have been blown open by podcasts. The old guard will rail about movie blogs, “who are these people to have a say?” But it’s shocking how much good stuff passionate bloggers are publishing. So as a working critic do you panic and try to shut that off or do you let the conversation grow? It’s been interesting to adapt to that myself. Now everyone has a platform, which reorients film criticism so that critics are just part of the conversation, and that’s so much richer.

STR What was the impetus behind Filmspotting?
AK When we started in 2005 as a podcast, I was married and had one kid, and then a second. I had become that guy who was so caught up in his job and his family that I wasn’t going to see movies anymore. Sam [Van Hallgren, the show's original co-host and current co-producer] and I, we said, let’s force ourselves to see one new movie a week. That’s the joke that my wife still reminds me of--I pitched this to my wife as, I’ll only be gone for a couple hours a week--
JL You didn’t even invite her?
AK No. So, a couple hours, then we’ll discuss for maybe 20 minutes, no editing, just the conversation--that’ll be the show.
JL Lying through your teeth.
AKI didn’t know I was lying through my teeth! What changed was, once people start listening--I’m a little bit obsessive by nature--so you start structuring and adding, building out segments. June 2005 was when iTunes launched podcasting. We’d been doing it for three months, so were a fairly established podcast, but we were seeing fewer than 1,000 downloads a week. Then iTunes featured us on their main page and overnight we were at 12,000. Those people liked what they heard and wanted more.

Our Town (Andrew Weir) Occasionally you get into some heated discussions. Does that keep it lively, or do you ever have to leave the room and let the blood pressure come down?

JL It’s been two years and how many of those heated ones have we had? Five? It’s rare. Last week [Podcast #474 "American Hustle" vs "Wolf of Wall Street" conversation]...we did pause. It was early on in the recording and we went on and did like an hour and a half more of the show, so it was fine. I responded to someone who emailed--they were like, can you dial it back? They found it uncomfortable. In retrospect, I don’t know why I got so excited. But haven’t you been in conversations about a topic you love and it just gets that way? So part of it is a shared passion.
AK And a respect--if Josh wasn’t making really good points, I wouldn’t get so worked up. He’s giving me something I have to respond to, he’s challenging me. And hopefully I’m doing that for him. One big difference between Josh and his predecessors is, I was friends with the first two. Josh, we didn’t know each other at all. So even two years later we’re still figuring out who the other person is and what our hot button issues are. At this point, I don’t have him figured out, I doubt I ever will.

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According to Agate Publishing president, Doug Seibold, Chicago has always been the center of African American publishing. Now, with Agate's release of Dempsey Travis’ dynamic "Autobiography of a Black Chicago," one specific African American Chicagoan’s life is rendered in intimate detail. Our Town spoke with Doug about the impassioned endeavor.

Our Town What made you interested in acquiring An Autobiography of a Black Chicago?
Agate has an imprint devoted solely to African-American writers, called Bolden Books. Our most successful books have always been novels that explore the diversity of African-American life. I decided to create a line of memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies, which I'm calling "Bolden Lives," that do in personal nonfiction form what the great novels we've published here do in fiction--tell a wide range of stories about the diverse lives of African-American people. I thought that this book was a great way to start this new line.

OT What makes this book unique?
Travis's own remarkable story, and the very distinctive way in which he tells it. He has an irrepressible literary voice. You can see how he became so successful--nothing seems to slow him down, no matter how steep the obstacles.

OT What enabled Dempsey Travis to write so intimately about the African American experience in Chicago?
He lived it, to the hilt. His father came to Chicago in 1900, right at the beginning of what became the Great Migration. As a teenager, Travis became a professional pianist and bandleader, and thus part of the dazzling jazz music scene of the 1930s. His military service during WWII was scarred by the kind of institutional racism endemic at the time--in many ways, the experiences of black soldiers during and after the war became a spur for the civil rights movement. He played a significant role in that movement, leading the Chicago branch of the NAACP and, in that capacity, bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. to Chicago for the first time in 1960. And when Harold Washington became Chicago's first black mayor, Travis was a leading supporter--the two men had known each other since they were students at DuSable High School.

OT What was your experience editing like?
Engrossing, and for the most part, fairly straightforward. The terrific black and white photos used in the book's first edition were mainly lost, so we were unable to include those. I made the decision to streamline the book by removing the brief biographical vignettes Travis wrote about other prominent black Chicagoans, to focus the book chiefly on Travis's own story.

OT What moments in the book do you find most striking?
There are many striking moments in this book, but the one I found most emotionally affecting comes when Travis, struggling with college entrance exams after completing his military service, comes to the slow realization that his literacy skills are inadequate for doing college-level reading. He essentially has to re-learn how to read. At great effort, he does so, then gains admission to Roosevelt University and embarks on his successful business career. But as difficult as that challenge must have been, you know it can't possibly stop him from achieving his larger goals. 

OT What are your hopes for the book?
I think it's a classic work of Chicago personal history, and I hope it's recognized as such. It would be wonderful to see this book taught in schools.

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.


February's Hot Writer: Kat Conway

My genre: Non-fiction narrative essays, sci-fi/fantasy, short poetry and the occasional erotica.

My literary influences: In a perfect world, I'd write like Dorothy Parker and Meg Cabot had a super queer baby, then invited Margaret Atwood, Melina Marchetta and Toni Morrison to be fairy godparents. Also at the party: Donna Tartt, James Baldwin, Terry Pratchett, Naomi Novik, Anais Nin, Erika Moen, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Tamora Pierce and Li-Young Lee.

My favorite literary quote: I want to tuck this bit of "Great Things Have Happened" by Alden Nowlan into my shirt pocket and wear it near my heart forever: "... It was like the feeling / you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited / before, when the bread doesn’t taste quite the same, / the butter is a small adventure, and they put / paprika on the table instead of pepper, / except that there was nobody in this country / except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder / of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love."

My favorite book of all time: "Good Omens," by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, forever and always.

I’m currently reading: "Saga" by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

My guilty pleasure book: I have read "Sabriel" by Garth Nix (and then stomped around the house pretending to be a necromancer) so many times that it is in serious danger of disintegrating. See also: "The Bean Trees" by Barbara Kingsolver and "Watership Down" by Richard Adams.

I can’t write without: a deadline and/or The Mountain Goats' entire discography.

Worst line I ever wrote: Oh jeez, so many. Most recently, probably "The kid looks so taken aback by the suggestion that Jeff uses the opportunity to snatch the book back, flipping through it with one hand and holding the kid’s wildly flailing arms off with the other. Somewhere, in the back of his skull, a little voice is smirking at him and sing-songing. Friends, friends, friends, three days and you’re practically almost friends. The kid flails." This is from my never-published queer YA werewolf romance novel, also featuring an all-boys' private school and a Battle of the Bands competition. Note the repetition of the word "flail," which is how I signify teenage attraction.

Brief Bio: Kate Conway is the Queer Studies Editor at, where she is also known to write about brunch, dragons, Jonathan Toews and liminality. Her work has also appeared on Jezebel and in BUST Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @katchatters.

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 Aaron Gang

Lucky for me, Tracey is easy to find. A fitness instructor and actor, she's a stalker's--I mean writer's dream. Not only that but she's a redhead, and as you know, I'm partial. Check out Chicago's February Crush!

Hometown: Ft Lauderdale, Florida
Profession: Actor and Group Exercise Instructor
As of late, I’ve found that my lifestyle doesn’t exactly cater to having hobbies…..though I suppose one could say I’ve made a hobby of brainstorming what hobbies I’d like to one day have… scuba diving! Or maybe collecting antique typewriters! Those would be pretty sweet. Hmmmm……there must be SOME enjoyable things I make time to do…..ermmm, let’s see…..I don’t see movies or theater nearly as much as I should, but I whole-heartedly enjoy doing both (I suppose if I didn’t, one could really question my choice of career). I’ve also discovered a love of cider recently and will grab one with a friend as often as possible (though usually I’m the only one ordering the cider. Most of the company I keep seem to be opposed to its consumption. Why???? Whomp. Their loss.) Watching Grey’s Anatomy has been a guilty pleasure that has managed to survive ten years now (it’s just so satisfying to FINALLY see Meredith and Derek in a healthy, functional relationship!!! You go guys! I knew you could do it!) Painting and writing are also big passions, but, alas, have also fallen a bit by the wayside these days….though I do make a point of journaling daily.

What drew you to acting?
Growing up, I always enjoyed entertaining my folks and friends with skits and such….I got a lot more serious over time and made it my subject of study in college. I think what I enjoy most about acting is the learning aspect of performance. Each new project presents ample opportunity to engage with an unfamiliar subject matter, and I very much appreciate how personally transformative that research process can be. I can’t imagine finding greater fulfillment elsewhere. Peter London words my philosophy as an actor better than I can: “The essential function of art... is to become personally enlightened, wise, and whole. Then, as a consequence of the former function, the purpose of this wisdom, the purpose of art, is to make the community enlightened, wise, and whole.” Boom.

What's your proudest accomplishment as a fitness instructor?
Not passing out after teaching a three hour back-to-back block of classes is always rewarding. As is positive feedback from students….seeing them grow and accomplish goals, and knowing I contributed to their gains in some way. But as far as tangibles go, I was just made a representative of the brand of dance fitness that I teach: WERQ. That was quite the honor. Will be tough to top.

What's your favorite thing about Chicago?
Never before have I encountered so many inspiring, talented, and passionate people. I’ve lived here almost 6 years now, and I have found this city and its inhabitants to be incredibly empowering and humbling. The community of artists here is rich and encouraging to someone like myself who is trying to navigate this crazy lifestyle.

What's your least favorite thing about Chicago?
Every time a Chicago homicide is reported in the news, my dad (who lives in Florida and hates the fact that I don’t) has a minor heart attack. Come on guys!! Stop inducing so much anxiety in him!! Can’t we all just get along?

Describe your perfect day:
A perfect day would simply be a balanced one. A little bit of productivity, a little bit of relaxation. A little bit of being social, and a little bit of alone time. A little bit of focus on my passions, and a little bit of indulging in mindless distraction. I neglect my inner Libra every day I tip the scale too far to one side….which I guess happens pretty much every day. Gah. Libra? More like ZEBRA. (No, it’s not that you’re missing the joke. What I said just doesn’t make sense. Don’t worry about it.)

Relationship Deal breaker?

Who was your first crush?
My first crush was a boy named Daniel who was in my kindergarten class. I had always been drawn to him, but I distinctly remember the day he stole my heart. It was story-telling time and it was his turn to share. He created the most wondrous narrative about a king of garlic bread. Not a king that ate garlic bread. Not a king who liked to make garlic bread. But a king who was MADE of garlic bread. Inspired, I tell you. Inspired. Not only was he creative beyond his years, but we also shared the same food interests. Done and done.

Why are you crushworthy?
As an actor, theoretically I can be ANYTHING YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN A GAL. That’s right. ANYTHING. And, no, that is NOT me being egotistical. That’s me being desperate.

Any questions for me?
I know I’m bad with deadlines and that you may have had your doubts about my getting these answers to you on time, but don’t you think coming over to my apartment every night and whispering reminders in my ear as I slept was a bit much?

Bio- Tracey Green is a professional actor and group exercise instructor. She graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Theatre and holds fitness certifications from The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Keiser Spin, and WERQ Dance Fitness. She currently teaches at Cheetah Gym (Andersonville and Bucktown locations) and Midtown Athletic Club. Recently she played the role of Ann in Eclectic Theatre’s production of “All My Sons” and has been collaborating with Redmoon Theater on a number of projects as both a performer as well as a directing apprentice.

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.


If there’s anything Chicago has, it’s funny ladies. Chicago comic Candy Lawrence has graced the stages of Zanies, Mayne Stage, The Laugh Factory, and UP Comedy Club. Most recently, she appeared on Fawzia Mirza’s web series, Kam Kardashian. Our Town spoke with the idiosyncratic comic about The Olive Garden and Ace Ventura. Oh yeah, and comedy.

Our Town Do you remember the first time you made someone laugh?
Candy Lawrence My best friend in 4th grade and I used to call each other up in the evenings to chat while we watched Mr. Ed together. We couldn't figure out how they got him to move his mouth and I told her they just shoved carrots up his butt. That's the truth, right? I'm still not sure.

OT What drew you to comedy?
CL The feeling I get when I can make someone laugh. It's addictive. That and Ace Ventura. No big deal.

OT Who are your influences?
CL Someone compared me to Maria Bamford yesterday. So, there's that. Pete Holmes. Amy Sedaris. Melissa McCarthy. 

OT Where do you find inspiration?
CL All you can eat breadsticks and endless salads. Olive Garden and everyday life.

OT How do you develop a bit?
CL I'm not the type of person that can just sit down and write. Usually, it's just something that happens throughout the day or something I say or something someone else says that will spark an idea. And then I'll just take that idea and improvise a whole lot on stage.

OT Best/worst onstage moments?
CL Worst moment- I entered a comedy contest (HORRIBLE IDEA) right when I started doing stand-up.  A judge, and I won't name names (Mike from Red Bar Comedy) said to me in front of an audience, "I hated it. I hated you. I hate women comics." Best moments-  I set up a fundraiser called Laughs for Lawrence to raise money for my dad who was battling lung cancer. Thanks to my friends who performed and everyone who donated I ended up raising $13,000. And I wrote a speech dedicated to him and then danced across the tables like a regular ol' Liza Minnelli. Highlight of my life.

OT Thoughts on how to handle a heckler?
CL Fortunately, throughout my four years of doing stand-up, I've been blessed with very little heckling minus the occasional chattering. Most of the time the lovely servers/hosts take care of that or I just ignore it all together. Otherwise, I tend to mimic the drunk people and that gets laughs. I feel like getting upset or yelling only fuels their fire.

OT Advise for wannabe comedians?
CL Get out there. Do lots of shows. Say yes. Take risks. Be yourself.

OT What would someone be surprised to know about being a comic?
CL I cry a lot. During a lot of commercials. Comics have feelings too. We're not always "on."

OT What’s next for you?
CL Pad See Ew lunch and traveling to LA to do some shows including Hot Tub with Kurt Braunohler and Put Your Hands Together with Cameron Esposito.

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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This page is an archive of entries from February 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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