City Alive with Dreams

This past weekend, I attended my first poetry slam at the Green Mill. I’d only been there in the past for music, basically for only the amazing Alan Gersik and his Swing Time Band, and I tried the Paper Machete, a live literary variety show. (Not really my cup of tea sadly. I much prefer the Write Club).

The show was okay. I’ll admit that poetry slam is not really my cup of tea. I walked in during the open mike, which was unfortunate. However, there was a young girl, a 17 year old, who is on the National Slam team who did a bone chilling piece about the “Mother of Columbine.” She got into the mind of a young woman who killed 2 classmates at her school in the 1970s. It was brilliant.

The reason I came to the Poetry Slam was because a friend of mine Carron Little was the showcase act for the evening. She was debuting several songs sung by a choir as part of her series “City Alive with Dreams.” The songs were based on poems from interviews she has conducted on a weekly basis for at least a year. She interviewed people about their dreams at night. I myself was interviewed last summer.  These interviews turned poems have become incredible paintings and sculptures. And now they are magnificent songs. I am really excited about this work since I love when artists work in diverse mediums. Earlier this year I talked about seeing Art Spiegelman’s Wordless event where he combined wordless novels and a seven piece jazz band. I really like artists combining their visual work with music/audio.

I was really pleased with the four songs debuted by the choir For City Alive with Dreams. There were about eight or nine people in the choir so you got wonderful diverse voices that harmonized, chanted, countered one another. My favorite song was “What would Cher do?” which largely became this beautiful blend of orgasmic sounds.

This was the beginning of City Alive with Dreams. On June 4th at noon, there will be a concert at the Cultural Center in the Claudia Cassidy Theater, when Carron Little is a resident artist. You should go.

Additionally, there will be public performances  in August, which I’m also really looking forward to!

Also, Carron Little curates Out of Site, a series of performance art pieces on 5-7 Fridays later in the summer. This will be the fourth year. More details on that when I get them. It’s really the bees knees.

That’s all for now!

Chicago Home Theatre Festival

Last night, I attended an event of the Chicago Home Theatre Festival. This was a new festival for me. It’s an international movement that started in Berkeley and spread across the US, Canada, and Mexico. It’s tag line is “Home is where the art is.” The idea is to move art from institutional spaces and put it back in the artists and people’s control. People open up their homes, backyards, etc to have these events. The festival is in its 2nd year in Chicago runs from May 1st to May 25th. There is a different event each night with several artists and it moves all over town. The festival is about breaking down barriers both with art/patron, neighborhood segregation, and personal/private. It’s pretty neat.

Several years ago, my boyfriend put on a circus fundraiser in our friend’s backyard for their apartment gallery. It was truly one of the craziest and best things we’ve done. So I dig this whole concept.

I decided to go to the Logon Square event, not because I live in West town, it was just the only available date for me to go. But it was a lovely night. We started at the California Blue Line stop where a tour guide (and our host) walked us to his house giving a little tour of the neighborhood. When we got to his apartment, we went into the backyard that was set up for a party, which realistically this was. Our stage was the cement area near the garage. We sat on sleeping bags on the grass. Behind us, there were hot dogs, beer, and eventually sushi and local pie.

There were eight artists/performing groups that evening, Some of them are the following: Waltzing Mechanics, Free Street Theatre, Walkabout Theatre, Dylan Brandy and Stephanie Acosta and Jessie Young. There were three other performers who are not currently listed on the website.

The Waltzing Mechanics put on “EL Stores” which was perfect considering I’m still riding a high from the Studs Terkel Festival. Basically, they interview people about their wildest El stories and then act them out. The group performed about 4 plays including acting out the play of a random audience member. The plays ranged from poignant to hilarious, like one woman’s recollections of a group of people singing Christmas Carols on a 100 degree day in July. They have a show every Saturday at 11pm at the Greenhouse Theatre. I’m going to have to check out the full show.

I was also really impressed with Free Street Theatre. It’s a theater group of young people, probably high schoolers. They performed selections from Nerds, Sluts, Commies, and Jocks. Their plays were insightful and well constructed. The kids talked about racism, political beliefs, and more. For instance, they did a piece on Mortal Kombat, a violent game from my childhood. The game has really terrible characterizations of ethnic groups, like Branca is from Brazil and he chews on people. So yeah, quite racist. The kids did their own version where they even exaggerated the racist characters even more. Then two characters fought but then decided that there was no reason to fight anymore. They learn to buck the system. It was hilarious and thoughtful. I can’t wait to see what this group does next.

It was really diverse set of performances. There was a gentleman who was a comedian cracking jokes at his expense. Another guy set up a bike on stage and did an effective job of acting like he was biking in Chicago. He’d randomly sing to himself, stop because of hazards, etc. Since I’m not a bike rider, I don’t quite have the same experiences but it was well done and well received.

Walkabout did a site specific piece that included music and the third floor apartment window. In my opinion, the piece dealt with ephemerally of life whether it was young love, life, dreams, and more. My favorite line was “The only love letters I get in the mail are bills.” Hilarious and sweetly sad. Dylan Young made use of technology in fascinating ways. The artist had six video clips going on at once or individually while the artist held up a sign with a phone number on it. People called the number, selected from a list 1-5, and the performer would sing. The piece seemed to be a reference to how people are so disconnected from one another from technology.

The final piece was a beautiful, haunting work by Stephanie Acosta with Jessie Young. A projector lit up the entire stage (garage and fence) with various scenes of green and other locations while the performers moved across the stage. It was a wonderful way to end the evening.

Stephanie Acosta with Jessie Young, Chicago Home Theatre

Stephanie Acosta with Jessie Young, Chicago Home Theatre

I look forward to next year’s festival! You can still check out three more events. The festival ends Sunday.

That’s all!



Write Club and More

Last night, I went to the Write Club at the Hideout. I’ve mentioned the Write Club several months ago but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it is a live literary event that is described as Fight Club for writing. Ian Belknap is the irascible, swearing host who brilliantly moves the show along. There are three rounds where two writers face off armed with a single word for seven minutes. Previously bouts have included “Fallow” v. “Fertile” in September, “Vampire” v. “Zombie,” in October and “Give” v. “Receive” in December. Yes, the topics tend to be themed to the month. The audience votes by cheering on the winner of each bout. The winner receives a tiny trophy of “The Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory” and part of the proceeds will go the winner’s charity of choice. But Ian is always sure to remind you of what charity you failed to support.

This month, the words were inspired by Mother’s Day. The rounds were “Mother” v. “Father,” “Freedom” v. “Family,” and “Love” v. “Marriage.” My favorite round was the “Freedom” v. “Family.” The Freedom advocate talked about the US’s perception of freedom and how we have the right to make choices (Well, sort of, depending on the state). But what made her piece particularly epic was her comment that she started writing the piece on Monday meant for Tuesday and she could choose to get up with 7 blank pages and have seven really awkward minutes of silence. And she silently turned blank pages for about 2-3 minutes. It was sublime. The “Family” advocate talked about the illusion of freedom. First we are confined by our families growing up and can’t wait to leave for the big world. But there we have to deal with roommates who drink all the milk, squeeze the toothpaste etc. Then we have to deal with our jobs and then our own families and responsibilities. The writer explained, Freedom is just an illusion, an idea. Something that really doesn’t exist. Families exist. She commented, “families reach out a hand and welcome you home.” Beautiful.

The advocate for “Father” also had a wonderful story. It can be hard to stay the line between too personal and too general. If you go too general in your argument, the piece lacks punch. Generalities are dull in my opinion. If you are too specific, it can feel very self-indulgent. But if you can use your personal experience to illustrate a point, your piece can be powerful. The gentleman with “Father” argument talked how his mother always knew how to take care of him, knew how to make him feel better but it was his father who taught him about grief. He saw his father crying and learned it was appropriate and okay to feel sad.

Anyway, next month’s Write Club is on June 17th and then they are on a hiatus until September! So go if you can!

Also several months ago, I talked about Michael Rakowitz’s art piece “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” from the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Art of the Shovel exhibition. Well, the piece is on display at the Oriental Institute until May 25th. So you have a short period of time to see this incredible body of work referring to the art looted during the Iraqi War.

That’s all.


Starved Rock State Park

This weekend, we also trekked out to Starved Rock State Park near Ottawa, IL. It’s about a 1 hour and forty minute drive from Chicago. It was wonderful.

In my late 20s, I discovered that I really like hiking. As a city girl, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to hike when I was younger. And honestly, I didn’t have the inclination. But one fateful hike in Wisconsin taught me that hiking can be extraordinary. I’ve probably hiked only a few times a year, usually in Wisconsin. Last year, we did check out Kankakee River State Park, which was awesome. (Also, I went horseback riding for the first time there!)

Starved Rock was fantastic. We first drove to the Visitor Center to get our bearings. We had decided what hike we wanted to do but we a bit confused how to get there. The people at the Visitor Center were really helpful. They told us how long various hikes would take and also recommended that we go up to Starved Rock itself. Also, they lent us a pair of binoculars (with a loan of my driver’s license) so we could try to see a bald eagle’s nest. So cool.

So we raced up to Starved Rock, which was really easy with wooden stairs. When we got to the top, there was a magnificent view of the Illinois River. We could see giant birds hanging out in the water including birds that looked like pelicans. There was a tiny island covered with green foliage. Trees of all different hues of green spread out for miles. Sadly, the eagle’s nest was covered by foliage but that’s okay. I did confirm that I must have seen a bald eagle on our drive in!

View from Starved Rock, Starved Rock State Park

View from Starved Rock, Starved Rock State Park

Then we went to LaSalle Canyon and Tonti Canyon. According to the website, Tonti Canyon was the best for photography. However, due to a hike closure, the only way to get to Tonti was through LaSalle Canyon. We drove to the right parking lot and wandered down Owl Canyon to get to LaSalle. As someone who is new to this, I still find it amusing that there is inevitably a hike to get to the hike. After negotiating stairs, we walked parallel to the river.

Then we found ourselves hugging the side of the river next to these impressive rock formations. I kept expecting to cross to the other side of the creek but then LaSalle came before us. It’s quite pretty. It’s a fairly open space with a large waterfall that feeds into a tiny one falls into the creek  into the Illinois River. To get to the other side of the creek, you actually have to walk behind the waterfall or walk over the little stream it made. It was extremely exciting to walk behind the waterfall. Again this was a first for me.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

Then we continued our path to get to Tonti Canyon. The description also said that it could even have two waterfalls if it had rained. Well, I was hoping that the rains from the following week were sufficient. It was a bit of slippery and muddy hike to the canyon so I’d recommend some good hiking boots. Also, we had to negotiate over creeks, which was another new one for me. It was fun to test my tight wire skills.

And then we saw Tonti Canyon. And yes, there were two waterfalls. It was pretty amazing. Swallows were darting here and there. I think they lived in holes of the canyon. There was the pale pinkish brown canyon walls, the green pools of water, and then these several story waterfalls gushing water through the air. Since we search for circus in all moments, we decided to use our tight wire skills on some semi-submerged logs to get behind one of the waterfalls. There was no other way to get there without swimming or wading. We did well without falling in the water. The only trick was that the log was completely submerged in the last few yards. But my wet feet were not a result of circus. I just tried to wade through the water in the past few yards. Totally worth it. There was incredible triumph standing under the one waterfall.

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

Tonti Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

Anyway, it was a great time. I can’t wait to go back to Starved Rock and try another hike.

That’s all for now!

Review: Henry V

This weekend, we went to see Henry V at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. My boyfriend was extremely excited since he’s a tremendous Anglophile and he’d never seen it before. As some of you know, I’m very partial to Shakespeare and particularly like the histories. Richard II is my favorite Shakespeare play. (Spoilers below of plot and production)

However, I did not love this production of Henry V. It was good, but most things at Chicago Shakespeare are good. Very rarely do I see a production that was mediocre or bad. A large part of it was the lead. He did not command the stage like a King Henry should do. His voice was too soft. He seemed more like a Prince Hal than a King. Of course, the actor kept reminding me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and made me wonder how he would do as Prince Hal/King Henry.

The staging was magnificent. It was not extremely ornate as per usual. They have a wonderful three-store backdrop, which they lower on a slant at one point. It’s really impressive to watch them lower it. Then the ramp is used in the battle scenes. And there was some delightful stage fighting. At one point, the fighting slowed down to accentuated the actors’ actions. It was a bit like the Matrix in that fashion and I dug it.

With respect to Henry V, part of the problem is that I don’t like Prince Hal/Henry V. I’ve seen many productions of Henry IV Part 1 (not so much Part 2) and I haven’t loved it. And yes, I will admit that I don’t love Falstaff. And I never knew why. I love mischief makers and con man, but Falstaff always struck a wrong note with me. However, I finally figured it out after this production. Falstaff and Henry are kinda nasty people. The rollicking good fun that Falstaff and Hal have in Henry IV is not good fun; it’s at someone’s expense. The trick that they play on Falstaff involved mugging people. Even in Henry V, he plays a joke on a common solider and one of his commanders. Again, it involves someone boxing another person’s ears. I just don’t find that funny or charming. Maybe this is the difference the mentalities and humor between the 16th/ 17th century and the 21st century.

However, Falstaff’s death scene is still one of my favorites. No, not because I don’t like the character. Shakespeare handles it so delicately, having Mistress Quickly tell how Falstaff realizes that he is dying. It’s beautiful.

And yes, Richard II and Richard III aren’t depicted as good people either. Richard II takes land in a most dishonorable manner and Richard III is one of the great villains of Shakespeare. But I can like them a lot more. Or I enjoy watching them so much more. Maybe Henry V isn’t evil enough like Richard III for me. Or maybe he’s not as sincere as Richard II. I don’t know.

Review: Lula del Ray

Last night, I went to see Manual Cinema’s Lula del Ray at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. I was so enchanted and intrigued by Manual Cinema’s shadow puppet show at the Studs Terkel Festival that I decided to check Manual Cinema’s upcoming shows. And I’m glad I did. They are doing at least two shows, one last night, and another one on May 30th.

Lula del Ray was incredible. It’s a full length shadow puppet show, whereas the Studs Terkel show was a series of short stories. Lula was completely wordless, but it’s narrated with sound effects and live musicians. It’s haunting story of a young girl coming of age. She lives with her mother in a mobile home at the foot of a field of satellite dishes. Lula wishes for anther world; she’s obsessed with the moon. Obsessions come and go from the moon to music stars. Eventually Lula runs away to the big city to see her idols.

The ability of these puppeteers is astonishing. They seamless create scenes by layering shadow puppets on top of colorful scenes. Lula wanders her world, from the rooms of her mobile home to the streets of the big city. They make her world come alive for the audience. In addition to moving and static puppets, Lula and her mother are also played by live people in silhouette. They actually have silhouette faces that they wear throughout the show to keep the actors consistent with the puppets. (It’s a mask where they have to hold it in their mouth-really impressive). They skillfully integrate the live and puppet versions of the characters. Live Lula and her mother climb ladders, work at switchboards or run through hallways.
The attention to detail is amazing. Lula’s eyelashes move; little rats appear in appropriate places. One constant image was of feet, such as Lula’s own feet as she sits high overhead. It’s a nice reminder that as a kid, you see an awful lot of feet.
Here is a still from it. (We were encouraged to take photos)
Scene from Lula del Ray

Scene from Lula del Ray

I can’t wait to see what Manual Cinema does next. They are a brilliant theatre company. If you can, go see their show on May 30th. It’s well worth it.


Hearst Ranch

Last night I attended an amazing lecture on the “Hearst Ranch: Family, Land and Legacy” at the Richard Driehaus Museum given by Victoria Kastner, Hearst Castle’s historian. She gave a detailed history of the Hearst family, the father George and his son William Randolph Hearst, the giant parcel of land that would become the ranch, and the building of this magnificent complex. One thing I learned is that while it’s called the Hearst Castle, he preferred calling it the Ranch. I’ll mention some other of the highlights.

I learned a great deal about the Hearst family. George Hearst went to California as part of the Gold Rush but he didn’t find gold. Instead, he found the largest vein of silver in the US, possibly the Northern hemisphere. So that’s where the money came from. He married a woman half his age, Phoebe, would become a great cultured and philanthropic lady. In her tiny town in Missouri, her great aspiration as a child was to go to St. Louis; her girlfriends thought she was mad. Well, she ended up doing a lot more than that. Anyway, Phoebe had William Randolph Hearst, who would be later known for his newspaper empire. George Hearst bought 40,000 acres of ranchland in 1865 and built a home (now still used by the Hearst family). William Hearst had fond memories of camping with his father out there. He adored it.

Later when W. R. Hearst inherited the Hearst fortune in 1919 (then 250,000 acres), he started thinking of building his dream home on the highest part of the land. The land is next to the ocean and near the mountains. It’s the ideal spot. He hired a female architect Julia Morgan, a brilliant woman who had studied in France in a program where she was the only woman. Hearst and Morgan collaborated in building “La Cuesta Encantada” or “Enchanted Hill.” From photos, the mist often surrounds the main building so it really does look enchanted. However, it was a challenge to build it since there were no roads leading to the main building area. Julia Morgan was said to have written, “Now I look at the remote castles of Europe with sympathy” since she had to have materials delivered, roads built, etc. to make it happen.

But it was more than a single large building. There were several “smaller” cottages at various levels, by the ocean, in the mountains, etc. According to the website of the Hearst Castle, by 1947 there were “165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways.” It’s also got lots of land for cattle and they are committed to using it for cattle grazing indefinitely. There are at least two pools that are incredible. The inside pool is done up like a Roman bath with Venetian glass and gold mosaics. The outdoor one looks like it hails from Roman times with wonderful Roman columns and statues. And Hearst collected animals. So now there are zebras and a type of African goat that just wander the land. The zebras like to hang out with the buffalo! It’s truly a remarkable place.

Hearst loved the place. He sometimes filmed movies at the estate where he would play leading roles. There is a great photo where he is dressed as the cowboy, the hero, who saves the day. There is another photo of his wife Millicent tied to a tree, playing the damsel in distress. They had costume parties (of course) and private film screenings in their movie theatre.

Hearst showcased his extensive art collection, often buying pieces that had to be worked into the house. He leaned towards the decorative arts, like ceramics and sculptures, rather than paintings. Then he would have Julia Morgan figure out ways to integrate it into the building. For instance, he bought a ceiling from Europe (possibly a medieval one) that was intricately painted with little figures. She had to figure out how to install it into the room he selected. The art collection is everywhere in the house and the gardens. There are also warehouses of it too. There was a library with beautiful ancient Greek vases displayed on top of the bookshelves. Apparently, Harpo Marx and Marion Davies, an actress and the lover/mistress of Hearst, liked to tumble in it because it was so long.

There were several ancient oak trees on the estate. When they had to redo a fountain because the oak tree spilled leaves into it, he ordered the magnificent tree packed up and moved. He refused to cut down the native trees. Apparently, when there was a fire that destroyed an oak, Hearst said, “Would that it had been a building instead.” The building was something he could create a few years while these oaks took hundreds of years to grow.

Hearst loved to have movie stars, journalists, and politicians over to the Ranch. People would come for a long weekend. For instance, Cary Grant spent several nights there but his favorite time was when he was the only guest. The three of them spent the night singing British drinking songs in a magnificent wooden hall with banners overhead (it looks a bit like a choir in a church). Also, Charlie Chaplin liked to give tours of the estate in gibberish. David Niven, though, once commented that the “Alcohol flowed like glue.” It was during Prohibition and Hearst didn’t drink. So there were certain limits.

Anyway, that’s a taste of the Hearst Castle/Hearst Ranch. I’m going to have to go visit it and give a full report when I do. I would definitely check out the pictures on the website.

That’s all for now.