Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Windy City Story Slam takes it national. article from Time Out, Chicago

 Last week, in the middle of all the heat and whirlwind of activity, I was interviewed as a rep of massmouth about our participation in the Windy City Nationals. Here is the article.

Glam slam
The Windy City Story Slam takes it national.
By Robert Duffer
top: Alex Bonner, representing Windy City Story Slams, Photo: Tim Schreier
below: our massmouth rep, Jim Stahl
Photo: Norah Dooley

Two years ago, the Windy City Story Slam was an idea. Now it’s a sensation. Story-slam representatives from eight cities will hit Chicago at this year’s revamped Printers Row Lit Fest for the first National Story Slam Competition. From Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, the slammers are coming, and they’re following Bill Hillman’s lead by making it happen at the grass roots.

“The story slam revolution is in full go,” says Hillman, who is a construction worker and grad student in the creative-writing department at Columbia College Chicago. “Story slams have been popping up completely homegrown and community-based.”

Three weeks before the nationals, massmouth out of Boston held a competition to decide which of its 12 slammers would win the $240 airfare to Chicago. “With massmouth, we want to engage a whole new audience and firmly plant storytelling as an art form in our culture,” says Norah Dooley, the Boston slam’s co-founder and champion of Hillman’s efforts. (my emphasis)

This national support helped Hillman convince the Chicago Tribune, producers of Printers Row, that an amped up national showcase on Sunday afternoon at the venerated Pritzker Auditorium in the Harold Washington Library would be better than a regular WCSS under a tent outside.

“I can sell ice to Eskimos when I believe in something,” Hillman says.

What is the draw, and how is it different than a reading? The attraction is the dynamic interaction with the audience. Hillman, the 2002 Golden Gloves champion, likens live storytelling to a bout where he was outmatched and beaten down by a bigger, better boxer. A knockout was imminent, but the crowd rallied and kept Hillman in the fight.

“I couldn’t believe I did that,” Hillman says, smiling and shaking his head. He didn’t win that one, but he learned to feed off the crowd. So do his storytellers. “The energy of the crowd can bring incredible things out of people. It’s electric.”

For the WCSS to host nationals seems like a natural progression. Since its inception, the monthly series has courted many and pissed off a handful, packed the Metro, featured headliners from great Scot Irvine Welsh to National Book Award–nominee Bonnie Jo Campbell, incorporated a musician from the Old Town School of Folk Music into each show, finally found a regular home at the Empty Bottle, and now established a national event.

Massmouth, like most slams Hillman has recruited, from Portland, Oregon’s Story Theater to Philadelphia’s First Person Arts, specializes in the personal narrative. “We get fiction usually, but for the nationals it’ll be true stories,” Hillman says.

That’s not the only difference. The Windy City Story Slam was built on audience involvement. Applause crowns the winner, as it did for Alex Bonner, this year’s All-City Champion and Chicago representative. Heckling can also shut slammers down. During the All-City Championships at a packed Metro in January 2009, the title event of a banner inaugural year for the WCSS, Hillman couldn’t persuade the crowd to give less-seasoned performers a fair chance. “I should have done a better job reining it in,” Hillman admits, wishing he had mesmerized and enchanted the crowd more like his slam mentor and inspiration, Marc Smith, the Slam Papi of the Green Mill’s legendary Poetry Slam.

At the comparatively reserved Pritzker Auditorium for the nationals, Hillman and his crew will recruit five judges (who hadn’t been named by press time—Smith was top on the list) to choose a winner. The audience won’t be forgotten, Hillman assures; there will be an audience choice as well. Both winners receives Story Slam bragging rights—over the entire country.

The slam throws down Sunday 13 at 3pm at the Harold Washington Library Center, 450 S State St.

Read more:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I nearly forgot how much I love to paint,sing and tell stories...

massmouth's Bridge to Haiti was a fun idea. But the weather and other commitments conspired against me until I was left with just 12 hours, in which to paint, load and deliver  enough cardboard to make a scene on the Weeks Memorial Footbridge. Man, that is one big-assed bridge.  Sheila Leavitt helped enormously by creating HUGE cloth banners for both sides.  Amazing. Adriane Spunt and Andrea Lovett worked in 90 degree heat to prime one side of the cardboard. But in the end,  it was me and big ideas that was left to do the rest. Not the ideal conditions for painting.  So humid. Nothing would dry. Hard to cut damp cardboard. Cramped apartment. Moving from boiler room to bedroom, tip-toeing around and through the sleeping family. Setting up a dehumidifier, and moving 16'X 6' wet cardboard boxes from room to room is just as crazy making as it sounds.  At about 3 AM some cardboard had dried enough to be cut and painted.  It was then that I started to have fun. I looked up flora and fauna of Haiti. I learned how to draw a hibiscus, the unofficial flower of Haiti. I was just hitting my stride when it was time to pack it all up and get it to the River Festival. *sigh*  Stu just uploaded a tom of pics and some of the little decorative pieces I made for the Bridge to Haiti. It was so much fun that I am itching to paint more. 

Find more photos like this on massmouth The Power of Story

But,  in the "cobbler's children have no shoes" mode, instead,  I am in a show coming up that I have not had a moment to personally promote.  I did find time to steal a frog and design a poster for the event ( above).  Here is some additional information:

An evening of personal narratives tall,short and otherwise
 some are stranger than fiction but all are true. by massmouth storytellers. 
organized by H.R.Britton of Overcoat Theater •  Tickets at the door - $10 dollars 
1353 Cambridge Street in Inman Square Cambridge from 7PM – 9:30PM

HR Britton’s most recent monologue, From Madison to Madurai: 134 Days in Mother India is a humorous and sometimes sobering look a Britton’s four-and-a-half month stay in India. Andrea Lovett telling “Grilled Underpants” and other personal favorites. Norah Dooley tells all in “Charter School” is English word for ‘gulag”   Tony Toledo  has been telling stories to pay the rent since 1990.  Elizabeth  Appleby Elizabeth Appleby advises you fasten your seatbelt  as she tells  
 If you lived here, you’d be homeDEAD now.

The storytellers:

H.R.Britton is new to Boston.  His new monologue about his time in India, “Melting in Madras” opens at the Piano Factory Theatre this Tuesday. Andrea Lovett is a founding member of massmouth, stoyteller, teacher, and has kissed a lot of frogs. Not complaining, just saying. Norah Dooley,  also a founding member of massmouth is a storyteller, author and educator. She has swallowed many flies.  More at: Tony Toledo tells tales to elementary students, senior citizens and preschoolers, though usually not all at the same time. Elizabeth  Appleby is a performer, writer and educator. Her one woman show Fritz Perls Is My (tor) Mentor was produced at The Marsh in San Francisco.  Early on, she labeled her life a living joke.

Much as I love the short form of 5 minute stories, I am really looking forward to the chance to tell a longer story at this gig. Painting will have to wait. Again.  Speaking of things I have waited to do, Rosie and I sang again with the Mystic Chorale this weekend after an 8 year break. It was pure joy to sing with 250 other people in Sanders Theater, Cambridge, MA. We did two shows and it was so much fun to work with the guest conductors, Jonathan Singleton and Dr. Phillip Woods in particular.  Here is an article from WBUR - FM
Nick Page (center, behind the piano) leads his Mystic Chorale through a recent "sing" in Arlington. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Get Out Of The Shower: Mystic Chorale Says ‘Everyone Can Sing’

BOSTON — This story is about a potentially embarrassing topic: Singing. Where do you belt it out? If you’re like a lot of people, you might feel safe singing alone — in the shower, or maybe in your car. But Boston conductor and composer Nick Page thinks everyone can sing — and should — with lots of other people, in-tune or almost in-tune...He’ll be doing that this weekend in a concert with his posse, the 250-member Mystic Chorale....More than 200 singers gathered for a recent rehearsal at a church in Arlington. Page is the chorale’s founder and fearless leader.
“The trick with adults is to give them the emotional permission to let it out,” Page said. “Most adults who don’t sing sing at the same level as when they stopped singing. I got that from that book, ‘Drawing (on the) Right Side of (the) Brain.’ It says that people who take up drawing as adults start at the same level as when they stopped. And the same is true of singing.” Page lives by the mantra: “Everyone can sing.” There are no auditions for the Mystic Chorale. Some members are totally green. Others have been singing their whole lives.
The conductor is a big man with a big heart. He commands a hulking, playful, supportive presence. Barefooted and wearing a head band, Page works with the group through a song he wrote called, “I Found My Voice.” The chorale group’s affection for him is palpable. Page — a classically-trained musician and self-described “folkie” — formed the chorale 20 years ago. It started with much smaller, casual, community “sings,” as Page calls them. Open to all, they were inspired by Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of the African-American a cappella group, Sweet Honey and the Rock. She’s organized community sings all over the world, with a focus on teaching the art of song in the oral tradition. Over the years, the Mystic Chorale has grown organically as people in the audience sang along, got hooked and signed up... more here