The Casuals Writers Andrew Burden Swanson and Chance Bone: Interview

The Casuals

 

Photo by Alex Hand

**This article first appeared on TimeOutChicago.com on July 9, 2013

Jackalope Theatre Company’s latest production took a while to gestate. It was after nearly two years of back-and-forth on a shared document, a summer of workshops and a full rewrite that co-authors Andrew Swanson and Chance Bone were able to create what Swanson describes in a joint phone interview as “a text message play.” The two are now able to complete each other’s sentences on and off the page. The pair’s work pays off this week as The Casuals, an original drama about a troubled 1955 family, makes its debut at the DCASE Storefront Theater.

Actor-playwright Swanson, the director of development at the five-year-old Jackalope, teamed up with actor-musician Bone to craft the production, which encompasses themes like secrecy, paranoia, government transparency and family relations. They were particularly struck by the 1950s, Bone says, because of the unusual amount of trust the public had in the government following the Second World War.

“The ’50s are [viewed as] idyllic in [the] modern day,” says Swanson. “We see them as Technicolor and sterile. But there were plenty of problems. And that happened interpersonally too, with secrets in families.”

Perfecting the period-appropriate family dynamic presented its own challenges, says Swanson, as they were not writing “archetypal ’50s characters” but rather finding a medium between caricatures and modern-day personas. The pair did a lot of preliminary work to create authentic characters with real voices, adds Bone.

“None of us actually lived in the ’50s, so there’s a reaction to base that time on films and advertisements,” he says. “But there are different pieces that come into play. If you try not to think of it as a piece about the ’50s, but think of it as about individuals, it’ll be easier going.”

The production fits along the lines of Jackalope’s mission, which is to “cultivate theatre that manifests the adventure deeply rooted in the American mythos.” The small, Edgewater-based theater company is able to fulfill that mission with the help of the Chicago Cultural Center and a supportive community of artists, says the writing team. A recent Indiegogo campaign raised $7,265 for the show, much of which went toward paying the artists’ wages, Swanson says. Adequately paying actors is important to the company, he notes, because their work is worth “more than a cast photo.”

The demonstrable support had a positive effect on the entire production team, Bone adds. “We were there every day building the set—I think I got a total of ten hours of sleep last week,” he says days before The Casuals‘ opening night. “The financial support just makes you want to work harder, to give them back a little of what they’ve given us.”

The two say they have plans to collaborate again in the future, referencing their complementary personalities and shared interest in history as reasons to stick together beyond The Casuals.  Swanson says he “couldn’t have created someone in a lab” who’d make a better writing partner than Bone.

2013 Printer’s Ball Ramps Up its Printmaking Focus

**This article originally appeared on TimeOutChicago.com on July 23rd, 2013

Since it began in 2005, the Printers’ Ball, Chicago’s premiere annual literary showcase, has become a more multidisciplinary event, adding music performances, screenprinting demos, short films, shadow puppet shows and hot dogs. The event has attracted a largely literary audience, however, with a slew of local publishers and publications represented. Now, following a management changeover from the Poetry Foundation to Spudnik Press, the printstravaganza—happening Saturday, July 27—breaks out of its classic bindings and into a more creative form.

Spudnik Press Cooperative has long been a staple of the Chicago printmaking community, providing affordable space for anyone interested in promoting and engaging with the art of printed matter. This year, the printshop teams up with art and design collective the Post Family, art gallery Johalla Projects and design collective Simple. Honest. Work. to throw one of the most hands-on parties of the year, featuring risograph and printmaking demos, as well as on-the-spot tote bag screenprinting. The sun will be shining (it’s a daytime event for the first time in its nine-year history), the print nerds will be roaming, and this really abstract ice cream will be trying its best not to melt all over the West Town sidewalks. No doubt it will be a fun-filled day. But it won’t exactly be by the book.

Chad Kouri, cultural engineer at the Post Family and member of the Printers’ Ball planning committee, said there has been an orchestrated effort to highlight the printmaking arts this year, while still embracing the written word. The goal is to bring together different extensions of print that support and play off one another.

Corrina Lesser, project manager of the Printers’ Ball and assistant director of programming for the Chicago Humanities Festival, provided further explanation: “We were trying to think about visual artists who have a connection to the literary world, or literary writers and poets who have a connection to the visual world,” she said. “Interdisciplinarity is a huge thing. Right now it’s a buzzword, but it’s been a part of the way that artists and writers have interacted for years.”

Such was the case at last year’s Printer’s Ball at the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, which included bookbinding, letterpress and rubber stamping alongside literary trivia and library card sign-up. Last year’s conference also paid tribute to the city’s wisest wordsters with performances from the Read/Write Library and the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Reading Series.

If anything showcases the more equal focus between literature and art this year, it’s a keynote speech from renowned Chicago artist and poet Tony Fitzpatrick, who founded Big Cat Press in 1992. Also participating are literary heavyweights from Woodland Pattern and Danny’s Reading Series.

Fred Sasaki, editor at Poetry and founder of the Printer’s Ball, said the Foundation, though no longer in charge, is still funding and supporting the event. He said in an e-mail that the ball will be “equal parts focus and fancy” and that guests “should expect to experience the beauty and grit of literary enterprise like never before.”

This year’s event will take place in six different venues, all within the Hubbard St. Lofts. Outside, food trucks will serve empanadas as passersby watch free demonstrations or participate in workshops on bookbinding, bookmaking and surrealist poetry. Named “Trip and Return,” a play on the letterpress term that also references the resurgence of print culture, Printers’ Ball promises to be a multisensory, multifaceted experience, highlighting the intersections between art and lit.

Medium Cool art book fair: promoting printed matter

**This article originally appeared on TimeOutChicago.com on August 9, 2013

When Ria Roberts decided to organize the first art book fair in Chicago, she wanted a name that would reflect the hoped-for tone—”playful, fun.” The Chicago-born fine art student, currently working toward an MFA at Yale, arrived at “Medium Cool,” the title of Haskell Wexler‘s classic 1969 film about a politically tumultuous Chicago summer.

Roberts has spent her own summer curating and organizing the art book showcase, inspired by the NY Art Book Fair and Ooga Booga, a thoughtfully curated store in Los Angeles. Working remotely from the East Coast, she contacted all the Chicago-area friends, artists and designers she could find, at least 75 of whom will gather this Sunday at Prairie Production—a popular West Loop event venue/studio that also happens to be the family business.

Medium Cool came about when Roberts noticed Chicago’s lack of an affordable, communal space in which to show and sell printed matter. “At an art opening, you can gaze briefly at a work that often costs more than your net worth,” reads Medium Cool’s mission statement. “At a book fair you can buy a book—often from the person who made it—take it home, and read it. You can also place it on your coffee table or lend it to a friend. Books are an interactive technology and book fairs are a social network.”

“It’s a social event as much as it’s about the objects themselves,” Roberts told me during a recent phone conversation. (She landed here on Sunday night and has been in an e-mail and planning frenzy since.) “There’s a lot of potential for conversation, to meaningfully digest work, to take things home and share them.”

Up for grabs will be books from local names like Scott Reinhard and the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society, as well as imported prints from L.A.’s Ooga Booga, risography from Michigan’s Issue Press and carved book sculptures from Conrad Bakker, a former professor of Roberts who’s coming in from Urbana. Roberts said she was “totally floored” by the excited responses she got from the community.

Two weeks ago, fans of printed matter showed up for the Printers’ Ball and for Saturday Strip, a day-long comics extravaganza at the MCA. Let’s hope they do the same for Ms. Roberts’ quick-fix fair, which she has advertised through word of mouth, social media and posters (Chicago-style posters, featuring R. Kelly and a hot dog, natch). Admission to the fair is free, and Roberts is not charging a table fee—all profits go directly to the artists. She hopes the fair will be the first of many, and that it might inspire someone to set up a permanent art book store in the city.

Taylor Swift at Soldier Field

**This story originally appeared on TimeOutChicago.com on August 12, 2013 Image

Photo by Daniel (cousindaniel.com)

“Ever-changing and unpredictable and spontaneous and terrible and wonderful at the same time.”

That was Taylor Swift’s commentary on love during her Red Tour performance Saturday, August 10. Also a perfect way to describe the multisensory, emotionally saturated, glitter-covered time travel fiasco that I, and 50,000 12-year-olds, experienced in Soldier Field that night.

The Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter has come a long, long way since strumming out country hit “Our Song” in Nashville bars at age 16. After 75 million record sales and a new album full of chart-topping pop, she’s obviously grown into her superstar persona—something that became clear the minute she strutted down the catwalk in glittery Spanx (accompanied by glittery microphone and, later, glittery red guitar) to belt out opener “State of Grace” as fireworks erupted overhead.

Throughout the two-hour set, we saw everything from clowns on stilts and toy ballerinas to Victorian princes and noir-era paparazzi, all artistic devices for better conveying what Taylor refers to as “the crazy emotions.” These emotions—infatuation, dejectedness, betrayal, ecstasy, solitude—are the driving force behind some very real and relatable songwriting (relatable, that is, if you’re a 12-year-old girl), but also translate well to large-scale theatrics. Some stunts were gape-worthy (the flying drum line during “Holy Ground”, the rock violin intro for “Trouble”) while others were gaudy and difficult to get behind (the doo-wop rendition of “You Belong With Me”, the Les Mis–style flag choreography in “Red”). But frills and all, Swift delivered an adrenaline-pumping, squeal-inducing extravaganza where thumping club hits flowed smoothly into touchy-feely ballads as easily as tear-away gowns got swapped for shorts and T-shirts.

What I walked away with is a real appreciation for Swift as a versatile performer who knows her audience and knows exactly how to reach them. Did I enjoy the lengthy scripted heart-to-hearts that Swift delivered from a stool with wet, sparkly eyes between songs? God, no. But you can bet the row of 12-year-olds wearing light-up “Team Taylor” shirts behind me did. Swift’s cheerleader hip swivels and batting lashes left me nauseated, but it was just the kind of bubble-gum sex appeal and home-grown confidence that the many parents in attendance were banking on. Yes, she’s a superstar. And yes, she acts like it. But the girl-next-door Taylor we fell in love with a few years ago is still in there somewhere, and we got her back (with a banjo, no less) during a little throwback called “Mean.” And in an absolutely breathtaking rendition of “All Too Well” on a sparkly red piano.

Sure, it was a slumber party on steroids. But when T-Swift ran through the crowd giving high-fives and belting about the joys of being 22, I felt like we were having a moment. And if I was having a moment, then the girls behind me were having the time of their lives.