‘Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections’ at the Art Institute Chicago

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing
Icon of Christ Pantokrator, late 14th century. Byzantine; Thessaloniki. Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki.

Icon of Christ Pantokrator, late 14th century. Byzantine; Thessaloniki. Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki.

Icons of saints, choral music — at church? No just the Art Institute’s newest exhibit.

“Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections” at the Art Institute exhibits 63 pieces of art ranging from icons to sculpture to jewelry from the Byzantine Empire.

Advertisements

‘Laggies’ review: ★★

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing
13882-1

(Courtesy of A24)

Senior prom is the quintessential moment for teens. It’s that one event, the last magical moment with all of your friends before everyone grows up and moves on. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Unless you start hanging out with 17-year-olds when you’re 10 years out of high school and go to their prom.

Acting: It’s so much more than just acting

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing

When Kyle Mooney brought his Chris Fitzpatrick character to an episode of “Saturday Night Live” last season, the act may have seemed familiar for some.

Not because viewers remembered going to high school with someone like Fitzpatrick, a metal-head who hates jocks and is running for student class president because everyone else at his school is lame, but Mooney first debuted the character in a YouTube video in 2011.

REVIEW: ‘Evil Dead the Musical,’ I wish I were dead

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing

When given the choice between a splash zone or not while purchasing tickets for a musical, it’s usually a sign nothing good is to come.

“Evil Dead the Musical” lived up to that assumption, nothing good was to come.

The show tells the story of five college friends who take a trip to an abandoned cabin in the woods where they find the book of the dead that unleashes a power that turns everyone into a demon, based on the ’80s cult-classic “Evil Dead” (“Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead II,” “Army of Darkness”) films.

While I was sitting in my (non-splatter zone) seat watching the horror unfold, letting out only a few pity chuckles in Act II, I was shocked to hear guffaws around the Broadway Playhouse Theater. I then realized this musical was not for me, nor is it for most. It’s a musical for those that don’t attend the theater, those who willingly show up wearing a garbage bag-like poncho to sit in the front row, those scream like they’re at a rock concert when iconic “Evil Dead” lines are uttered such as “This is my boomstick!” (From “Amy of Darkness”)

Not everything about “Evil Dead” was horrible, just most of it. The relatively young, non-Equity cast all had strong voices, especially Demi Zaino as Cheryl and Andrew Di Rosa as Jake. They made the big production number “Do the Necronomicon” fun and upbeat, one of the few highlights of the show. Highlight being a relative term, because everything else was so terrible. The show is helmed by David Sajewich as Ash, who does a decent job with the material give to him.

“Evil Dead” in film and musical form is parody, never taking itself serious; camp. But the show, especially in its first act falls short of camp, which in its best form should be intelligent and self-referencing. It relies on easy misogynistic jokes, mostly from Creg Sclavi’s character Scott. A running joke throughout Act I is calling Cheryl a stupid bitch, because being rude to women is hilarious. Scott’s weekend hookup Shelly (Callie Johnson) dons a crop top with excessive cleavage, and at one point pulls the shirt down to reveal her bra. For no reason.

Act I continues to be unnecessarily crude, ranging from masturbation jokes to Scott pulling out his intestines which evidently attach to his penis. The humor comes across like it’s by middle school boys, yet I still feel uncomfortable for the middle school-aged boys in the audience.

But Act II does pick up, falling into its campy stride. “Bit Part Demon” and “All the Men in my Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” are highlights with their self-aware humor. If the entire show were like this it might be a two-star show. Might.

Before the show ends, a ridiculous zombie showdown between Ash and the rest of the now-evil cast produces all of the necessary fake blood for which the audience was waiting, mostly via blood fountains along the perimeter of the stage.

But I know “Evil Dead the Musical” wasn’t for me. For the audience, who gave the show a standing ovation, this is exactly what they were looking for. For now, I’ll stick to shows that don’t have a splash zone.

“Evil Dead the Musical” runs through Oct. 12 at the Broadway Playhouse Theatre, 175 E. Chestnut St.

The show must be chosen: How directors and theatre companies plan their seasons

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing

As Ben Stoner browsed through the musical listings on Music Theatre International‘s website, he got nearly to the end of the list before anything struck him. A-W, nothing. But then he landed on X, for “Xanadu.”

“When I saw that title I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that is crazy material but it just might work for these kids,’ ” said Stoner, an English teacher at Crystal Lake South High School in Crystal Lake, Ill. and CLS Theatre director. “So I ordered a copy of the script and I was totally sold, completely hooked within a few pages.”

For the high school’s fall production, 25 students will be performing “Xanadu” — roller skates and all —Nov. 5-8. The school typically puts on a play in the fall and a larger musical in the winter, but a musical fit this year.

“I have this really interesting crop of kids right now … they’re all really unique in their own way,” Stoner said. “I so desperately care about them and want to give them material they could all fit into. And I looked for plays that would serve that, and I just never found a play that would give enough opportunity.”

Choosing a season, be it for a theatre company or a school, is a long, ongoing process that involves many different elements, from content to budget to talent.

For Stoner, he’s constantly looking at the talent he has in his program as well as looking for shows that excite him as a director.

“The goal is to always have a few kids that could play a role, and then have it fall together at auditions,” Stoner said. “I surprise myself constantly at casting and certain things don’t go certain ways, but pool of talent is necessary. In an academic setting it’s great because I get these kids of four years and I know what I have coming up through he program.”

While Stoner makes the sole decisions for his productions, many professional theatre companies are much more collaborative, like Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre Company, currently performing “Danny Casolero Died for You” through Dec. 21.

“[We] read a ton of plays every year so we work together as a democratic group,” said Lara Goetsch, company member and director of marketing and communications of the company. “We read 200-300 scripts a year [total], then there are 40-50 scripts we read together, and then we have discussions monthly, and then we narrow down.

The TimeLine Theatre Company has 10 company members, ranging from Goetsch, a marketer and a producer earlier in her career, to directors, actors, educators and a dramaturg. PJ Powers, artistic director and co-founder, leads the group to finding four plays per year that fit into the company’s missions of producing work inspired by history that connects to current issues.

“We want to make sure we’re finding different styles, different historical eras, different stories to tell and topics to cover,” Goetsch said. “It becomes sort of a jigsaw puzzle of what fits together in a well-rounded, varied season. It’s got a system to it but also a little bit of magic at the end”

For Chicago’s Idle Muse Theatre Company, their current production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” came about in an unconventional way, when ensemble member and Marketing Director Nathan Pease lost the rights to produce a novel adaptation.

“I really loved the experience of adapting a book into a play but wasn’t in any hurry to have another adaptation get shelved indefinitely again,” Pease said. “Out of frustration, I began combing through my bookshelves for stories that were now in public domain and quickly found my hardcover copy of ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’ “

Eventually Pease started looking at others’ adaptations of the story, eventually settling on Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2009 adaptation.

“I loved his use of language, his ability to pick out that which is essential to the themes of the story in order to be somewhat faithful [the] original novella, and I loved the parts he’s made his own,” said Pease, director of the show. “It weaves together into a show that requires true ensemble work to tell a story.”

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is playing at the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble through Oct. 19.

Home, as an idea

Blog, Writing

There’s a line in the 2011 Death Cab for Cutie song “You are a Tourist,” released at the end of my freshman year of college, that spoke to me in a way I thought it was supposed to at such a time in my life.

“And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born then it’s time to go.”

I listed to the song and the album on repeat in my car for a few days after purchasing it that summer, and I felt it should really resonate with me at that time in my life, the first summer I returned to my hometown after a year of school in New York. Of course it’s time to go, I thought, I already got out. Get me out again, please.

There were some flaws in this internal argument. For one, I wasn’t born in Crystal Lake, but for all intents and purposes it was my home. Secondly, there are certainly no tourists in Crystal Lake, no one is that commitably insane. But mostly it was that I never really fit it in my hometown. I always felt different, but this summer I was just a little more shocked at how many places closed at 9 p.m. Most of my friends had all returned home this summer, I still kept in touch with high school acquaintances, and I still very much had a home in Crystal Lake.

***

I came home this weekend for the 4th of July and to see my best friends from high school — all of us would be home together for the first time in a year and a half, and for the last time for who knows how long. It could be years.

Going to school in Chicago, I’ve come home a fair amount throughout college. I certainly never liked to make a habit of it, and I didn’t, but it of course was always there. All holidays, any time good friends would come home, I would be there. Sleeping on my mom’s couch because my bed had been gone for years.

But something about this time felt different. Something about this one felt like the end.

Of my four friends I keep in touch with from high school, we’re all in the midst of a lot of changes. We have college degrees now, ranging from degrees in theater to hospitality to business and journalism. One of us is engaged. One just started a full-time job. One has been living in L.A. for a year and just produced a web series. One is moving to Guam.

On the one night we all had together, we went to the most horrible of horrible local bars. We did this to ourselves, but we really just wanted to see how miserable it was. We sat in a table in the corner as we competed with each other to point out all the people we recognized from high school. We cringed over and over again.

It was high school all over again, sitting in the corner, firing off snarky remarks to the people who seemed to be having all the fun. We always knew we were the ones having the real fun, and we didn’t mind ostracizing ourselves most of the time.

I brought my boyfriend home for this weekend too. I’d brought him home before, but this was the first time I was able to show him “all of the types of people I went to high school with.”

Crystal Lake is a fine place to grow up. Its town motto is “A Good Place to Live.” That just about sums it up—just good, nothing more.

In watching the throngs of locals spill out of Finn McCool’s on a Thursday evening, just like any other Thursday evening here, as I watched ex-boyfriends, former teachers and ultra-conservatives jaunt around the local fest, I never felt more like a tourist. I was disconnected from all of this, something I was never even connected to in the first place.

***

I come from a place where people are content with the familiar. At my high school the typical student would strive to attend a state school, U of I Champaign-Urbana if they’re one of the smart ones, or maybe a small private school in Illinois or one of the adjacent states. They return home after, or they never leave in the first place. Of course some do more, some get out and stay out. They’re the exception, not the rule.

This weekend, as I was talking to my one of friends at home, we wondered what it would be like if we were brought up in a place where teachers and mentors taught you about all of the different options and majors in college, small liberal arts schools came to let us know about their school, or students aimed to achieve Ivy League schools.

What would or lives be like if we weren’t brought up in the midst of complacency?

Maybe we wouldn’t be where we are, still trying to shake that feeling of complacent; still trying to ignore the itching feeling of failure of being even within 50 miles of my hometown.

But this was the hand that was dealt to us. We made it through. We made it here. Maybe we would’ve ended up somewhere else, but we didn’t.

At the end of high school, everyone is afraid college will tear apart the friendships you’ve built. The pretty good ones will make it a couple of years, the best ones will last forever. High school ends when you graduate, but it really ends after college. The “real world” knocks, and it pulls childhood friends across the country; across the world. This was the real end.

***

As I was driving home on my final night, everything felt different. I don’t know what, but it feels like a chapter has ended.

I know what it feels like to be a tourist in your hometown.

Welcome to the ‘Secret Garden’: Macy’s Flower Show with a fashionable twist

Blog, Writing
CFI designers

From left to right: Chicago Fashion Incubator designers Alyssa Kahle, Lagi Nadeau, Takako Yamanaka, Shelby Steiner and Grace Lee with their garden party designs inspired by flowers for the Macy’s Flower Show. (Photo via CFI Facebook.)

Pristine calla lilies, colorful desert candles, sparkling daffodils — but not in the garden.

The ninth floor of Macy’s on State Street was filled with thousands of plants from March 23 to April 6 for the annual Macy’s Flower Show, but among the displays of “The Secret Garden,” budding designers had the chance to shine.

This year Macy’s Chicago Fashion Incubator designers took part in a flower show challenge, where each of the designers chose a flower for inspiration for a design. To match the “Secret Garden” theme of this year’s show, the designers incorporated a secret element into their designs.

“It’s really nice to have these opportunities to use something as inspiration and then see how in the end all of our own styles remain in our pieces,” Lagi Nadeau said, one of the six participating designers-in-residence at Macy’s two-year program that provides up-and-coming designers free resources, workspace and mentorship to launch their own labels.

Glenwood Avenue mural

Rogers Park’s business climate along the Morse Red Line stop

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 503, Multimedia, Photography, Writing

By David Byrnes, Courtney Jacquin

In Chicago’s Rogers Park, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The community surrounding the Morse Red Line stop knows its small business population to be highly mercurial, with different institutions coming into and running out of money almost with the seasons.  However, other businesses in the same area, like The Heartland Cafe, Red Line Tap and Lifeline Theatre have stood for decades, with no sign of shuttered doors anytime soon.

So why have these businesses flourished for so long, while others seem to live on borrowed time?

Unemployment New Battle for Veterans at Home

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 503, Writing
Joe Franzese photo

Joe Franzese of the Wounded Warrior Projects talks challenges for returning veterans. (Photo/Mike Reilley)

By Courtney Jacquin

Post-9/11 veterans exiting the military have more resources for finding employment and returning to civilian life compared to previous wars, but it’s still not an easy transition.

With the U.S. involved in two simultaneous wars, Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2009 and War in Afghanistan from 2001 to present, approximately 2.4 million soldiers have served in at least on of the conflicts. That mixed with military budget cuts lead to more recent veterans than ever, all trying to lead normal, post-military lives.

“In a lot of ways being in the military is very easy,” said Joe Franzese, a Warriors to Work specialist for the North Central region for Wounded Warrior Project. “Once you get into the swing of things, it’s a very easy way of life.You have one job and that’s it.”

But as veterans try to immerse themselves into post-military life, there are plenty of issues they can encounter. This is where Franzese and the Wounded Warrior Project try to help.