By Julia Borcherts, @JuliaBorcherts
August 6, 2013
When Write Club founder Ian Belknap was offered the opportunity to curate and host the free Live Lit on the Lake series as part of Chicago Park District's Theater on the Lake program, he immediately set three criteria: to balance the approach with both narrative-focused arts and essay, to represent the diversity of gender and cultural perspectives in Chicago's live lit scene and above all, to showcase the highest caliber writer-performers he's observed on stages across the city.
"People that are amazing writers but sucky performers are not live lit artists," Belknap said. "And vice versa—people who are really compelling, charismatic performers but can't write are not live lit performers. It's kind of like that two-chambered epoxy—one chemical without the other does not stick. You need both of these aspects in order to be truly riveting."
To that end, Belknap invited writer-performers who excel at both to appear in the series, which takes place on Thursdays and Fridays after the conclusion of each week's Theater on the Lake play. For the finale show, Belknap brings in three of Chicago's top storytellers—Shannon Cason, Dana Norris and Samantha Irby. We called all three to find out more and get a sneak peek into the story each plans to tell.
Live Lit on the Lake
Go: 9:15 p.m. Thursday-Friday at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive
Info: Free. 312-742-7994; chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/theater-on-the-lake---programming/
Claims to fame: Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award-winner for forthcoming essay collection, "Meaty;" founder of Guts & Glory reading series; blogger at Bitches Gotta Eat
Got her start: "My friend Alan was co-hosting the 'Sunday Night Sex Show' and he was like, 'You're not shy. Why don't you write a story about sex and come read it to us.' And I was like, 'Well, I gotta think of the grossest, weirdest sexual experience I've ever had.' So I wrote about it [laughs]. And then I was like, 'Oh, OK, I think I could read this in front of people.'"
She's a nerd because: "I have probably too deep of a knowledge of WWE [laughs] It's awesome to me but sometimes when I tell people, it's like, 'That's why you don't go on any dates—'cause you talk about, like, wrestling [laughs].'"
She's a badass because: "I can't [bleep]ing fight, but I negotiated with a crackhead once to keep him from stealing my Dave Matthews Band CD, which is both the most and least gangster thing that has ever happened. I was like, 'Are you really gonna listen to the Dave Matthews Band? What, 'Satellite' is your jam? Give me that!'"
Her story: "I'm going to read some new things from my book that's coming out in September."
Why Belknap booked her: "Samantha Irby is probably the sharpest observer and writer and crafter of diamond-edged jokes of anyone I've ever encountered. But the thing that renders it literary rather than just comedic is the fact that she's also unsparing in her honesty. In my view, she's what I want all live lit to be—unfailingly entertaining and unsparingly candid."
Claim to fame: The Moth GrandSlam champion; featured on NPR's "Snap Judgment"
Got his start: "I was writing fictional short stories—which I still love to do—and I went to Story Club. I saw [Dana Norris] just tell a story without notes about a jazz club in New Orleans. And then, I went to The Moth and I saw they were doing the same thing Dana was doing. I put my name in the hat the following week and I won."
He's a nerd because: "I'm a nerd and I've always been that. I was captain of the [high school] basketball team but also was a National Honor Society guy. Comic book collector when I was a kid; read a lot; avid library-goer. I ride my bicycle places—[laughs]—and the fact I said, 'bicycle.'"
He's a badass because: "When you fail in life as much as I have, you get to a point where you have an 'I don't give a [bleep]' personality. I had a divorce, business failure, laid off from jobs, foreclosed home, situations with custody. After awhile, you're just like, 'What else can you throw at me?' When you're figuring out where you're going to live next month, I could care less about having the audience looking at me. That's not scary to me anymore." [Laughs]
His story: "I want to do a montage of different stories—I want some of them to be funny, some nostalgic, some touching—but try to connect them in some way. It's going to be a blend of both [fiction and non-fiction], looking at interesting people who I might have grown up with, but then just thinking about them in different ways. I like the soulfulness of the shoe shine man—Malcolm X was a shoe shine boy and James Brown shined shoes and those were two interesting guys. Shoeshine guys usually are a little interesting. I mean, you don't get into shoe shining based on your lifelong love, you know? [Laughs.] A preacher man is always interesting to me, too, because they work off a calling and they're salespeople. And they have their faults and different qualities. The drug dealer is an interesting guy, too—you would think, like, thugs and hard guys— but a lot of these guys I used to beat up when I was a kid." [Laughs]
Why Belknap booked him: "Shannon Cason talks about the real [bleep]—the experiences of being a thief, or being a bad parent—all the things that keep us awake at night are the stuff that he's willing to grapple with. But because he's so engaging and compelling and his presentational style is super laid-back, he smuggles it in under the radar. If you're not paying full attention, you can miss the punch of what he's delivering."
Claim to fame: Founded Story Club live lit series in 2009
Got her start: "I was taking non-fiction certificate classes at the University of Chicago Graham School and signed up for this class called Writing Out Loud taught by Bridget Murphy. She used to do the Milly's Orchid Shows at the Park West and those were huge—David Sedaris used to read at those. She encouraged me, but all the open mics that I was finding were for stand-up, poetry, musicians. I would go there with my stories and I wouldn't fit. [Laughs] And so, I was telling her, 'I'm having problems finding a venue,' and she's like, 'Well, then, just make one. We need a new generation of producers.' She [put] me in contact with people to get a space and in 2009, I started Story Club."
She's a nerd because: "I geek out about any sort of new neuroscience finding. And I'm working on my thesis right now for my MFA and doing research into Nordic myths, different versions of Loki. And I love incorporating this research into pieces. I'll do a memoir piece and then I'll be like, 'And by the way, let's talk about Loki for a second.'"
She's a badass because: "I can walk up to a microphone at any given time and hold it down. I can go up there with no notes and just make it happen."
Her story: "I went through a bad break-up. I'd never really dated before and I was 29 years old. And I'm like, 'Well, let's start dating!' I treated it like a part-time job and I went on 71 Internet dates. And I will be talking about a series of those with a specific gentleman—and what happened." [Laughs.]
Why Belknap booked her: "Her stuff tends to be confessional but it avoids the traps—self-indulgence or preciousness—of that form. It's very well-crafted; there's always a build of suspense and the pacing is very well-tended to. It feels like the auditory equivalent of a short story rather than some friend just telling you something interesting that happened to her."
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