Friday, November 6, 2009

And.... done

Thanks to everyone who came out to see Tell It! We had a very sucessfull run, with many full and appreciateive houses, and many beers consumed following the show.

After five straight months of either rehearsing or performing a play, The Ruckus gets a bit of a breather.

Keep checking in here to see what we're up to. Linear A opens in May, keep your eyes out for tickets.

Game On!

We of The Ruckus

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Every middle child's being sent into the wild, like a dingo finding wombats finding wombats being assholes."

And now, more about the music.

Elvisbride (l to r): Matt Test, Tom Vale, Taylor Bibat, Casey Cunningham and Troy Martin.

The backstory of Elvisbride is far too intricate to be conveyed by an outsider to the world they're creating, and while I am an epic fan, I am most certainly an outsider. I'll let one of their number fill you in.

The band began as a play:

Last winter, my friend Jayita Bhattacharya and I wrote a piece for the Curious Theatre Branch's Rhinoceros Theatre festival, compromisingly titled ElvisBride: Some Prepared Notes to Clarify the Impending Jubilation. It was a widely ambitious mix of surreal kitchen sink dialog, Robert Ashley drone opera, video monologing, and live music. To quote The Hunchback Variations, "our collaboration was doomed." My apartment had just flooded out, leaving me transient for the bulk of the rehearsal/writing process, and Jayita broke her leg opening night. Needless to say, there was slight tinge of albatrossity to the project.

Luckily we had compiled, mostly through begging, strong arming, and tantrum throwing, a tremendously talented team of performers, musicians, and tech folks who were game for whatever dumbass thing we threw at them. That's the extent of both my sucking up and alliterating, but you get the point. Beau O'Reilly, the curator of Rhino, asked us to perform a few songs at the Viaduct theatre to promote the show, and in a castoff-turned-fortuitous moment, my friend Michael Martin suggested we become a band. He claims we still owe him a quarter for taking him up on it.

After a couple week post show cooling off period, I proposed the idea to the group, because nothing entices veteran performers quite like the prospect of an unending rehearsal process with no fixed goal and only a vague notion of what the hell you're doing. And that's basically what starting a band is. But its also totally awesome, because you're in a band, and who doesn't want to be in a band? Almost everyone from the show said yes. I'm still shocked.

We've spent a lot of time since then stumbling around, rehearsing, playing gigs when we weren't quite ready, rehearsing some more, writing more, playing more, playing better, figuring out a balance between the theatricality and musicality, playing really well, casually swearing, coordinating our outfits, buying matching sweat bands. The stuff you do when you're in a band. The important stuff.

-Matt Test, ElvisBride
We of the Ruckus stumbled upon Elvisbride rather fortuitously, having performed on opposing nights of this year's Et Cetera festival (thanks a bunch, The Mill!) We were all hooked right away, and I think you will be, too. This is a remarkably talented bunch, and they've found a pretty fascinating blend of gothic folk and theatricality that is unlike anything else I've seen. They all have some serious game musically, are entertaining as hell to watch, play a slew of instruments, and have really rockin' sweatbands. It's a truly unique sound, paired with lyrics that veer from comic to terrifying and explore subjects as diverse as the malevolent spirits of otters and self-cannibalism.

They also have the distinction of being far-and-away the largest band that'll be playing in TELL IT. They might all fit on our little platform... but I have no idea where the cello and the saw are going to go.

Catch Elvisbride all over Chicago, all the time -- bars, theaters, coffee shops, rooftops, etc -- but if you want to see them work the banjo into a Flaming Lips tune, you'll have to see them in TELL IT & SPEAK IT & THINK IT & BREATHE IT. They'll be going on Tuesday October 27th and Tuesday November 3rd. Tickets here.

Oh, and for the curious: here's a preview of the-play-that-begot-the-band:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not A Music Person...

Okay, here is the uncomfortable truth. I have avoided this reveal my entire life. My world, until now, has been a series of lies covering up lies in order to block anyone from finding out this unthinkable horror that I am about to divulge. Can your heart handle the reality that I am about to expose? You asked for it…

I am not a “music person”.

Not one bit.

See, with music, I cannot help but feel like there is something that I’m missing out on. I always feel as if I am the one in the room who “doesn’t get it”. When faced with the challenge of this production, sheer terror swam over me. The panic of impending judgment lingered in my fingers, and I almost decided to not even submit an entry.

Then, I remembered a song. The first time that I heard “Tea for the Tillerman,” by Cat Stevens, it was as title music to one of my favorite shows, Extras. I remember listening to it over and over, consumed by its brevity, its simplicity, and most importantly, the fact that the other person in the room had no idea what it meant either.

To me, the great thing about this song is that no one can really define it. I have never found anyone who could give me a definitive answer, in person or online, as to what this song was truly about. Although the main theme is quite apparent, it has a sort of “take from it what you will” quality that I love. And, I can only hope that this was its original intention.

To me, this song represents simplicity. It characterizes the gracefulness and beauty of the basics in life. When I listen to this song, I revel in its fuss-free straightforwardness: Bring caffeine to the diligent. Feed backbreaking labor with meat. Give a carefree toast to the woman who made you cry. And, when it’s all said in done, play with the heart of a child.

I think that in today’s world, we all go through a period in life where we either choose to accept the complexities of life for what they are or to rebel against them. Neither choice is wrong and both are very specific to the person.

I chose to go down one path with this song. Some people may be right there with me. Others may think I have it all wrong. Either way, I’m going my way because, luckily, no one can prove me incorrect.

I wanted to present this song’s message of simplicity in the form of ridiculous complexity. And, I hope it is fun.

- Jessie Spear, Tell It... playwright

Older and Responsible

I still go to record stores. This is where I buy my music. Luckily, I live in a city where these places still exist. I've bought stuff online but it just doesn't feel right. Part of the pleasure derived from record (or cd) shopping is the discovery of a new band or rediscovery of an old treasure. And this, I’m sorry, can only happen while browsing through the dusty dollar bins of a record store. Lately, I’ve been buying all the shit I used to listen to when I was a teenager. Shit I had on cassette. Forgotten bands, like Madder Rose, Bettie Seveert, Pale Saints. I’ve been revisiting the music of my youth for a couple of reasons: 1) because the shit that came out of the early 90s was so incredibly good; and 2) I’ve been missing my youth.

As a kid, I was obsessed with creepy things like bugs and horror films. By my teenage years I was obsessed with AIDS and Lyme Disease. So, of course, I’d become obsessed with the dark, lovely songs of The Cure. In the summer of 1991, I was hanging out with my cousins watching some modern rock (pre-"alternative") video show on Chicago local access TV. There were videos by R.E.M., Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Depeche Mode, but it was the Cure's video for the song "Lullaby" that changed it all for me. In the video, Robert Smith is lying in bed, looking a little like Delta Burke, from Designing Women, with his chubby face all painted up. Robert is trying to fall asleep, but he is unable to because he is being tormented by his doppelganger: "The Spider Man." At some point in the video, Robert is eaten alive by a giant hairy spider. The spider mouth looked like an enormous hairy pussy. Horrifying.

In 1993, I would see the Cure. My first concert. I had to go with a cousin of mine because she was "older and responsible." And she could drive. Well, this older and responsible cousin invited like 8 or 9 of her not so responsible friends. They were all smoking dope and tripping balls. First time I'd seen that sort of thing. I, being the 15-year old dork I was, just said no to all the drugs offered to me. One of the dudes was a dealer. He was selling E or X or whatever Ecstasy was referred to as back then. I remember watching the dealer friend of my cousin sell a handful of Ecstasy to some old guy— “old” to me meant “in his 30s” —and the dealer made him take the whole fistful right then and there. I'm sure that person is dead now.

This play is about all those things that excited and scared me back then. Whenever I listen to the Cure or dive through the dollar bins at a record store, all the hopelessness and hope, the fear and desire come rushing back.

- Kristian O'Hare, TELL IT... playwright

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Do You Love Me Now?

Sung to “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by: The Crash Test Dummies.

Once there was this girl who,

Couldn’t think of anything to do for her directing scene.

And when the due date came ‘round.

She, stayed, up way too late with her ipod.

This song came on by Kim Deal the bassist from the Piiii-xieeeess

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Once this girl had listened

She felt she knew much more about what Kim Deal was singing

And when she looked at the words.

She, saw, a woman in love but hurting.

What if she had killed him? Then it could get creeee peeee.

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

All night she dreamed of the fact

She could go much farther then that

Then when she woke up

She thought oh man the hurt woman will hold on to the body.

And then it would show that

She, was, never able to touch him.

She couldn’t quite explain it she really liked deeeaaaad guuuuy.

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Cue church choir fade out to crickets

I would like to thank the wonderful actors and director who are kicking ass on this piece and also the 90’s alterna-drone movement. You inspire so much.

Does any one else feel like wearing flannel?

- Allie Gruner, Tell It... playwright

Friday, October 16, 2009

This past August 23, I saw Pearl Jam in concert at the United Center, and as I was impersonally guided to my parking place in one of the venue’s sanctioned lots, I was reminded of one of the great lost heroes of my childhood: “Wally Green.” While I have a lived the past six years in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I grew up in the city of Chicago. My family lived in West Rogers Park and my dad owned drugstores on the Southside. Thus, I attended a lot of shows at the old Chicago Stadium. Pearl Jam is one of the only acts who I still see in an arena—the other is Bob Dylan—and being back in the vicinity of the razed Stadium brought old “Wally” to mind.

I was probably fourteen or so when I first started attending shows at the Chicago Stadium. And for whatever reason, before I understood entirely the role money plays in these sorts of things, my dad was able to get me ridiculously great concert tickets to the Stadium because of what seemed this extraordinary connection he had there. I mean, this was when my dad was still driving me to shows. The source seemed the most unlikely guy: His name-tag said “Wally” and he waved the flags that directed us into the parking lot at the Stadium. And thanks to “Wally” (and my dad), for a couple of years, before I became obsessed with punk rock and wouldn’t step foot into an arena if Wally had paid me (except to see Dylan), when my father pulled into that lot, I could be assured that I would be sitting on the floor, in the center, right by the stage.

One particularly memorable show paired Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters. I had become a huge blues fan because of my dad’s store on the Southside, and the chance to see Muddy teach Slowhand the blues promised to be an incredible treat. My dad pulled into the parking lot; Wally called my dad, “Mr. Gordon” (his first name); and my Dad called him “Wally Green.” They exchanged money, and my dad drove around to the front to let me out. I asked my Dad how he knew that his last name was Green, and my dad, who passed away twenty years ago now, said one of those things that I can still hear him say: “You give Wally--green--and he gives you concert tickets.”

I got my tickets to the Pearl Jam concert from Ten Club, the Pearl Jam Fan Club. It was a real good show. My seats were pretty good. There were based on my seniority in the club and that seems fair. It's quite easy and convenient. But during those years, Wally Green and my dad sure seemed to make some magic happen in that parking lot outside the "Madhouse on Madison."

-- Steve Feffer

Steve Feffer's play "My Brother, the School Shooter" is a short play inspired by Pearl Jam's "Jeremy".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"I know that you've been wandering around this town looking for a cure, but you just better shoot me down."

When we started getting ready for TELL IT..., one thing was clear to me.

IF: a play is a 'music play',
THEN: there must be both play and music.

I mean, I love plays, and I love music, and if we're going to create plays about music we had better have an awful lot of both. You've been hearing from some of the people who are bringing the former. Here's one of the latter.

Louis and the Hunt, aside from having a great name, are a really killer band. A three-piece that can go from the most delicate, lyric sound you could imagine to wall-to-wall rock and roll at the drop of a hat, they are frankly not to be trifled with. They will trick you into whistling and then steal your metaphorical lunch money. They'll make sounds so ethereal that you'll swear you've gone to church and then they'll blow the doors off. If it were appropriate to use expletives on this, our faithful blog, I would say that they will eff your ess right up.

People are drawn to different bands, singers, writers for wildly different reasons. I can be drawn in by any number of things: a great and surprising percussionist, a vocalist with a unique and effortless sound, a killer horn section, a remarkable turn of phrase or two, inventiveness in structure, a great marriage of technical skill and unabashed rock and roll abandon -- all of these things can hook me. Well, Louis and the Hunt have yet to throw trumpets my way, but otherwise that list pretty much sums it up. They've got seven or eight tracks up on their MySpace, including the brand-new and seriously lovely 'The Wolf and I', a lyric from which appears as the title for this blog-entry-thing.

It's been a busy month for these three gentlemen. This Saturday they're playing a fundraiser for Wunderkammer Magazine alongside another band, two poets and a visual artist. Apparently October is the month of multidisciplinary collaborations that involve Louis and the Hunt. They'll be playing the first Sunday and second Monday of TELL IT..., they're (I think?) recording an album, and along the way played a hell of a show at Schubas. Check it, along with a brief but really interesting interview with vocalist/songwriter Ryne Estwing:

Wunderkammer Artist Series: Louis & The Hunt from jmharper on Vimeo

I think you'll love them as much as we do. And I mean, really -- who doesn't want to see that guy sing an Elvis Costello song, a Paris Hilton song, and six or seven others in one night?

Catch Louis and the Hunt all over Chicago, all of the time -- but specifically at the side project on October 25th and November 2nd as one of three bands taking part in TELL IT & SPEAK IT & THINK IT & BREATHE IT. Go see them before they get huge and you can't afford to. Tickets here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Case of You

I am an actor, singer, painter, and a homosexual. I once was even 2 feet away from a wild moose and yet, having a play produced in Chicago is the scariest experience of my life.

When I was writing this play, I had the intention of creating this horror story about a young woman who becomes obsessed with a man with a social disorder. The story ended in the woman resorting to cannibalism to be close to him. I know, right? Well, that didn't happen.

With cannibalism on the brain I started writing. As the characters began to relate to one another, I realized that giving them a predetermined voice just wasn't working. Instead, I decided to look at the play as I do a piece of art. I let it be whatever it wanted to. Screw the story. If a plot emerges, great. If not, well at least I tried. However, when I finished I realized that the story that was created was much more interesting than anything I could of imagined. I'm proud of what I created and I hope that I have in some way honored both Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Come see the plays. Game on!

Project PKD

Unrelated to TELL IT...

I'm embarking on a new literary project: To read the entire bibliography of Philip K. Dick in the order in which the works were written. That's 36 novels and 121 short stories. I have imposed a deadline on myself of October 10, 2010. 10.10.10 - this was unintentional.

I am a great fan of sci-fi, and PKD may be my favorite author in this or any other genre. He was no technological visionary (See: Arthur C. Clarke), but more than any other writer of speculative fiction, PKD inhabited the head space of the future - presenting a vision of mankind's forthcoming alienation, not a litany of his greatest toys.

I invite anyone interested to join me. I will be purchasing all the novels, and am happy to loan them out to careful comrades.

Don't know who PKD is? Have you seen the film Blade Runner? Minority Report? A Scanner Darkly? These are all adaptations of his work. If you're looking for a place to start, I suggest Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel upon which Blader Runner is based, or Ubik, a story with perhaps the most interesting premise in the storied history of the premise.
Game On. Or in this case, Read On.
Edit: Project PKD now has its own blog, Follow along as I drive myself inexorably mad...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

submitted by Bridget, one of the directors for "TellIt.."

I love that I got access to this blog directly. I am wondering how to abuse that power somehow. Maybe I will become one of those random blog spammers who posts comments about travel websites and teeth whitening packages. Maybe I will just stick to writing about the festival.

What I am really stoked about right now, other than that my apartment really IS big enough to rehearse in (I will never doubt that again), is how rehearsal went last night. The show is a silent one, so trying to draw the actors in when the script is basically telling you what to do seemed a challenge. But then we got the show on its feet last night, and a wonderful thing happened - the "script" wasn't as fleshed-out as it appeared at first glance, so without thinking the actors were filling in moments that took us from beat to beat, while the playwright sat revising things based on what was happening organically. It was rather awesome and exciting so now I am bummed that we have another week to go before the next rehearsal.

At the first read through, Annie, who plays the "Wife", brought up a really bizarre tale of a woman that murdered her husband and then sealed off the room in the house that she killed him in AND LEFT THE BODY IN THERE FOR OVER A YEAR! Incidentally, Annie knows this because she watches Oxygen. Not judging...
Here is the link to the Iowa news station with articles about her case and trial -

A creepy/weird side note is that these people have kids. So kids were living in the house where the bedroom is sealed off because it holds their dead dad and they are living with a mom that committed the murder. Can't find much info on this part of the story, just think that it is really awful and can't figure out how, if she wasn't the only one living there, why none of the kids spilled the beans that "dad's dead behind that door. we don't go in there anymore"?!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reach out and touch faith.

It was one of those weekend evenings when I happened to be at the office downtown for work. I don't remember exactly what I was doing at work that Sunday (was it a Sunday?), but I do remember vividly the trip home on the Red Line. In typical Sunday CTA fashion, I had been waiting longer than I'd like to have for the northbound train at the State/Lake subway platform. In a not-so-typical fashion, when the train arrived I got one of those seats I love: a single facing sideways so you don't have to pretend you're skinnier than you are to share a seat when you were just trying to get home at the end of a seven day work week.

As I pulled out my book--What is the What was it?--i noticed almost immediately the woman across from me: a pleasant looking woman of Asian descent in a red t-shirt, sitting in CTA's version of a love seat, facing forward. As any metropolitan-ite will tell you, after a month or so riding public transit you've pretty much seen everything. Having been a faithful Red Liner for going on four years, this is doubly the case. Being a not-so-typical Sunday afternoon, however, what this woman was doing captivated the hell out of me.

I let my book rest on my lap as I watched this person diligently learn the prayers of the rosary. With a brand-new set of prayer beads and a shiny new prayer pamphlet, she memorized portions of the prayer, quizzed herself, put the pamphlet away to practice and started all over again. This women's newfound sense of faith, or perhaps newfound sense of Catholicism really perked up the atheist in me.

I don't know if the upcoming "music plays" (as we called them at the time) for The Ruckus were in my mind at that point or not, but Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" began to play as if it had replaced the announcements everyone has memorized booming from the train's loud speaker.

I didn't write my short play based on that song and commute until several weeks later. This was my first foray into the world of playwriting. It scared the shit out of me. I like the end result. Come see Tell It & Speak It & Think It & Breathe It Let me know what you think.

Monday, September 7, 2009

On Vagueness, Specifically: Looking forward to Tell it & Think it & Speak it & Breathe it.

Think about your favorite song. What makes it great? Is it the tune – a particular riff or chord progression that elicits something in you? Is it the lyrics - something poetic, or clever, or insightful, or silly that you’ve never been able to forget since you first heard it? Maybe it’s the production. Or the way the singer sings with a particular emotion or nuance. Maybe intellectually you realize the song’s not all that great, but it takes you back to a time and place that you remember fondly, as so many songs do.

There are many ways to create a great song. What I’m writing about today is the simplest and arguably the laziest of ways, but also one of the most effective. I’m talking of course about vagueness.

Human psychology 101: Most people, whether they’ll admit it or not, think of themselves as the center of their universe. They see other people and events not independently, but in relation to their own selves and lives. I am no different. It’s why I (usually) don’t leave the house dressed as a slob. It’s why I can’t watch a baseball game without bias. It’s why I’m bothering to use semi-proper punctuation and spelling in this blog.

Please, don’t think of this as a bad thing. We spend every hour of every day with ourselves. We should see the world through our own individual filters, albeit not exclusively.

To bring this back to music…

When a song’s lyrics are intentionally vague, it creates a whole handful of blanks for the listener to fill in with experiences from their own lives. Let’s take an example from my teenage years, Smashing Pumpkins’ Bullet With Butterfly Wings:

Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage

Imagine it’s 1995, just after dinnertime, and 13 year-old Johnny is blasting this song from his 5-disc CD player in his room loud enough for it to echo throughout the house.

When Johnny listens to this lyric (repeated twelve times throughout the song), he thinks, “I’m trapped within my parents’ house and suppressed by their rules. I’m stuck in school five days a week. None of the people who are supposed to be teaching or caring for me understand me, so it’s hopeless. The girl I like won’t talk to me. Most the kids at school are jerks. I have to endure this for another five years. That’s over a third of my life so far. My God, five years is a long time. I’m unhappy, but powerless.”

When Johnny’s mom, downstairs washing the dishes hears the lyric, she thinks, “I’m trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who no longer appreciates me. I cooked him dinner. He wolfed it down without so much as a ‘thank you’ and left me to wash the dishes. We scrimped and saved so we could buy our son a really fancy 5-disc CD player and he still will barely speak to us. And he’s going to ruin his ears. My responsibilities as a mother and a wife won’t allow me to make any drastic changes in my life. And somehow I’m turning 40 next month. My God, 40 years went fast. I’m unhappy, but powerless.”

When Johnny’s pet rat, listening from within his cage hears the lyric, he thinks “Yup, that pretty much sums it up. Even if I did escape - an owl’d probably eat me. Did you know that a pet rat’s average lifespan is 2 to 3 years? My God, 2-3 years is short. My God, 2-3 years is a long time to be in a cage. I’m unhappy, but powerless.”

What’s never actually explicitly stated in the song – or really even alluded to – is what Billy Corgan is so upset about. Did his relationship with a friend or loved one fail? Does he feel like his life lacks meaning? Did he lose his car keys?

This is, of course, one example in an endless sea of vague song lyrics. The jilted lovers have it:

And I’m here to remind you / of the mess you left when you went away

-Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughtta Know”

The ones doing the jilting have it too:

The b*tch went nuts

-Ben Folds’ “B*tch Went Nuts”

The hippies have it:

I wasn’t born to follow

-The Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow”

So do the yuppies:

I eat too much / I drink to much / I want too much / Too much

-Dave Matthews Band’s “Too Much”

The rockers have it:

You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes you might find /

You get what you need

-The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

The rappers have it:

Life’s a b*tch and then you die / That’s why we get high /

Cuz you never know when you’re gonna go

-Nas’ “Life’s a B*tch”

Those crying quietly at home have it:

You’ll be loved, you’ll be loved / Like you never have known /

And the memories of me / will seem more like bad dreams /

Just a series of blurs / Like I never occurred / Someday you will be loved

-Death Cab for Cutie’s “Someday You Will be Loved”

Those crying their drink orders in the clubs have it:

I gotta feeling / That tonight’s gonna be a good night

-Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”

I could go on - and honestly, it’s hard not to. But you get my point. To make a song profound, you can come up with something brilliant – or you can create a framework for the listener’s own insights. After all, what could be more meaningful to you than something you thought of yourself?

My examples are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg - so I’ll leave it to you, bold commenters. What songs have or had a profound impact on you simply by letting you fill in the blanks with your own feelings?

This is the first in a series of music-related posts by David Hornreich (a FOTruck) in anticipation of The Ruckus’ Tell it & Think it & Speak it & Breathe it – a night of plays in which David will be participating in some capacity or another.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pay no attention to the veritable gentleman's tallywags....

Not exactly using lyrics in an unexpected way, but not far off the mark. I really like the Fornication Sidearms, but when it comes to punk I prefer The Mismatch-of-Colors-or-Patterns.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Meanwhile, in the travels of the Ruckus...

We of The Ruckus are spread like butter through the rocky crevices of these United States. We've got one in Florida, one in California, two in New York and a whole slew of FOTrucks in every nook and cranny you can imagine. (FOT•ruck |fôtrək| (noun) - a word just in this minute coined by Allison Shoemaker that indicates a person or animal that is a 'Friend of The Ruckus'). While I wish they could all serve the cause in person, their lives have taken them elsewhere. In the case of company member and logo-bearer Seth Miller, he's ended up in Brooklyn, the land where skinny jeans go to die. (Nothing but love for you, Brooklyn.)

What is he doing there?

Seth, along with fellow FOTrucks George Frye, Mark Jaynes and Joe Stratton, are Not Blood, Paint. They're killer. You can find them on iTunes, MySpace, YouTube, and a bunch of other places -- and last week, their album 'Pure Electron' was reviewed by The Deli Magazine. They've "created a new breed of rock that is at times earthy, at others cerebral while remaining melodious and true to its roots." Awesome, right? You can read the whole thing here. We're proud.

You may have also heard them in the pre-show music for HEIST PLAY, if you were in on that action. It's the one with the phrase 'you and your opposable thumbs' in it. Difficult phrase to miss.

What else is Seth up to? Well, you can check out his work as a playwright in October/November as a part of 'TELL IT & SPEAK IT & THINK IT & BREATHE IT.' You can have him serve you food, if you're rich and live in New York City. Or you can send him emails and beg him to visit, if you're the Chicago contingent of The Ruckus.

Also, Seth? You owe me a rewrite. Love, Allison.

Next time, in 'Meanwhile, in the travels of The Ruckus...': Ghafir Akbar and the mysteries of Sarasota. Hint: great weather! MFA candidates!

Monday, August 24, 2009

From director Allison Shoemaker

Neal Starbird makes a last minute costume change. He has my full support. I always thought HEIST PLAY was a little like 'Eraserhead.'

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Bridget Dougherty, stage manager

Last night, we got to hang out in an alley and sand down furniture. Oh joy. The Old Style and show tunes made it worth it. A little. Mostly the Old Style helped. A lot.

So if you wanna see what the finished pieces look like, you better get to HEIST before it closes.

Here’s a sneak peek at the awesome bars that got delievered to us early this week by our set designer (and owner of a really pimp truck) Clay Barron.

Can you tell I like to read blogs with pictures? In normal life I quite prefer books with out them, but there is something pretty about seeing them on the computer screen in the middle of the blogs. When I was a kid, reading books of scary stories (specifically “Scaries Stories to tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz) I would never place my finger in between pages that had freaky pictures on them because in my head the pictures might come alive and hurt/kill me.

How could this pic not scare you?!? It is intended for ages 9+. I was and still am a wimp. Stephen Gemmell’s illustrations are so freaky. The stories fail to scare me now (I’m not THAT much of a wimp still), but the images remain awful.

This is the story by Alvin Schwartz that goes along with it. No wonder I was a morbid child.

HAROLD by Alvin Schwartz

Thomas and Alfred were two best friends. Whenever it got hot, they would take their cows up to a cool, green pasture in the mountains. Usually they stayed there with the cows all summer. The work their in the mountains was easy, but really boring. All they did was tend their cows all day. They would return to their tiny hut and night. Every night they ate supper, worked in the garden, and went to sleep.

Then one day, Thomas said "Let's make a life-size doll. We can put it in the garden and use it as a scarecrow." There was a farmer they both hated named Harold, so they decided to name the doll Harold and make it look like him. They made it out of straw and gave it a pointy nose and tiny eyes, like Harold's. Day after day, they would tie Harold to a pole in the garden to scare away the birds. They brought it in the house every night. Sometimes, they would talk to it, saying things like "How's it going?" And the other would say in a weird voice "Not good." Of course, Harold wouldn't appreciate it. When they were in a bad mood, they would even curse at him or kick him.

A while later, when Thomas was taking out his anger on Harold, Alfred swore he heard the doll grunt. "Did you hear that? Harold grunted!" "Impossible, he's just a sack of straw," replied Thomas. Alfred dismissed it, but they both stopped talking to it, kicking it, or even touching it, they just left him neglected in the corner of the room.

After a while, they decided nothing was to be feared. Maybe a few bugs or rats were living in the straw. So they went back to their old routine. Every day, they would take it outside, and bring it back in at night. Then they even started treated him badly again.

One night, Alfred noticed something that scared him. "It looks like Harold is growing." "I was thinking the same," answered Thomas. "Maybe it's just our imagination. I think the elevation is getting to us." The next morning, they saw Harold stand up and walk outside, climb onto the roof, and he stayed there all night. In the morning, it came down and stood in the pasture. They got very scared and decided to flee. They took their cows and started heading back down for the valley. After going only a mile or so, they realized they had forgotten the milking stools. They knew they didn't have the money to replace them, so Alfred forced himself back to get them. "I'll catch up with you later. You just keep moving." After walking for a while, Thomas looked back at the hut and did not see Alfred. What he did see, however, horrified him. He saw Harold, on the roof of the hut, stretching out a bloody piece of flesh to dry in the sun.

Friday, August 14, 2009

From playwright Mitch Vermeersch

It would be difficult to imagine film noir without the smoking. The cigarette is a visual element of the films as quintessential and recognizable as the fedora or the silhouette.

One reason for this is the clever way in which directors used cigarettes for elegantly crafted character moments. In Jules Dassin’s beautiful film Theive’s Highway, Valentina Cortese produces a cigarette she hopes Richard Conte will light for her. He declines. Ignoring the fifteen or so matches that have been lit and held out to her by hopeful male patrons, she takes the cigarette from his mouth and suggestively lights her own smoke off the burning end of his. These are the moments that characterize film noir. It would be difficult to imagine the stalwart noir detective without a burning cigarette firmly planted in his countenance. The same goes for the lusciously villainous femme fatale. What else is she going to do with those sexy, gloved fingers?

But what would it look like if you were forced to remove the cigarette from the noir film? Humphrey Bogart walks into a bar from the street and takes a seat alone amid the swirling maelstrom of greased hair and wild dresses. There is a rhumba band playing and people are dancing but he is too solitary and world-weary to dance. The bartender brings him a glass of dark dark liquor as he surveys the room for the crook he’s tailing, all the while looking out for the girl who’s tailing him. He is a man at once within and detached from the room. To calm himself he reaches into his jacket pocket and casually pulls out his pack of… gum. He lets a stick dangle coolly from his lips, tastes the soothing menthol soon to fill his mouth with minty freshness… sounds silly doesn’t it?

My point is that to take the cigarettes out of film noir would be like taking the color gels out of a theater. You could get along fine without them, but the aesthetic of a lot of plays would likely feel very awkward. However in this city, as in many others, they’ve taken the smoking out of everything. Including the theater. See a production of Glengarry Glenross and the masculine, hard smoking real estate agents (if they’re lucky) will be exhaling electronically controlled water vapor or (if they’re not lucky) thin rolls of bubble gum candy wrapped to look like Marlboro Reds. Because Heist Play is inspired and informed by the world of film noir, to remove the smoking from the world of the play would have felt somewhat unjust. Thusly, we’re forced to find creative ways to portray smoking, and you’ll have to forgive us for any gaps in the authenticity of our substitutions.

Personally, I am a stickler for authenticity when it comes to things like this, but I can’t bring myself to argue with the reasoning behind this obstacle. There are many good reasons why so many major cities have instituted smoking bans. There are many good reasons not to smoke. Noir films were made at a time when smoking was a much more accepted and universal habit. Today, children come out of the womb familiar with the inherent health risks. There are, however, those of us who still enjoy it, and the culture of smoking today is much different than in the days of noir. In non-smoking cities like this one, smokers gather at regular intervals outside public buildings in small congregations. At once within and detached from the population, these congregations meet to talk about nothing in particular. They are united only by the individual enjoyment they get from partaking in a particular vice, an enjoyment not unlike the kind I feel watching noir movies, films populated by lonely characters whose flaws and personal interests set them apart from the public at large.

Desire for a particular vice sometimes forces you to be creative when it comes to getting your fix. It is this desire that occasionally sends me on extensive searches for hard to find noir titles. It sends smokers out of doors to find small, secluded corners where they can smoke among those who share the same interest. Vice breeds a strange congregation, but it’s a congregation that, like most, is ever willing to welcome a newcomer. Smokers light smokes for other smokers today the same way they did in the days of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe.

And so when Heist Play opens on Sunday, you will find me standing outside the Side Project Theater smoking to calm my nerves during the act breaks with a handful of people who find enjoyment in the same silly activity as myself. That cigarette will end, the way all cigarettes do, and I will head back inside to take my place among a crowd of people united only by the strange enjoyment they get from watching a cast of actors tell stories onstage with fake liquor, plastic pistols, and bubble gum cigarettes.

Come see Heist Play. The space is small and tickets are going fast.

From director Allison Shoemaker

When people make ‘noir-esque’ movies today, what they mean is that they look like film noir, or the dialogue is similar in rhythm and cadence -- essentially, they’re talking about style. There are a lot of remarkable movies that fall into this category. I was entertained as hell by 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ and ‘Brick.’ ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ are both beautifully shot and incredibly evocative of the genre. Here’s the thing, though: when film noir movies were being made, it wasn’t just about the style. That was a huge part of it, yes, but so was moral ambiguity and characters that refuse to inhabit a world in which one can be truly good or purely evil. The movies we now call film noir were about failed redemption, about what it is to be unable or unwilling to assert your own destiny and avoid damnation. They were about the clever banter, certainly, but also about what happens in the air between the words. When I started to think about what contemporary examples we have of that fundamental aspect of the noir tradition, a scene popped into my mind.

At the risk of sounding like an entry in ‘Stuff White People Like,’ I have to say -- I think The Wire might be the best show in the history of television. At the very least, it’s the closest thing to film noir we’ve seen this decade. As a result, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. (Fellow fans can listen for the theme song in ‘Heist Play’.) A lot of factors went in to making The Wire what it was -- talented writers, a devoted, adventurous and mostly unknown cast, a network brave enough to produce a show where the most heroic character is a gay stick-up boy who only robs drug dealers and lives by a code. This is a show you actually have to learn how to watch. You expect it to be one thing, and it’s not. It’s more. It’s a novel. It’s an epic.

I can’t exactly say I’ve stolen things from ‘The Wire’ for ‘Heist’, but it has certainly informed my work. When Katie Canavan and I started talking about Dietrich, we talked about cops who want but aren’t sure how to be more, and I was thinking of poor Beadie Russell. When Josh Davis was working to find how exactly Nick is altered when he’s drinking, Jimmy McNulty was swimming in booze through my head. When I talk, or rhapsodize, really, to my cast about the amazing things Mitch does with language, with such simple words and the great meaning they convey, I think of that scene where D’Angelo Barksdale teaches Bodie and Wallace and Poot about how chess works using the drug trade to communicate the ideas, and the total lack of expression on each of their faces as they begin to talk about the pawns. And when I want to remind myself to think about the remarkable things you can do with great characters and great actors, I think about that amazing scene in season one when McNulty and the Bunk go to investigate a crime scene that was royally botched by the first set of police who looked it over, and figure the whole damn crime out, and talk it through and figure it out, and they only ever say ‘f*ck’ and its many derivatives. Talk about inventiveness.


We’re a few days out from opening now. We’re close enough to opening that I am just now getting around to writing this thing I’ve been so stoked about writing. We’ve found the props (or most of them) and fitted the costumes and taped the floors. We’ve emptied a 12-pack of Old Style and need to empty many many cans of Coors Light in the next few days (for props, I swear). We’ve gotten it done. It’s a terrifying and exhilarating feeling.

It’s been a real privilege to work on ‘Heist Play’. I’ve known many of the people involved for many years, and hope to know the new ones for many more. (Katie Canavan stole my blog idea -- but how many Odes to Starbird or Melton or Stulik can one blog take? Anthem of Hornreich and Dean, perhaps?) We of The Ruckus are so fortunate to be working with such a remarkable cast and crew, and I can’t wait for the world at large to see the remarkable work they’ve been doing. I’m proud and inspired and humbled and wildly entertained. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Last but far from least, I’m so lucky to be working elbow to elbow with Mitch Vermeersch again. In a world of style-but-no-substance, Mitch creates these truly original plays that never fail to surprise. In ‘Heist Play’, Mitch gets to convey his love of film noir through Nick, and the passion and fascination he feels is so clearly conveyed that it cant’ help but be contagious. His braveness in breaking rules of structure and in allowing characters to be ugly people who do ugly things has created a genuinely unique work of art that has inspired me to be better and do more, and has done the same for our remarkable cast. I can’t wait for ya’ll to see it.

Back to work. Oh my wow, I hate and love scene changes. But mostly hate. But mostly love.

Down to the Wire

Submitted by Katie Canavan

It’s that time again. We have a scant few days. We are all working hard and it feels like it just might not make it. Everyone is stressed. It’s almost 100 degrees in our rehearsal space. We are adding costumes and props and sets and lights and music and dancing and it is a bit overwhelming.

This is my favorite part of the process.

Don’t get me wrong, this is also the most horrible part of the process. The most stressful part. But this is what will make everything more satisfying on Sunday night. This is why we do what we do. I cannot think of anything better than telling a story with little more than ourselves, some lights, and a few pieces of wood to sit on.

And this story is a pretty good one. So please come join us. If not on Sunday, then on Monday. Or Tuesday. Or even Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Ode to Starbird

Submitted by Katie Canavan

The cast of Heist Play is above-average fantastic. I may be slightly biased, since I have known most of them for years, including my roommate and a best friend from college. But there are a few new faces, and I could not be more pleased with the people we have picked up along the way.

Today, however, I come to talk to you about Neal Starbird (how great is that name?!). Neal is playing Murphy, a role that was hard to fill. Since I live with the casting director of the company, I know that quite a few rounds of auditions were held for Murphy. The way the character is written is very specific, and it takes a special person to step into that. Neal has not disappointed. His grasp on Murphy’s language is complete, his humor razor-sharp and sometimes disturbing.

Neal and I have only one scene together. Alas. However, this scene has not been played exactly the same way twice. Neal is the kind of scene partner you dream about – he works with you, he makes new choices, he listens and reacts. He is solid without being predictable. I have not had this much fun within a scene in years.

I could not be happier that Neal found his way to The Ruckus and Heist Play. Please come out and find your way to the Ruckus and Heist Play this weekend. We won’t disappoint.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Noir at the Table

Submitted by actor Neal Starbird

With Heist Play, Mitch Vermeersch and The Ruckus are examining elements of film noir, a cinematic style, in the context of live theatrical performance. Got me to wondering, where else can this style be extended? There have been other stage explorations; George F. Walker's Theatre of the Film Noir being a blatant example. Certainly fashion and music can draw heavily on ideas put forward in those films (though it would be hard not to cop as simply "retro"). What about the dining room? With field-to-table emerging as the Seattle Sound of the new era, can styles and aesthetics closely associated with another medium be satisfactorily pulled across the art/craft barrier and plopped on a plate in front of us?

What sort of thing would make a meal
noir? You could easily say, "Bring a couple of bottles of Oregon Pinot, and away we go!" And, hey, that's a start! There's plenty of alcoholic beverages that lend themselves to the mood; the inhabitants of those unhappy films thought as much. In addition to the red wine, whiskey would seem appropriate. For dessert, you can throw out some deep Spanish sherry, and, of course, coffee is right in there.

And on the plate, how do we want to approach it? Little jumps to mind from the movies. Maybe the odd diner hamburger steak and fries, but maybe we can do better. Maybe we think of dark flavors, things redolent with
umami, things like mushrooms and beef. Maybe bring the burger-steak and spuds idea uptown with a heavy stew of meaty shiitake and beef shoulder braised in red wine and whiskey with some roast potatoes on the side. That feels like a delicious bowl of deep, dark americana.

Another way to look at it: seems like there's an awful lot of tension in those movies between the haves and the have-nots. Let's look at pairing high-end items with more humble ingredients. Take that expensive piece of tail we call Lobster and let it lay down with some honest, hard-working noodles. But noodles packing a bit of chili heat. Lobster with chili noodles? I'll eat that while I sit on the wharf and watch the fog roll off the bay.

Some of you may read this and wonder "where's the recipe card, pal?" Well, you know what? Sometimes in life things just don't turn out the way we expect 'em to. Ain't that a daisy?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Room of Our Own

Submitted by Bridget Dougherty, stage manager

So at the risk of sounding like a space/control freak, and writing another blog on the same topic – wow it was nice to be in our own home for the last week of rehearsals. We moved in this evening, and while the space has not been taped out yet and we are without air conditioning, we are finally on our own. Actors no longer are sitting on top of each other in the space and can actually run lines in another room. We have room to spread out on stage and make all of the entrances and exits accurately and now have a bar and barstools!!

After recently reading “A Room of Ones Own” by Woolfe for the first time, this experience is really driving those ideas home. While I don’t agree with all her concepts, it is incredibly freeing to have a space that is your own, that you can change, that fees you from having to worry about where you belong – I totally get what she was going through.

And of course, some more fun pics from our first rehearsal in our new home for the rest of rehearsals.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Highlights of a Noir Bar

Last night was pretty amazing. Here is a list of my favorite parts of the evening:
  • A borrowed long cigarette holder
  • A black beret, purchased at American Apparel for $24
  • Playing my ukulele in front of a full bar for the first time ever!
  • Byron starting to chant my name during the set
  • Melissa’s vintage dress that fit her perfectly
  • Red, red lipstick
  • Allison’s mid-party costume change
  • Ryan’s awesome 40’s hair
  • Josh’s fedora & trench coat
  • Mitch playing the most amazing set with the most amazing guitar – complete with “Moondance”
  • Running into an old friend I hadn’t seen in at least a year, if not two. It’s a small world, people.
  • I almost forgot – open bar! 2 G&T, 1 whiskey diet
  • Intro-ing Money Money Money
  • Byron’s reaction to the MMM intro
  • MONEY MONEY MONEY. They were seriously awesome
  • Raffle!
  • Winning the perfect raffle prize for me! Comic books and a bike tune-up!
  • Stopping on the way home for a bottle of water. A lot of singing and screaming and drinking does not treat your throat well.
Thanks to everyone who came out and had a great time supporting and partying for The Ruckus!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

NOIR BAR tonight!

August 6 at The Spot
4437 N Broadway / Chicago, IL 60640
7pm doors open 7:30-8:30pm open bar
$15 cover $1 from each drink purchased benefits The Ruckus
More information

A film noir themed fundraiser benefiting the world-premiere of Heist Play.
Featured entertainment includes:
The ukulele-stylings of Katie Canavan
Singer-songwriter Mitch Mead on guitar
Rap group Money Money Money
Noir-inspired portraiture by Irma Hapsari-Ahadiah


Also, our tommy gun came in the mail today. We are stoked.