LitCity312 Review: Essay Fiesta!

Location + Time:
On October 21, 2013, I attended The Book Cellar’s monthly literary reading of Essay Fiesta! –the third Monday of the month event that hosts about seven local readers to read their first-person original stories.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The stage area was stationed in the general seating area by the magazines and adjacent to the bar/café with purple and red pumpkins hanging from the lights above, respectively. Since I attended about an hour earlier than the start time (7 P.M.), I was able to witness a few of the staff members move the chairs aside to set up a proper stage and seating area, which was quite efficient as they made it into a good use of limited space. As the clock approached 7, more and more people started to enter, the store becoming livelier and louder by the minute, a stark contrast to the much quieter appeal earlier on. While people munched on cupcakes and scones and cookies and slowly sipped on coffee and hot tea, the main readers began to set up their podium, microphone and stage area. Generally, I was impressed by the incredible energy situated in the room as well as by how quickly the seats filled up (luckily, I was able to snag a seat right in the middle!). I enjoyed the fact that some parents brought their small children with them to experience these readings, the diversity of the listenership to be quite different and vast, something you typically don’t get to see throughout live literary adult readings, such as this.

Performers + Quality
While the event did not start at exactly the said time, once it did, the two main hosts, Willy Nast and Karen Shimmin, began playing their theme song for Essay Fiesta! – the only live literary show, in which they claim, that has an original theme song. While Nast played his accordion, Shimmin sang in a flurry of funny and exuberance that made the entire audience laugh. From there, readers, such as Satirist James Finn Garner, Actor Jane deLaubenfels, Comedian Mary Lorenz, Writer/Poet/Playwright Chris Bower, and YA Author Molly Backes, spilled their hearts and voices into real-life first-person narratives and we were invited. This event is a must for anyone interested in a light-hearted, unpretentious approach to literary readings within the city of Chicago. You’ll leave with a smile on your face; I know I sure did!

For more about Essay Fiesta, check out their website.

LitCity312 Review: CHIRP Radio Present First Time: First Scare!

Location + Time:
On October 9, 2013 at 8 P.M., I attended CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project) Radio Presents First Time: First Scare! This event was hosted at Martrys’, a bar on 3855 N. Lincoln Ave. in the North Center area. CHIRP is a non-profit community organization, and though I had to pay $10 to attend the event, the funds went to their streaming costs, as this was essentially the reboot of the organization. This CHIRP series itself, The First Time, started in 2010.

Atmosphere + Feel:
Considering that October is the time of year when spooky stories are in order, I thought it was a good idea for them to establish a First Scare series. From the moment I walked into Martrys’, I was immersed in frightful, Halloween-themed decorations, ghosts hanging from ceilings, spider webs, candles, and a dark and moody atmosphere/lighting. The music was pretty mellow and standard for what you’d expect at a bar (at least before the actual event started), but overall I had the sense that it was a pretty sophisticated, adult-ish, spooky experience, especially with the Martyr paintings/mural along the back wall. A large stage area with red curtains (David Lynch style) took up one half of a wall, tables and seating situated in the middle, and the bar was nestled in the immediate back corner of the room. Though the event did not start up exactly at 8 sharp, by the time it was underway 20 minutes later, it ended up being a pretty delightful experience. (Side note: my bag ended up being in the way of the host’s, Jenn Sodini, time-keeping clock – and she touched and shifted my bag. I quickly apologized, of course, though she seemed pretty nervous and scatterbrained).

Performers + Quality:
Seven readers total were scheduled to read original stories of their first frightful experience: Adam Burke, Steve Frisbie, Ellen Lekostaj, CHIRP DJ Helean Lee, Shannon Cason, Scary Lady Sarah, and Ji Suk Yi. The show as a whole was pretty well organized and timed, as far as when it actually took off. What surprised me the most is that the stories I heard were not about experiences with ghosts or spirits or anything of the Halloween sort. Instead, these stories were incredibly real, honest, and heartfelt, undeniable first human experiences of absolute dread or fright. I found this to be especially successful because the stories were also exceptionally varied in topic and mood: while Adam Burke and Helean Lee’s readings were quite humorous at times, Ellen Lekostaj and Steve Frisbee’s readings were horribly chilling, and quite emotional (especially the latter). Another aspect of the show that also stood out to me in a positive way was that after each reader, a band called The First Time Three, who are associated with CHIRP, played two-minute cover songs regarding the mood or theme of the piece that was just read. I felt like it was a great way to express, on a musical level, the story or reading the audience just heard, as the musical pieces seemed to envelope them fully. Some of the cover songs I heard were “Breaking Glass” by David Bowie and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers, so those were nice surprises. I’m glad I attended the CHIRP Radio Series, as I felt like it was an all-encompassing event of those horrible, frightful first-time experiences which are both distinct to us, yet entirely relatable to all. Would do again!

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