Help Kickstart Closed Casket: The Complete, Final and Absolutely Last Baudelaire in a Box

May 1st, 2017


UPDATE: We did it! Thanks to all who contributed. Look for the festival at Constellation in Chicago August 4-6, 2017.

But before we get to the the haunted house, we — Theater Oobleck — have another massive project on the more immediate horizon. Closed Casket: The Complete, Final and Absolutely Last Baudelaire in a Box is an epic durational musico-theatrical event happening August 4/5/6 at Links Hall at Constellation in Chicago. It brings 50 musicians and composers together to perform all thirteen episodes of our long-running Baudelaire in a Box series, which translates the poems from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal to English and/or Spanish, sets them to music and pairs them with hand-painted artwork that scrolls by to illustrate the poetry as a sort of lo-fi silent movie.

It’s hard to describe, but beautiful to witness — and I know because I’ve been in the light booth or otherwise occupied behind the scenes for about half of them. This year, I’m even going to creep onstage and sing a song, as part of the festival’s closing night performance.

But before we do all of that, we need to raise some money: $15,000 to be exact. We have significant support for this project already, from the NEA and other funders. But we still need to bridge the budget gap in order to fly two dozen musicians to Chicago, house them, and feed them — not to mention build the set, turn on the lights, and pay everyone involved for their time and talent.

Crowdfunding is hard and frustrating — a uniquely 21st-century form of mutual aid perverted into a popularity contest — but it’s still better than being sponsored by Red Bull. Theater Oobleck’s mission is to create original theater as a value in and of itself. We don’t take money from corporations and we don’t charge exorbitant prices to come see our work. In fact, our  shows are always pay what you can; it’s part of our mission to make theater accessible to everyone, especially those who might be hard up for disposable income. So please: if you believe independent art and music have a place in our ever-scarier and branded world, kick us a few bucks? We have some stellar premiums: for $25 you get a Baudelaire in a Box tote bag; for $100 you can take home that tote bag stuffed with a bunch of other swag — or just choose a piece of original art from the show. Hell, for $800 we will come to your house and cook you dinner.

I could go on and on but maybe you should just watch the video instead. And then, click this link to donate.  Thank you!


Bedtime Stories

May 1st, 2017


We’re bringing back A Memory Palace of Fear this fall — in bigger, better, and spookier form! — and more details on that will be available soon. But in the meantime, we’re dipping into the haunted well with a series of free workshops in West Side parks. I’ll be leading a guided storytelling process (ok, it’s a bit like Mad Libs) to encourage participants to talk about their fears, and Andrea Jablonski will the help those fears take visual form. The resulting audio and visual components will be incorporated into the show in October, but to find out how you’ll have to come to a workshop! See schedule below.

May 6: Humboldt Park (boat house), 1-3 pm
June 4: Simons Park (outside), 1-3 pm
July 1: Garfield Park (Gold Dome, indoors room TBD), 1-3 pm
August 12: Mozart Park (outside), 1-3 pm

Workshops are all ages, and we’ve even managed to scrounge together a little money for snacks. Face your fears and join us!

Supported by Night Out in the Parks in partnership with Theater Oobleck.

Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology

April 10th, 2017


Coming in August from Belt Publishing …. it’s a book, edited by me. A book about Chicago and how it relates to the Rust Belt, and doesn’t. Inside are essays, personal narratives, journalism, fiction, and poetry from 52 contributors. On the outside is this beautiful piece of art, created by Chicago legend Tony Fitzpatrick.

By the time the book comes out August 10 I’ll have been working on it for a good 18 months — months in which a lot has changed, some of which caused me to want to rip up the manuscript and start all over again. It’s been slow going, but I’m thrilled with the end result, and I hope readers will be too. The contributors are old and young, experienced and never-published; they approach their material literally and lyrically; the connections to our stated theme are sometimes direct and sometimes downright elusive, but throughout these writers bring their full talent to bear, with humor and ferocity and insight.

Preorder the book now and be the first on your block to get a copy, hot off the presses — and get a free Belt tote bag to boot! And if you’re in Chicago keep your eyes open for news of a release party in early August. We can’t wait.

What Is Sanctuary, Anyway?

March 13th, 2017

“You know how there’s the eye of the hurricane? You could be surrounded by the storm but there’s a place where it’s quiet and it’s tranquil, where you can still think. Where you can prepare yourself and meet with people, and come up with a strategy for defense and secure yourself. That’s what I think sanctuary really is.”

Trying to understand what it means to offer sanctuary these days is like chasing eels in a mud puddle. I tried my best with this piece, my first for Buzzfeed Reader.

A Report from O’Hare

February 3rd, 2017


They all looked tired, but Amirisefat was lit.

“Under the new administration I have to wait in the airport for five or six hours, while my brother in law is detained for no reason? This is insane!”

On Saturday, January 28, I drove out to O’Hare with my friend Andrea (who proved to be an effective fixer) to report on the protests that were blossoming rapidly at airports across the country in response to an executive order banning entry to travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. This is what we saw. It’s also my first piece for Latterly, a wonderful and small independent publication focused on international social justice reporting. I’m happy to have this there.

Marching in SW Mich

January 24th, 2017

In Southwest Michigan, many aren’t shrugging off the march

Be Afraid

December 27th, 2016



“Donald Trump’s upset victory has been held up as—among many things—an alarming triumph of emotion over reason. But what’s less discussed in all the hot takes is the notion that emotion can and should be taken seriously in public life as it is in private. As establishment liberals experience political fear, many of them for the first time, they would be wise to stop attempting to distance themselves from it, however unpleasant it is and however ugly it makes them.”[The Baffler]

Just after Halloween I went to New York to go to a haunted house. I wrote about it over Thanksgiving weekend and now, just in time for Christmas, here it is. Thanks to Chris Lehmann and the Baffler for understanding that fear isn’t a seasonal event.

* PS: The above is the only photo you were allowed to take at Doomocracy. Lay your dystopian interpretations on that as you will.

A Memory Palace of Fear

November 4th, 2016


The “projects” page has been updated. Go there to read all about A Memory Palace of Fear — a haunted house, about housing, that I’ve been working on for the last howevermany months.

Reporting from the RNC in CLE

August 1st, 2016


In July, I spent a week in Cleveland coordinating coverage of the Republican National Convention for Belt Magazine — and I even managed to write a few stories myself. Our entire package can be found here. For my part, I covered a group of clowns protesting Trump’s denigration of their good name and the toxic crowd scene at an auxiliary event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. I also contributed reporting to this fascinating feature on the strange confluence of Tamir Rice and Pokemon Go, and the evolving ways we mark history.

Tiny Bubbles

August 1st, 2016


Bubbles are derided as the refuge of elites who can afford to remain deaf to views and values counter to their own. But as once-marginal hate speech is given a national platform, it’s critical to keep popping the bubble, to step forward and watch the ugliness of the world unspool. It may not lead to understanding, exactly—some of it is simply incomprehensible—but awareness is a virtue in itself.

After a week covering chaos around the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I offered some thoughts about bubbles, and the merits of popping them, and then blowing them anew, at the Sunday Rumpus.