About Thomas

Co-Founder of Waltzing Mechanics

Welcoming Melody!

Waltzing Mechanics is pleased to welcome Melody Ekstrom as our resident dramaturg. Having trained at two of the nation’s finest regional theatres, Melody is well poised to support the playwriting and public dialogue for our eight full-length documentary dramas in development.

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Melody Ekstrom, an alumna of Ball State University, most recently used her dramaturgical skills as an artistic apprentice at Cleveland Play House during the 2013-2014 season. Melody also served as an intern at the Goodman Theatre in the summer of 2013. She reads for the Sundance Theatre Lab, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, and Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Melody has provided dramaturgical support for Mamaí Theatre Company, Minnetrista Cultural Center, and Broadway actress Sutton Foster, as a member of a student group that conducted pre-production research for Anything Goes. In 2013, she traveled to the Kennedy Center in recognition for her dramaturgical work on Spring Awakening at Ball State.  As a sophomore in college, Melody worked on an immersive learning project with Jennifer Blackmer and Dr. Melinda Messineo that involved conducting interviews with the people of Muncie and adapted that research into a play about the Indiana city. She is excited to continue her documentary theatre journey with the Waltzing Mechanics.

Waltzing Mechanics, now in their fifth year in Chicago, create original documentary theatre inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogues among our audiences and within our communities.

Exit stage left; enter stage right…

Waltzing Mechanics, Chicago’s stage for documentary theatre, is growing and transitioning, and we have so many developments to share with you! Let’s get started:

Our founding artistic director, Thomas Murray, has been admitted to the M.F.A. program in Directing and Public Dialogue at Virginia Tech. This highly individualized graduate course of study accepts only one student a year, and its core tenets include forming creative community partnerships and animating community dialogue through theatre – both key aims of Waltzing Mechanics’ work as well. Since Thomas will be relocating to Blacksburg, Virginia to complete this program, he will remain a Mechanic but will step down from his role as artistic director at the end of the summer.

Zack FlorentIn August, co-founder Zack Florent will assume the role of Waltzing Mechanics’ artistic director to foster our continued public and community-based programming. Zack has helmed four editions of our flagship EL Stories series, co-directed our 2014 production of Line One, and associate directed our 2013 production of Kate’s Dates. While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, he also constructed a theatre education curriculum for students in the Phillippines. Zack holds a degree in theatre from Ball State University.

Bryan CampbellA Mechanic since 2011, Bryan Campbell will serve as the company’s managing director starting next month. As an actor on our stages, Bryan appeared in five editions of EL Stories and anchored our 2012 production of Over My Dead Body in the role of cemetery advocate Bob Sell. He made his directorial debut with the 14th edition of EL Stories last year and will helm our 6th annual EL Stories: Holiday Train at the end of 2016. He has served as Waltzing Mechanics’ company manager for the last year. Like Zack and Thomas, Bryan is a graduate of Ball State University.

carinne

As our production director, Carinne Uslar will assume additional responsibilities as a primary liaison between Waltzing Mechanics’ growing artistic and management teams. Artistically, she will return to the director’s chair for our 5th annual EL Stories: Holiday Train in November. Carinne also graduated from Ball State University.

kanomeKanomé Jones is our newest casting director, succeeding fellow Mechanic Adrienne Matzen who managed our audition processes exceedingly well for the last four years. Kanomé performed in our 10th edition of EL Stories in 2013 and associate directed EL Stories: Love Train earlier this year. She will make her directorial debut on the 24th edition of EL Stories in the winter of 2016. Prior to moving to Chicago, Kanomé was an acting apprentice with the Actors Theatre of Louisville. She is a graduate of Missouri State University.

adrienne

Since our production of Line One last fall, Adrienne Matzen has served as the company’s resident voice coach. Her work with the rotating casts of EL Stories has been particularly notable. A Mechanic since 2011, Adrienne has performed in five editions of EL Stories and our 2012 production of Over My Dead Body. She is a graduate of LAMDA and Wichita State University.

shaferWaltzing Mechanics is thrilled to launch its first partnership in higher education with Ball State University‘s acclaimed Department of Theatre and Dance. As the recipient of a Provost Immersive Learning Grant, associate professor Karen Kessler will lead a group of undergraduate students on the creation of a documentary play about sexual assault on college campuses. Mechanics Bryan Campbell, Thomas Murray, and Eleni Pappageorge will travel to Muncie, Indiana this month to teach research methods for devising ethnographic drama. Three Mechanics under the guidance of education director Amy Hopkins will return to campus in September to teach adaptation and performance of documentary plays. The partnership will culminate in a public reading of the new script in Chicago this December.

bodycourage

We’re on the cusp of announcing an exciting production partnership as the next step forward for Body/Courage, a full-length verbatim play adapted from interviews and performed by guest artist Danielle Pinnock. Mechanics Patrice Foster and Thomas Murray collaborated with Danielle through a series of workshop performances in 2014 under the banner of The Body Image Project. Stay tuned for additional news in the coming weeks as this docudrama nears its official world premiere!

kafala

The Mechanics are also eager to announce an additional project among our works in development. In 2010, director Andrea Beschel traveled to Kuwait to interview Filipino domestic workers who were abuse victims under the kafala sponsorship system. A drama culled from those experiences, Kafala, had its world premiere staging at Carnegie Mellon University last year. As a guest artist, Andrea will work with members of the Waltzing Mechanics artistic staff this summer to adapt her ethnographic research into a verbatim play. A workshop reading of Kafala is targeted for later this year.

keely

Mechanics co-founder Keely Leonard remains hard at work adapting correspondence, diary entries and official records from the Romanov dynasty into an original documentary play charting their rise, their fall, and their familial love. Teamed with incoming artistic director Zack Florent, Keely is preparing the script for a workshop reading later this year. Keely serves as our Director of New Play Development and holds a degree in theatre from Ball State University.

Meanwhile, fellow Mechanics have been popping up frequently on area stages. Eleni Pappageorge just wrapped production on the world premiere of An Issue of Blood at Victory Gardens Theatre. Shariba Rivers is understudying roles in both Target Behavior for 20% Theatre Company and the world premiere documentary play The Project(s) at American Theatre Company. D.J. Reed is designing props for Doubt at Writers Theatre. Patrice Foster recently directed a series of one minute plays in the 5th annual One Minute Play Festival at The Den Theatre. Finally, Lew Wallace and Elise Spoerlein both had original short plays featured in arciTEXT at The Arc Theatre last month.

There’s even more to share in the works! Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook, and Twitter to catch all the updates.

Riding with Kevin Lambert

We asked EL Stories XIV cast member Kevin Lambert to take the famous Pivot questionnaire.  Join him aboard our train every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
Poop.
2. What is your least favorite word?
Deceased.
3. What turns you on?
My wife laughing so hard she can’t breathe.
4. What turns you off?
Turning your back on people on who need help.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Robust laughter.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
An over talkative coworker’s voice.  He sits five cubes away and speaks more than the radio.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Shit.  It goes great on its own or as a compound word.  I’m also a fan of using non-profanity as profanity.  Sometimes I say, “oh, snickerdoodles.”
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
College Guidance Counselor.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Mortician.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“I’m proud of you.  Come on in, several people have been waiting for you.”

 

KEVIN LAMBERT is thrilled to make his EL Stories debut.  He is a company member with Ka-Tet Theatre where he serves as their Company Coordinator and an ensemble member with The Ruckus.  Recent credits include Salt of the Earth, Fuddy Meers, and Lydie Breeze with Ka-Tet, and Little Triggers with The Ruckus.  He has also written a play about the scheming and backstage antics at a dinner theatre with jousting, a feast, and tons of over priced merchandise. And finally, he would like to thank his wonderful wife for her laughter when things aren’t funny, her support when it’s unearned, and her love when he doesn’t deserve it.

Riding with Molly Parchment

We asked EL Stories XIV cast member Molly Parchment to take the famous Pivot questionnaire.  Join her aboard our train every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
Oh Geeze, I guess I would say one of my favorite words is Amethyst. It’s my birthstone and it just has a really pretty ring to it. It also helps that Amethyst is also a very pretty color (not my favorite color-that would be yellow! Yellow is AWESOME and my jam but yellow isn’t a very cool word. But I digress).  I also really like the word Kerfuffle because it sounds hilarious.
2. What is your least favorite word?
That would be Chunk or Chunky. That word makes me think of vomit and also makes me want to vomit.
3. What turns you on?
My Husband 😉 More specifically- someone who can make me laugh (and has super good cooking skills) i.e. My Husband
4. What turns you off?
Bad Teeth and Bad Breath! YUCK!
5. What sound or noise do you love?
This is going to sound weird but fart noises! Farts are hilarious and the sound they make is the best part. Even thinking about it makes me giggle. Sorry if that makes me a weirdo.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
When I am home alone and the house is quiet I hate when I hear creeks or other creepy noises in the apartment. Makes my mind wander and imagine a big scary dude breaking in and attempting to kill me. I hate it.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Um…I have never really thought about it before. I guess it would be the F-word. It’s probably my go to curse word.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
For a day I would like to attempt being a figure skater. But for that one day I would want to be super good! So good that I would never fall and I would win the gold medal at the Olympics. And the Olympics would be somewhere amazing like Ireland or Iceland or Italy. That would be awesome.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
A Garbage Truck lady. I respect what they do but I could never do it.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Welcome Molly Parchment. The Waffle Bar is to your left. We have prepared a mountain of whipped cream for you. Also, Ellen, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Idina Menzel are waiting for you. Would you like us to turn on the soundtrack from Frozen now or later?”

 

MOLLY PARCHMENT is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated with her B.F.A. in drama from the College-Conservatory of Music last April. At CCM, she performed in Arcadia (Hannah Jarvis), Coram Boy (Mrs. Milcote), Our Town (Mrs. Soames) and Transmigration: The Casablanca Complex (Becca Babbage). Other Cincinnati credits include Steel Magnolias (Shelby), Gods Favorite (Sara Benjamin) and Art of Murder (Kate). She recently performed in Theater-Hikes’ production of The Three Musketeers (Sabine) in Chicago this past summer. Molly can also be seen performing her one woman improv show The Orientation at local comedy clubs in Chicago. More info at http://theorientationemployeespot.blogspot.com/.

Riding with Brittany Stock

We asked EL Stories XIV cast member Brittany Stock to take the famous Pivot questionnaire.  Join her aboard our train every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
Onomatopoeia.
2. What is your least favorite word?
Turd.
3. What turns you on?
A clever sense of humor, stylish glasses, an artistic temperament, and a strong working knowledge of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
4. What turns you off?
Willful ignorance; a lack of consideration for others or themselves.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Early morning rumbly thunderstorms.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of someone trying to talk to you when they are brushing their teeth – that weird “there is a whole lotta goo in the back of my mouth and I really should spit” sound.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Is anyone not going to say fuck? It’s classic, but I like an underdog, so I choose shit.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Yoga instructor. Also, I’d like to formally throw my name in the hat for Samantha Brown’s job.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Executioner. Or investment banker.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“No, I am not joking – you can come in. Skittles (my childhood cat) is right here!”

 

BRITTANY STOCK could not be happier to be part of the ensemble for EL Stories XIV! She recently worked with Forget Me Not Theatre Company on Charles Mee’s Time to Burn (Yelena). Other Chicago credits include The Barista (Marla) with Bard and Fool Theater Group, The Right Brain Project’s Timey Wimey Fantastic Brilliant Extravaganza Geronimo! (The Companion), and Underscore Theatre Company’s annual production of The Rocky Horror Show (Usherette/dance captain). Brittany holds a B.A. in theatre from Hope College, where she had the honor of performing at the national level of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in the original production of Rose and the Rime.

Riding with Laura Jewell

We asked EL Stories XIV cast member Laura Jewell to take the famous Pivot questionnaire.  Join her aboard our train every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
Supercilious.
2. What is your least favorite word?
Phlegm.
3. What turns you on?
The smell of old books.
4. What turns you off?
Sandwiches with too much mayonnaise.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Wind chimes.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
Windshield wipers.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Twat!
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I think it would be really cool and fun to be a Kindergarten teacher. If I hadn’t gotten a theatre degree I probably would have studied education.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Anything that involves being in an un-climate-controlled environment.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Yeah, we’re surprised you ended up here too.”

 

LAURA JEWELL graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with a B.A. in theatre. She was most recently seen as Lydie Hickman in Ka-Tet Theatre Company’s production of Lydie Breeze. Previous favorite roles include Laura in The Glass Menagerieand Janet in The Rocky Horror Show. She would like to thank her family and friends for their love and support.

Riding with Bryan Campbell

We asked fellow Mechanic and EL Stories XIV director Bryan Campbell to take the famous Pivot questionnaire. Ride the train he built every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
Oh so many. Rumpus is a fun word.
2. What is your least favorite word?
No. I hate hearing it, and I’m not a huge fan of saying it either.
3. What turns you on?
Blueberry Muffins and Pencil Skirts
4. What turns you off?
Cable news
5. What sound or noise do you love?
The opening thirty seconds of Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
Constant, loud drilling
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck.  Also: Dipshit
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Rock Star, Professional Athlete, Secret Agent…. I don’t have reasonable goals.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Any profession that demands more of people for less than they deserve.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Ah, Mr. Campbell, right on time I see.  I trust you had a safe and enjoyable trip.”

 

BRYAN CAMPBELL has been a company member with the Waltzing Mechanics since their original “Red Line” edition of EL Stories and is thrilled to be making his directorial debut with the fourteenth edition. Bryan appeared onstage for the Waltzing Mechanics’ first primetime show, Over My Dead Body, and he is one of the creative leads for the upcoming Waltzing Mechanics project, Uptown. He holds a degree in acting from Ball State University. Bryan would like to thank his fellow company members for their continuing contributions to the ongoing EL Stories series, as well as his all-star cast for all of their dedication and hard work.  He also thanks his family and friends for their continued support, and Amy for her many words of wisdom.  Finally, he would like to thank you, the audience member, for your continued support of the arts.

Riding with Colin Hudson

We asked EL Stories XIV cast member Colin Hudson to take the famous Pivot questionnaire.  Join him aboard our train every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
“Puppy”. Or maybe “love”. Not those two words together, though.
2. What is your least favorite word?
“Smegma”. Or maybe “mayonnaise.”
3. What turns you on?
Tattoos.
4. What turns you off?
Apathy.
5. What sound or noise do you love?
Metal cleats walking on concrete.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
Open Mouth Chewing.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Fuck. For the versatility.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Professional football player. Duh.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Parking Enforcement. That’d be the worst thing.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Hey Bud, I’ve missed you.”

 

COLIN HUDSON is ecstatic to be a part of EL Stories XIV. Hailing from Clearwater, Florida, Colin has called Chicago home for more than a year now. He has performed around town with Theatre Momentum and is currently taking classes at iO Theatre. Much love to the family.

Riding with Kayla Kennedy

We asked EL Stories XIV cast member Kayla Kennedy to take the famous Pivot questionnaire.  Join her aboard our train every Saturday night at 11 p.m. through March 29th.  Tickets at http://greenhousetheater.org/portfolio/el-stories/

1. What is your favorite word?
Juxtaposition. I still remember the moment I learned that word in the 8th grade. Not only is it fun to say but you sound so smart when you use it correctly. PLUS it’s a great ten point word in essays… Or rather it was… I’m a GRADUATE! Huzzah!
2. What is your least favorite word?
The “C” word. It makes me cringe. No matter what.
3. What turns you on?
If you can make me laugh uncontrollably, I’m instantly attracted to you. A six-pack doesn’t hurt either.
4. What turns you off?
Extreme douche-baggery. It’s not all about you sometimes. Ya know?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
When I’m standing in my kitchen after dedicating the whole day to cleaning it, and I hear the dishwasher go through its cycle. The sound of the dishwasher just embodies my joy in finally having a clean kitchen. Though it won’t stay clean for long. Unfortunately.
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
My brother’s jaw sometimes clicks when he eats. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. I have to leave the room.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
Oh, the F word definitely. Especially “mother-f***er.” It’s just sooooo mother-f***ing satisfying.
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Ok. I would LOVE to be a singer/song-writer à la Sara Bareilles. But, let’s be honest, I’m too lazy to learn the piano and I would waste all my energy trying to fit “juxtaposition” into my lyrics. I also really want to be an executive secretary/assistant to some hotshot CEO of some cool company. I am an organizational queen and I know I would rock that out.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Chemistry. Anything that involves chemistry, just count me out.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Glad you’re here. We’ve got Stella on tap.”

 

KAYLA KENNEDY is pleased as punch to be making her professional Chicago debut in EL Stories XIV. Other credits include Smoke on the Mountain (Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre), Spring Awakening and Lend Me a Tenor (Ball State University). She graduated from Ball State University last May with a B.F.A. in musical theatre and spent her first months as a graduate performing at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. She returned to her home city to join this amazingly close-knit theatre community and is excited for what the future holds.

“EL Stories” opens the Illinois High School Theatre Festival

Waltzing Mechanics’ third annual edition of EL Stories: Holiday Train, called “a quirky gem” and recommended by the Chicago Reader, is proud to perform in the opening ceremonies of the 39th annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival (http://www.illinoistheatrefest.org/). Performances will bow at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 9, 2014 and 9:00 a.m. on Friday, January 10, 2014 at the CPA Theatre on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. Each show will be followed by a brief workshop with students and teachers detailing how the Waltzing Mechanics create their signature documentary productions from verbatim interviews.

Recognized as one of the top fringe shows by the Chicago Tribune, Waltzing Mechanics’ annual holiday edition of EL Stories celebrates (and laments?) one of the city’s most recognized institutions with an hour-long ride, featuring some of our favorite Yuletide public transit stories.  As always, audience members at each performance are invited to share an EL story of their own for a chance to have it played back during the performance or included in a future show.

EL Stories: Holiday Train is adapted from original interviews by Keely Leonard and directed by Zack Florent. The cast includes Jon Beal, Zach Bundy, Patrice Foster, Kyle Geissler, LaKecia Harris, Sarah Liken, Natalie Sallee, Tiffany Small, Thomas Sparks, and Lew Wallace. Production stage management is by Carinne Uslar assisted by J.D. Ostergaard.

Produced by the Illinois Theatre Association, the Illinois High School Theatre Festival (IHSTF) is the largest and oldest non-competitive high school theatre festival in the world. The three-day festival takes place every year in early January, and switches locations between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University. Over 4,000 students, teachers, university representatives, exhibitors, and volunteers come together to put on over 25 different high school productions and over 150 workshops.

EL Stories: Holiday Train will conclude its regular run at the Greenhouse Theater Center on Saturday, January 11 at 11:00 p.m. Waltzing Mechanics’ next edition of EL Stories, the fourteenth in the series, premieres Saturday, January 18 at 11:00 p.m. at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Tickets and information are at 773-404-7336 or waltzingmechanics.org.