Artistic Director Thomas Murray in rehearsal for 'EL Stories: Red Line,' January 2011
In the year since Waltzing Mechanics commenced our public ‘EL Stories’ project, we have spoken with dozens upon dozens of Chicagoans from all corners of the city. Guided by the methods of performance ethnography and conversation analysis, we faithfully transcribe the resulting recordings down to each utterance, and the transcriptions are adapted for our stage ensemble. Our ‘EL Stories’ performances, therefore, are composites of actual Chicagoans’ speech.
When we ask riders to share their most memorable EL stories, we expect that we will hear service complaints, tales of salacious behavior, all manners of bodily fluids, and encounters with the margins of society. And we certainly have heard all of those in various assortments. It has been far more difficult, however, to find riders who recall acts of generosity, those who fell in love with a fellow commuter, or travelers who find a sense of harmony in the journey alone. While we all experience what it means to move through this city, what we typically define as remarkable tends more toward the sour than toward the sweet.
We generally depart from that paradigm when word of the Holiday Train is mentioned. For many in Chicago, it remains a mythical entity – much lauded by the few who’ve basked in its cheerful momentum but experienced only apocryphally by the rest. Indeed, some of our neighbors’ first encounters with “Santa’s Express” involve wizened adults jumping for joy or shrieking in adolescent fashion. This train is the ‘yang’ for all the ‘yin’ the rest of the year.
As the Mechanics celebrate the holidays this year, we invite you to partake in our whimsical wonder of transit delight. Rather than leaning heavily on madcap adventures as we’ve done in the past, this train illuminates more of the enduring characters who ride CTA trains and buses – the people who share our journeys and the perspectives they bring.
Naturally, tonight’s EL stories will likely remind you of your own, and we are eager to hear them. After the show, members of the cast will have digital recorders handy, and we invite you to share your transit encounters with us. Collected stories may be performed in future ‘EL Stories’ editions as the Mechanics continue exploring how we move together through this magnificent metropolis.
On behalf of the Waltzing Mechanics, season’s greetings and happy new year.