“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.

Approaching the transfer station

In less than an hour at the Greenhouse Theater Center, the Waltzing Mechanics will culminate another critically-acclaimed edition of EL Stories.  But for the first time since we launched the show in February 2011, there won’t be a single “dark” weekend following this closing.  The Mechanics’ commitment to run our flagship production openly means another ensemble cast has already been waiting in the wings — rehearsing an exciting new script of commuter stories under the direction of Mechanics co-founder Keely Leonard.  And next week at this time, instead of wistfully celebrating a closing performance, we will be rallying that cast’s public opening.

The departing "EL Stories" cast huddles in colder weather, February 2012

When I conceived the show three years ago in a collaboration with Strangeloop Theatre’s  “Loopshop”, I had always hoped that it could fit into the fabric of Chicago’s late night theatre community without a foreseeable expiration date.  It is gratifying to report that EL Stories has entertained over 1,800 ticket buyers in the course of 44 performances since Waltzing Mechanics’ inception, and I am exhilarated to see where the show is headed under Keely’s direction this summer and fellow Mechanic Eric Loughlin’s direction this fall.

The edition we close tonight took EL Stories in exciting new directions.  Director and Mechanics co-founder Zack Florent introduced a non-linear structure to the train’s movement, began the show with an audio collage of actual CTA commuters recorded by the Mechanics, improved the format of our “playback theatre” scene, and liberally featured the cast without pants (as Improv Everywhere‘s annual “No Pants Ride” thematically tied the various scenes together).  Documented storytellers originated from communities as centrally located as Lincoln Park and Englewood to as exotic and far-flung as Schaumburg!  It garnered recommended reviews by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader.  To the many Chicagoans who joined us on this journey and shared their own tales with our ensemble, we are grateful for your generosity of time and spirit.

Most especially, to the departing cast, the show’s continuing legacy owes you a debt of gratitude.  Your talents are manifold and appreciated.  It has been the Mechanics’ pleasure to have you aboard our train.  Keep in mind we’re never far away.  Every Saturday night at 11 p.m., EL Stories will continue rolling.  And as we go, just like commuters, we’ll remember the vibrant characters we’ve encountered.

– Thomas Murray
Artistic Director

Where our train began its journey

 

The cast of 'EL Stories: Red Line,' February 2011

In less than two weeks when the Waltzing Mechanics celebrate the first anniversary of EL Stories, rehearsals will already be underway on the acclaimed series’ fourth edition.  In addition to featuring all new stories from CTA riders, the show will be helmed by fellow company founder Zack Florent and will feature veteran EL Stories performers Eleni Pappageorge and Shariba Rivers alongside ten immensely talented cast members making their Waltzing Mechanics debuts.

While the Mechanics look with great anticipation toward the year ahead (including a world premiere documentary play this fall that has absolutely positively nothing to do with public transportation), we wanted to take a moment to remember where we began.  Those who joined us for our production of EL Stories: Red Line at City Lit Theatre last February may remember the first story shared.  Performed by Eric Loughlin and Shariba Rivers, it featured a homeless man on a platform trying to warn a female rider to look away from him before he defecated on the tracks.

Waltzing Mechanics' Shariba Rivers and Eric Loughlin in 'EL Stories: Red Line'

We are pleased to share the source audio and transcript from DeeDee, South Shore (click on the link to play) who supplied us with the hilarious yet insightful story that began our train rolling.

One time, I was standing on the platform waiting to get on a train, and this man was at the very, very end.  I like to walk to the end.  And he– I like to pre-walk. 

But I be– but I– before I left the city, I decided there were two sorts of crazy.  There’s actual crazy, and there are people who’ve decided that it is easier to be crazy and step outside of society and intimidate you than to be normal.  And they fuckin’ do it on purpose.  To be like, I have no money, I have no job, all I have is my power to make you uncomfortable.  And that’s that sort of crazy.

So I walked to the end of the platform, and there’s this dude down there, and he’s like,

“BITCH MOVE!  BITCH MOVE!”

And he was like throwing his arms at the end of the platform, he was like,

“BITCH GO!”

And I was like, I’m gonna take three steps to the left, but I am very much going to establish my, my space, and my right to stand here.  Because sometimes if you let, let them know that the crazy’s getting to you, they will then follow you and like, be like, “Oh, this bitch is really uncomfortable.”  So I was like, I took three steps to the left, but I stood there, and he’s like,

“BITCH MOVE!”

And then finally, he just goes,

“FUCK IT!”

And he turned, and he took off his white t-shirt, and then he pulled down his pants.  And he turned his ass to over the track, and he shat onto the track.  Then he wiped his ass with his white t-shirt and wrapped it around his hand, pulled up his pants and got on the train.

And at that moment, and I watched the whole thing go down, ‘cause I couldn’t look away, and I was like, “oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus.”  And I was like, “don’t look, don’t!”  ‘Cause I saw him pulling down his pants, and I saw him taking off his shirt, and I was like, “stop looking, stop looking, stop looking!”  But I couldn’t stop!  Because it was happening!  And I knew I had to see it!

And then when he got on the train, I was only mad at myself, ‘cause I go, and crazy homeless man, he was trying to tell me in a polite way,

“Excuse me, miss.  Please look away.  I’m about to shit on the track and wipe my ass with my own t-shirt.”

And it was my inability to listen to him as a human being, and hear what he was trying to say to me and his courtesy in his crazy homeless way to go,

“Ma’am, I’m gonna shit myself and wipe my ass with my own t-shirt.  You don’t wanna look at it.”

But because he doesn’t have those courteous ways, all he could say was: 

“BITCH MOVE!”

And when I ignored him for the sixth time, he said, “FUCK YOU – I tried to warn you.”  And then he did it, and he walked on the train.  And that was day I also realized that I would never travel on the subway system without Purell.  Because there are people who shit, wipe their own ass with their t-shirt, and have the money to then take a train ride to the Upper East Side while holding a rail that you will then touch in the morning and eat a breakfast sandwich.  So there’s several lessons wrapped in that.

One – listen to the homeless.  They are trying to tell you in their own way – in a polite way, “Beware, I’m gonna do some crazy homeless shit, ‘cause I have no other options.”  Two – oh, two – sanitize always, and don’t eat on the train.  I’ve learned many a thing.