Ian Belknap of Write Club via gofundme.com
Live lit is thriving in Chicago and has been for some time. On any given night, there’s likely to be some sort of page-to-stage event — probably several — going on around town.
Keith Ecker, who helms Guts & Glory and Essay Fiesta, says that lately he has noticed “a whole second wave of storytellers, people who view the [live lit] scene as an established entity they want to ‘break into.’”
Besides that phenomenon and the ongoing proliferation of live lit groups, proof of his art form’s potency in Chicago is also evident by its inclusion in the curriculums of such writing bastions as StoryStudio Chicago and Second City.
More experimentation and branching outside the typical live lit form is happening as well, Ecker says. His “PleasureTown,” which began as a limited theatrical run featuring some of the city’s top storytellers, has evolved into a podcast. Elsewhere in town, live lit veteran Ian Belknap is developing the local chapter of an Atlanta-based live lit show called Scene is Missing. His monthly Chicago version, which is set to launch this month, has writers and comedians commenting on movie trailers.
Also the founder and “Overlord” of Write Club — a popular and charitable live lit gathering that’s been going strong in Chicago since 2010 and has outposts in L.A., San Francisco, Toronto and Atlanta — Belknap is wary of newbies. While Chicago’s scene is burgeoning, he cautions that the “intellectual heavy lifting of creating a show is too often ignored.” In order for new shows to be welcomed into the fold and seen as worthy addition to Chicago’s ever-burgeoning scene, he says, they “must have an existential reason for being. Wanting a monthly showcase for your own work is not enough… A new show must represent an addition [or] expansion of what’s currently happening.”
Interested in exploring the live lit community, either as a spectator or a performer? Here’s a roundup of some prominent and not-so-prominent local groups.
What they are: “Essay Fiesta brings together a cross-section of Chicago’s art and writing communities for a night of first-person, non-fiction essays to benefit 826CHI.”
Where they are: The Book Cellar (Lincoln Square), 4736 N. Lincoln
When they are: Third Monday of each month
What they are: Chicago’s boldest, most bad-ass [monthly] storytelling event…features the best and brashest performers the Windy City has to offer. Also, we raise money for children and puppies.”
Where they are: Schuba’s Tavern, 3159 N. Southport (upstairs)
When they are: Third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m.
What they are: “Our mission is to bring people together from Chicago’s various creative, professional and cultural communities, to connect us with one another, to foster the arts of sharing and listening, and to provide a platform of support for the work of known and developing storytellers, monologists, and solo performers.”
Where they are: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
When they are: First Sunday of each month at 8 p.m. (7:30 p.m. potluck dinner)
What they are: “The Paper Machete is a free, weekly “live magazine” covering pop culture, current events and American manners. Part spoken-word show, part vaudeville revue, The Paper Machete features comedians, journalists, storytellers and musical guests performing in the back room of North Side bar. It’s a salon in a saloon.”
Where they are: The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway
When they are: Every Saturday at 3 p.m.
What they are: “The world’s greatest competitive reading series, featuring only the most audacious and fearsome of writers and performers.”
Where they are: The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia
When they are: Third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.
What they are: “True stories told live.”
Where they are: Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln and Haymarket Pub & Brewery, 737 W. Randolph
When they are: Last Tuesday of each month at Martyrs and second Monday of each month at Haymarket
What they are: “Story Club is a nonfiction storytelling show. The goal of Story Club is to mix the spontaneity of an open mic with the experience of live theater. Each show has both open mic and featured performers.”
Where they are: Story Club North Side, The Holiday Club, 4000 N. Sheridan; Story Club South Side, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan
When they are: SCNS, 1st Thursday of each month at 8 p.m.; SCSS, 3rd Tuesday of each month at 8 p.m.
What they are: “A non-competitive live lit venue for storytellers of all stripes… who share the mic each month with a new lineup of readers.”
Where they are: Great Lakes Tattoo, 1148 W. Grand
When they are: The second Sunday of each month at 8 p.m.
What they are: “Stoop-Style Stories is an off book (no notes/reading) storytelling show. Featured storytellers are given a theme. They take that theme and then share a 7 – 10 minute story related to that theme. Every show has a walk-up open mic where storytellers are given 5 minutes to share a story on any topic of their choice.
Where they are: Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage
When they are: The last Thursday of each month
What they are: “[N]ew voices telling new stories in the cozy back room of one of the city’s best pubs. Some of our performers will be telling a story on stage for the first time; others will be taking another step in their development as the seasoned storytellers of tomorrow. Each month features an entirely new lineup coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines – actors, teachers, poets, lawyers, comedians, novelists, painters, etc.”
Where they are: Black Rock Pub & Kitchen, 3614 N. Damen
When they are: Third Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m.
Who they are: “Story Sessions is a monthly show, based in Chicago, featuring six different storytellers each month. Each performer shares a 10-minute non-fiction story that ties back to the theme for the night. The performers range from professional actors, playwrights and comedians to traditional writers and even first time tellers.”
Where they are: Venues vary
When they are: Monthly. Times and dates vary.
What they are: “A live lit series featuring female-identified authors.”
Where they are: Gallery Cabaret, 2020 N. Oakley
When they are: Last Wednesday of each month
What they are: “A monthly storytelling event… celebrating handcrafted LGBTQ stories.”
Where they are: Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted
When they are: Monthly
What they are: Writers and comics comment on movie trailers.
Where they are: Schuba’s Tavern, 3159 N. Southport
When they are: Last Wednesday of each month
Upcoming Live Lit Events in Chicago
The Paper Machete
When: Saturday, Aug. 30 at 3 p.m.
Where: The Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway
When: Sunday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. (7:30 p.m. potluck dinner)
Where: Stage 773, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets: $8 or free with dish to share
When: Monday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.
Where: The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln
When: Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.
Where: The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia
Tickets: $10, available only at the door
Guts & Glory
When: Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
Where: Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport
When: Monday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.)
Where: Haymarket Pub & Brewery, 737 W. Randolph
Tickets: $8 at the door, $16 pre-sale (limited)