By Hannah Kaplan, Part-Time Staff Writer
Graphic by Daniella Ashley Mazzio
“Okay, everyone find a seat and quiet down, we’re going to get started!” I yell, scouting from the performance area to see how many people are here.
How did my apartment fill up so fast? It feels like just a second ago that I was doing a last sweep, and now I can barely see the floor. There are too many people here to count, which is awesome.
As Claire–my co-host and partner in crime for the night–gives a rundown of how the evening is going to work, I realize that we set up the place perfectly. We don’t have a platform or spotlight or anything, but the performance space is still just right. It’s right in front of the brick wall strewn with christmas lights so the area is warm and pink, and it’s surrounded by three green couches–all sunken with collegiate bodies who don’t know each other. Even people on chairs in the hallway or standing by the food table have a good view of whoever is performing.
I continue scanning and focus in on someone pouring drinks for other people, someone tuning their guitar for an upcoming performance, someone else gazing up admiringly at me and Claire in front of the group. I can’t quite believe this many people decided to spend their evening with me, at my place, and already seem to be having a good time.
Claire and I wrap up our opening statements and introduce the first of three stand up comedians.
The laughing during stand up turns into swaying, clapping, and snapping throughout the night as performances continue. I keep looking around, expecting to see someone not fully invested in the original piece by my friend from high school a cappella who no one else knows, but everyone is into it.
During a break between the music and spoken word sets, the only people that leave are going out to smoke, but one makes sure to tell me that he’ll “be right back. Please don’t start without me, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” And even though the breaks are rowdy and chaotic, everyone is game to come back and be attentive for the poems, short stories, and monologues to come. Some are heavy, and hard to hear, but they’re all wonderful, and everyone who shares is praised with snaps and hugs afterwards.
I see people who don’t know each other whispering and swapping numbers so they can continue their important conversations beyond tonight. Tonight feels magical, and reminds me that people are craving this as much as I am.
About eight weeks into my college experience, I realized that I lost initiative to look for theatre outside of my education. Because of how profound and stimulating my classes were at The Theatre School, I found that I was not longing to go seek professional theatre in Chicago but to produce my own. I slowly developed the idea that I wanted to create a situation in which I could host a gathering of artists who shared my need to put into immediate practice all the enlightening information we’d absorbed from our new collegiate education.
A fear that every artist shares is that they will self-promote their work, and no one will come to support them. To combat this fear, I decided to lean onto an advantage I had; because I’m from Evanston, all my high school friends would be in town over winter break. I also feared doing this alone, so I found another host. My friend and long-time collaborator Claire Greising is an stand-up comedian, actor, but primarily a playwright. She goes to TISCH at New York University for playwriting and hopes to be a screenwriter. I devised the plan that together we would host this event, and at the end of it, we’d do a reading of one of her full one-act plays. With this being the emphasis of the event, Claire and I named it “Reading.”
As a director, I am more interested in showcasing the work of others. So, I started to reach out to my new, equally eager peers at TTS and my old high school friends who–like me–missed the comfortability of our old community. The response I got was beyond anything I had expected. People wanted to present not only poems and songs, but monologues, non-fiction, short stories, short films, and more.
The first “Reading” we had was about 30 people, the next was about 35, and the most recent was well over 40. At each, people would prepare their work, invite friends, and bring food to share. The resulting atmosphere was jovial and ecstatic.
By our third semi-annual event, we re-named it “Shindig” to honor the performances that weren’t “read” and to more accurately depict the atmosphere of gathering and sharing in a relaxed manner. It’s incredible (in the full meaning of the word), but I foresee needing to rent a larger space for our next “Shindig” seeing as the most recent one nearly took out my apartment’s floor.
So far, nothing in my life has felt more cathartic than bringing together old and new friends, arranging a gathering of artists, and reclaiming the initiative and the drive I once felt. Although it’s not in the way I expected, I am newly inspired to study, seek, and create art.