Friday, April 24, 2009

Rec Room Shout Outs!

Two months ago rec room did a reading panel at the AWP conference here in Chicago. Della Watson, Krista Franklin, Erin Teegarden, Allison Gruber, Nicolette Bond and I were on the panel. Afterward we had a lot of people tell us what a great panel it was, how much they enjoyed it, how it was the most incredible thing AWP had ever offered and they were honored to be there (that might be an exaggeration).

Anyway, I recently decided to google ourselves up with AWP and see if anyone in the blogosphere maybe mentioned us. And yes! I found these very kind words from random strangers who were lucky enough to make it to our panel:

"The Reconstruction Room performers were awesome. Awesome. If you live in Chicago and can go see a show, do so. Just do it."

"I loved the panel I went to about the reading series Rec Room (in Chicago). There were five readers -- two read essays, two read poems, and then this amazing woman (whose name I don't remember...) did this audience participation performance piece that was indescribably brilliant. I would even go so far as to call it cute and sublime." -

"I went to a panel on the Rec Room Reading series (which also featured pictures of Jac Jemc.) and totally loved it. A lot of smart, funny women. I'm sad I don't live in chicago, but I want to steal all their ideas and start a reading in Providence." -

So if you haven't been to show in awhile, please come out before you miss out! We just celebrated our 5th anniversary, and we're still going strong. Our next show, curated by Katie Hartsock, is May 6, and the theme is "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" all about neighbors and neighborhoods. I really hope to see you there.

Also, I would love it if you added us to your blogroll and signed on as a follower of this blog. I promise to start posting more than once a month. It will be all vaguely literary and rec room related all the time, I swear!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Five Alive: rec room's 5 year anniversary!

Rather than write a recap of a great night, or try to come up with some vaguely relevant anecdote of my own, I asked Erin for permission to post the essay she read at the Five Alive show. She did such a great job of laying out our history and what we're doing (or trying to do). And, if you love rec room, I think you should take an opportunity to tell her how much you appreciate the work she puts into it. Five years later, still surviving:

"we the people of the reconstruction room, seek to create a community and performance space where artists are free to take risks, challenge dominant power structures, and fuck w/accepted modes of expressions. each show presents a unique theme and invites performers ("rec roomers") to define and shape this theme for an audience. rec room is a public space for events that may otherwise only occur in our living rooms. rec room is a public expression of ideas that may otherwise only occur in our heads. inherent in our mission is a commitment to love & justice. we're also down with peace & harmony."

Almost five years ago to the day, eric and I laid out this mission, in the hopes of creating a foundation for the reconstruction room. Our words were charmingly grandiose, especially considering there had not yet been a single rec room performance. Della had booked this back room out of the blue and told us she had three readers for an upcoming Wednesday.

In the beginning, rec room was little more than those words and me, eric, and della – we were friends and former University of Pittsburgh grad students living in a new city, doing nothing creative with our masters’ degrees; we wanted to throw lots and lots of parties, but our apartments were too small and messy; we were too poor to supply booze for everyone, and we were starting to get too old to drink with abandon and mingle at parties without reason.

Our writing too, though unpublished and new, deserved to be heard – in spite of our aesthetic, which was too weird for the open mics, too sensitive for slam. If we could build our own series, it would have quality writing + music and drama and comedy, crafts and props and technology. It would pack a punch, and promise some surprises. It would never feature a headliner; it might be a little haphazard or casual by nature, but in a good way.

We would corral every show around a theme, and otherwise let rec roomers be free to own the show – to cross the lines of genre, the boundaries of performance -- we would showcase the triumph in the mere attempt at art –- there would be lots of laughs and riffing off the audience. We were convinced creating this kind of literary community would make a difference.

But even if you have a fancy mission statement and a lot of heart, difference-making isn’t easy. Usually it requires a shitload of work, and believe me, we’ve done it. Rec room could have easily been a one night deal, had we been unwilling to promote and maintain it. How many community arts projects die without funding? How many reading series die when two of their three founding members leave the city?

After having hosted over 100 rec room shows, I’m finally confident enough to say that yeah, rec room’s survival has had at least a little bit to do with me.

But mostly, rec room is living because of all of you, our growing audience. I’d like to think of this series as Chicago’s best kept literary secret. We have never been pretentious. Our couch is splitting open, our chairs might splinter your ass. The bar serves warm beer and burns the grilled cheese sandwich. Our show never starts on time, our breaks last way too long, our raffle prizes are homespun and kinda crappy. And I’m always playing the oldies, which probably annoys many of you.

And yet you still keep coming back for more. Whatever’s wrong with you all, I like it. And I thank you.

Especially I thank those of you who currently or in the past have donated your time and talents to the rec room cause. (Eli, Meg, Megan, et al.) We have never had a problem recruiting volunteers, readers and curators who love whatever madness we’ve got going on here. I could write volumes about specific kinds of rec room madness, but if you really want to know the full story of rec room, check out our website which contains a blog entry and photographs from each show, (updated and maintained by miki with photos by mikey) as well as the amazing posters our graphic designer, trina, creates each week.

In addition to maintaining detailed web archives and providing consistent email blasts, this past year we received (rather unexpectedly) a $3000 grant from the Richard H. Driehaus foundation, which allowed us to purchase a/v equipment of our very own. This year we also did our second show at the MCA for the lit gangs of Chicago series, and our academic panel at the Associated Writing Programs' annual conference in the winter was a total success.

All this is not too shabby for a woman-led reading series that started with no money, no connections , no tech – not bad for a series that takes place in a rugby bar in a Cubs neighborhood in a city where at least 75 percent of all literary activities happen on a Wednesday.

If I sound surprised, it’s because I am. I never expected, five years ago almost to the day, that the words eric and I were putting down would be invoked today. I don’t know if I knew where rec room was going, but I always knew it was meant to be alive. From the beginning, rec room has felt vital, necessary.

I am so thankful to each of you, who breathe life into this series, and help us continue to branch out and Grow. I am also thankful to miki and trina who have been at my side to conceptualize each inner circle show and donate their time and talent to our rec room projects. They have stepped up to fill in where eric and della left off – they have worked so hard on every aspect of rec room, from shlepping equipment to creating budgets to making decorations and donating prizes..."

The ending of this essay is lost--Erin wrote it hastily in the back seat of a cab on her way to the show. But I think it's ok. There are some things, and maybe rec room is one of them, that we don't want to imagine ever coming to an end.