Sunday, May 31, 2009

Learn to Lose

Posted By on 05.31.09 at 12:08 AM

As a Glencoe teen, Louis Lapat spent eight weeks each summer at the ultra-competitive all-boys sports camp Camp Ojibwa in Eagle River, Wisconsin, culminating in a final Collegiate Week competition that participants called the Jewish Superbowl. 

When he found ten years later that he still felt trauma from the experience, he decided to return to the camp and make a film about it.  In the film, Win or Lose: A Summer Camp Story, he combines contemporary scenes of Collegiate Week (such as college-age coaches tearing into their young players like drill sergeants, and the entire second place team throwing their trophies in the lake in shame) and animated sequences telling his own story, portraying himself as a pink mohawk-sporting stick figure. Ultimately, he says, the film is about learning how to lose. 

Win or Lose screens Sunday at 11 AM and 12:15 PM at the Highland Park Theater, 445 Central Avenue.

 

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Pegasus Players salutes founder

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 06:01 PM

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Pegasus Players is marking its 30th anniversary by honoring its retiring founder, Arlene Crewdson, even as it prepares to move on without her. Crewdson launched Pegasus in 1978, serving as both artistic and executive directors. (Alex Levy took over as AD in 2004, and the ED post went to Christopher Schram earlier this year.)

Pegasus began as a touring troupe dedicated to performing original writings by students at the City Colleges of Chicago, including Truman Community College, where Crewdson taught drama. In 1979, the company moved into the 90-seat auditorium of the Edgewater Presbyterian Church (now home to City Lit Theater), and in 1984 relocated to Truman's sprawling, 250-seat O'Rourke Performing Arts Center. Pegasus's growth over the past 30 years is a testament to Crewdson's artistic vision, fund-raising skills, single-minded determination, and dedication to community-based theater. The non-Equity company--which has won 77 Jefferson Citations, more than any other Chicago theater--has groomed hundreds of young actors, directors, and writers. Its track record includes pioneering revivals of lesser-known Sondheim musicals like Anyone Can Whistle and The Frogs (performed in the Truman swimming pool), as well as the 1999 U.S. premiere of Sondheim's 1955 debut effort, Saturday Night (directed by Gary Griffin, who went on to direct The Color Purple on Broadway). It's produced large-scale ensemble dramas such as Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology and director Warner Crocker's brilliantly acted Chicago premiere of Robert Schenkkan's Pulitzer-winning The Kentucky Cycle, and it's carried on collaborations with artists ranging from Broadway writer-director George Furth to members of the Chicago fringe like Jellyeye Drum Theater, Theater Oobleck's Jeff Dorchen, and Live Bait's Sharon Evans.

Pegasus also stands tall in the area of African-American theater. It presented the first professional Chicago production of an August Wilson play when it mounted Ma Rainey's Black Bottom in 1988. The production boasted a blistering performance by newcomer Harry Lennix, now a well-known Broadway and film actor, who also appeared at Pegasus in Manuel Puig's drama Kiss of the Spider Woman under the direction of Eric Simonson, now an Oscar-winning filmmaker. In 1991, Pegasus undertook a nationally noted reconstruction of the "lost" Duke Ellington musical revue Jump for Joy. It also mounted a memorable rendition of another modern landmark of African-American drama, Ntozake Shange's "choreopoem" For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which sparked controversy due to its criticism of black men's treatment of women. In his memoir Dreams From My Father, President Barack Obama writes about the vivid impression the show made on him when he saw it in 1986 (though unfortunately he doesn't mention Pegasus by name).

Pegasus is also known for the community outreach programs Crewdson has set in place over the years. The most noted of these is the annual Young Playwrights Festival, which develops and produces scripts by teenage writers from Chicago-area schools. The first YPF, held in 1987, drew 130 entries, from which four winning scripts were selected for performance; next January's festival has attracted more than 800 submissions. Crewdson also established the ARTS (Artists in Residence with Teachers in Schools) Program, which is supervised by actor-playwright Philip Dawkins. The program works with the Chicago Public Schools to facilitate classroom partnerships between artists and teachers. "We work with classes all across the curriculum, not just the arts," says Levy. "For example, in an earth sciences class we brought in a choreographer, who used dance to teach kids how the tectonic plates move."

Crewdson will receive a richly deserved special honor from the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee at the non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony on Monday, June 8. And on Saturday, June 20, Pegasus will salute Crewdson at a benefit party at the WBEZ studio on Navy Pier. The event will feature tributes from Harry Lennix and retired Chicago Tribune theater critic Richard Christiansen. For tickets and information: 773-878-9761 or pegasusplayers.org.

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Mick Dumke on the Radio

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 05:19 PM

Catch Reader politics writer Mick Dumke on the radio show Outside the Loop on WLUW, 88.7 FM or wluw.org, tonight at 6 PM. He'll be talking to host Mike Stephen about the parking meter privatization deal, ethics reform at the state level, and cap-and-trade programs intended to reduce greenhouse emissions. The show's also online at outsidetheloop.com.

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6/1 -- Iron Cupcake Chicago

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 05:03 PM

Monday at 6 PM at the Veranda Inn restaurant (5700 W. Irving Park), Beautiful Cakes hosts Iron Cupcake Chicago, the first in what it expects to be a monthly series of cupcake bake-offs. The inaugural edition, to be judged by Chicago Bites team Bridget Houlihan and Tammy Green, challenges bakers to create cupcakes using citrus; attendees can taste the results for free. There's no charge for entering the contest either; register in advance (beautifulcakes@sbcglobal.net or 773-777-7535) and bring two dozen cupcakes for judging and sharing.

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Hands on the parking meter handoff

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 04:19 PM

Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan has opened an investigation into the "transaction and implementation" of Chicago's parking meter privatization deal, according to a Madigan spokesperson.

On May 19 the attorney general's office sent subpoenas to Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners, LAZ Parking, and Chicago Parking Meters LLC--the three entities that now control the meters--said Robyn Ziegler, who represents Madigan. She wouldn't say what specific information was requested.

The investigation is focused on "looking to determine if consumers have been defrauded," Ziegler said. "Broadly, we're looking for information related to the transaction and implementation of the new parking meter system." She said that might include the terms of the deal and nature of the contract. "I wouldn't rule anything out," she said--but then added, "We're not investigating the city of Chicago."

During a City Council committee hearing the day before the subpoenas were issued, aldermen accused officials from the three firms of "deceptive business practices" for collecting fares and ticketing cars even at spaces where the meters were mislabeled or not working at all. Several asked city lawyers to look into whether terms of their contract had been violated. Among them was the Fifth Ward's Leslie Hairston, who formerly worked in the consumer protection division of the attorney general's office. 

Ziegler said Madigan had spoken with Hairston but didn't know whether the investigation had been launched before or after their conversation. "It's obviously clear there have been significant problems with the implementation of the new parking meter system," Ziegler said.

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Friday Fail

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 04:14 PM

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Saturday-morning nostalgia with Major Lazer

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 03:25 PM

Approximately 90 percent of the music released online in the few weeks since Major Lazer's "Hold the Line" hit the Internet has been remixes, edits, or works otherwise based on "Hold the Line." That's a science fact, according to my U.S. Department of Music Guide to Made-Up Statistics. Why come? It could be that Diplo and Switch--the dudes who make up Major Lazer--produced the track, or that Santigold sings on it, or that the time is just right for horse-whinny samples.

The capacity of "Hold the Line" to drive the Internet even more nuts than Paul Wall does will most likely get a boost from its new video, which applies the junky animation style of 1980s Saturday mornings to the adventures of Major Lazer--not the production supergroup but the fictional character, a Jamaican badass with a laser-cannon arm and a hoverboard. The moment where I went from "Oh I get it" to "HELL YES" was right when it cuts to the spot-on action figure tie-in "commercial." I'm sensing some real merch potential there.

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Taking the harp back from the angels

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 02:27 PM

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For most folks the harp is what angels play, not something serious musicians bother with, but that's starting to change. New Yorker Zeena Parkins practically reinvented the harp in the late 80s with electronic manipulations and radical techniques, destroying the instrument's melodic sweetness. More recently Joanna Newsom has persuaded many people to reconsider the harp by using it to make some of the most paradigm-smashing art-pop I've heard in years. And Edmar Castaneda has introduced jazz-style innovations to the instrument--though he plays a Colombian harp, a quite different beast.

In most symphonies the harp rarely provides more than a bit of ornamental gilding. But a handful of modern composers have been curious enough about the instrument's possibilities to write for it, and in the past few years Bridget Kibbey has emerged as one of the harpists of choice for this contemporary repertoire. On her superb self-released solo album Love Is Come Again, she tackles works by Benjamin Britten, Elliot Carter, and André Caplet, one of the first composers to write for harp. In most of the pieces there's plenty of the lyricism you'd expect, but Kibbey also showcases the instrument's versality with gripping and sometimes oblique investigations of texture, harmony, and rhythm, particularly in Carter's "Bariolage."

On Saturday Kibbey plays at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in one of the season's final International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) concerts. The program includes works by Carter and Kati Agócs (both represented on Kibbey's CD) as well as David Bruce and Toru Takemitsu. She'll be joined on a few pieces by ICE flutist Claire Chase.

Today's playlist:

Charles Tolliver Big Band, Emperor March (Half Note)
Renata Rosa, Zunido da Mata (independent)
François Houle, Evan Parker, and Benoît Delbecq, La Lumière de Pierres (Psi)
Harley Gaber, The Winds Rise in the North (Edition RZ)
Crax, Crax (Conundrum)

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A fractured, fractious county board

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 02:08 PM

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When the Cook County board meets again next week, commissioners are likely to resume their war over various proposals to roll back some or all of the 2008 sales tax hike that’s been a mushrooming political problem since it was imposed. And once again the divisions will be as clear as they are bitter: president Todd Stroger and his backers will defend the tax as a way to preserve social services for the poor; the reformers will say that sound management can protect those services while saving taxpayers some money.

Stroger and his closest allies are all black. The goo-goos are white.

That fact seems to bother Toni Preckwinkle almost as much as any of the tax and management questions they’re bickering over. “The board appears to be breaking down along racial lines, and I think that’s troubling,” Preckwinkle, the Fourth Ward alderman, told me in an interview. “When there isn’t a basic level of civility, it’s hard to get anything done. Acrimony breeds acrimony.”

Preckwinkle doesn’t speak as a neutral observer—she’s a black politician who represents a multiracial ward and, at this particular time, is trying to raise money and line up support for a bid to take Stroger’s job next year. So even if she means what she says, she has sound political reasons for it.

“I think it’s the obligation of government to do two things: to deliver quality services and to be as efficient at it as possible,” she said. “One group on the board is focused on quality services and one is focused on efficiency, and unfortunately it’s broken down along racial lines. You have to persuade each side to pay attention to the other. Somebody’s got to lay that out to both sides.”

And yes, she believes she’s the person who could do it. “I’ve tried very hard in my 18 years in the City Council to get along with people whose political views are different from mine,” she said.

Not surprisingly, commissioners in the middle of the acrimony have a slightly different take.

Larry Suffredin voted for the tax hike last year in exchange for the creation of an independent oversight board for the county hospital system. Now he says the county government’s better off than it was and needs to lower the tax rate to stimulate local business.

Despite what Stroger and his allies have claimed, the health and hospital system is not in danger of cutbacks, says Suffredin, who represents a district on the north side and suburbs.

“I think President Stroger has decided that to win the Democratic primary he’s going to have to raise race as an issue, because the only person who’s talking about closing hospitals is President Stroger,” Suffredin says.

“President Stroger accuses us of not reaching out to the community. Well, I go to a lot of events all over, and I don’t see him reaching out. I think he stays in his base. And when he does venture out, he doesn’t answer any questions. I just think it’s an easy accusation to say this is north-side white guys verses south-side black guys.”

“It starts with ideological differences, but it always comes down to race, because the ideologies are based on race,” counters commissioner Jerry Butler, who’s supported Stroger’s efforts to keep the current 1.75 percent tax rate in place.

Without the revenues, Butler fears, the health and hospital system may not be able to provide services to everyone who needs them during a dark economic time. And some of his board colleagues don’t represent communities that will be affected. “Every time there’s an adjustment to the budget, what takes the hit? The bureau of health systems.”

Yet Butler doesn’t think that has much to do with why the board’s split. “It’s over who’s going to win the election,” he says. “All of them would say, ‘Yes, we need the bureau of health and we’re gong to take care of it,’ but if it succeeds while the current president is in office, he gets the credit.”

There is one thing that does appear to cut across racial lines: the perception that Stroger is in deep political trouble. As in toast.

“I once wrote a song called ‘Only the Strong Survive,’ and that’s the story,” says Butler, who to some of us is still thought of as the soul great known as the Iceman. “Todd is not the most popular president who ever lived.”

Suffredin agrees. Of course, he’s committed to backing Claypool for board president. Butler’s decided to go with Preckwinkle.

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From the archives: Neal Pollack on the Pushcart Putsch of '97

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 02:08 PM

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This week's cover story asks why Chicago resists legalizing eloteros. It's a long battle - in 1997, Neal Pollack investigated the same question:

"Street vending has been intermittently under attack in Chicago for decades, but the latest crackdown began in 1991, when aldermen started to pass peddling "moratoriums" in various wards. Bernard Stone was the first, banning street vendors in the 50th Ward. His idea quickly caught on, and soon the streets were being cleared on the northwest and southwest sides. Then the moratoriums started popping up on the south side, as well as in more gentrified north-side areas like Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Alderman Burton Natarus, whose 42nd Ward now includes most of downtown, sponsored a law that forbids street vending anywhere in the Loop (with the exception of city-commissioned fruit stands on State Street). The Park District added its own citywide ban last summer. In the few remaining wards that still allowed food peddling, vendors were pretty much left alone. Last month the boom came down."

H/t @WBEZ for the reminder. Chicago's not alone, of course; Ed Koch threw down against street vendors in New York in the '80s. Streetvendor.org is a good roundup of the legal issues pushcart sellers face.

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