Tag Archives: Chicago

The Love Boat: Writer recounts getting hitched while living on Lake Michigan

The author and a tiny crew member.

The author and a tiny crew member.

A young woman in the big city meets a fella, they fall in love and get married. It sounds like a familiar formula. But the guy happens to live on a boat. And we’re not talking like the quirky dude who lives on a boat in a movie or television show, the guy who never seems to have to do any work to the boat or is ever actually seen taking it out on the water. Where the boat is symbol for a carefree, exotic existence. 

No, Felicia Schniederhan‘s newest memoir, “Newlyweds Afloat: Married Bliss and Mechanical Breakdowns While Living Aboard a Trawler”( Breakaway Books)  chronicles all the elbow grease that goes into a life on the water. When she meets her husband-to-be, the writer is a young scribe about town in Chicago living as most city-dwellers do, in a sensible apartment. But as love brings them closer together, the boat becomes home. And, as the memoir attests, it’s not a carefree existence at all. There’s the limited space. The cold winters on the water. The pumps that break. The six-minute showers because of the lack of hot water. The geese attacks. Yes, GEESE ATTACKS. 

The result is a fun journey on the sea of marriage throughout all its waves and calm waters.  (See an excerpt beneath the interview)

We had a chance to catch up with Schniederhan, who know resides in Duluth, Minnesota with her husband and three children. Schniederhan is also a contributor to our Narrative Map essay series.  

What is your background?

I grew up on the Mississippi River. I first met the Great Lakes when I moved to Evanston, IL to go to Northwestern University when I was 18. I was terribly depressed in college and would go on long, wandering walks, usually by the lakefront. The image of a tiny downtown Chicago to the south, and this huge expanse of Lake Michigan in front of me, was very comforting: the city and suburbs weren’t so big; nature was still the boss.

I majored in theater and women’s studies at Northwestern. When I graduated, I had no idea what to do. I took a year to work at a Whole Foods. I was writing a lot. I figured what the hell, let’s go get an MFA in fiction writing (can’t make a living as an actor, why not try being a writer?).  Writing was something I always did, from the time I was 11 years old. So I got an MFA at Columbia College Chicago.

Tell us a little about the book and how it came to be?

When I married Mark and moved onboard, I wanted to write about the experience to my dad, who was fascinated by living on a boat. There were a lot of other people, too, who wanted to know about it. So I decided to start a blog. Blogs were rather new at that time (2006). New-ish. I didn’t even have a digital camera, and the first entries had no images to go with them. Just brief excerpts of boat life. (There was no shortage of stuff to write about.)  Pretty soon I realized people were reading the blog. Other boaters would talk to me about it. Someone Googled how to pump out their sewage tank, and my blog came up – it’s a point of pride that they learned how to pump out their crap from my blog. Boaters at docks would look at me kind of strange, then admit they read the blog. I realized people knew more about us than I thought.

Around this time, I was working as a freelance writer, pitching articles to editors. As a clip, I would give them the link to the blog. I wasn’t sure how editors would react to blogs, if they were considered legit. But inevitably the editor would come back to me and say, “We don’t want the story idea you pitched us, but can you give us this blog entry…?”  So I started writing articles from the blog.

When we moved to land in Northern Minnesota and the experience ended, I realized there was a complete story arc, and a book. So I started honing down the blog – I printed out the whole thing and began editing, shaping, seeing what was missing. I had to write a lot about the beginning of the relationship, since I never blogged about it. And then towards the end, when I was looking at the entire book, I realized there was a really important aspect of that time completely missing – so I wrote “A Boat from Temperance.”

The author's husband, Mark, dealing with a maritime mishap.

The author’s husband, Mark, dealing with a maritime mishap.


So what’s it like living on a boat?

Fun!  Stressful and unnerving, always interesting. It’s a gift to be able to live in nature no matter where you are, even downtown Chicago. It was simpler, in a lot of ways – we had less room, so we couldn’t have as much stuff. Now we’ve got a four-bedroom house and way too many piles.

 How is living on a boat more difficult in a big city like Chicago?

Well, I never lived on a boat in a small town, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to.  The advantages in Chicago are that there are many harbors to choose from in the summer, and because there are more people overall, there are more people who want to live on their boats year-round (like 10). Year-round liveaboards formed a great community, the “River Rats,” and we would all go to the River City Marina in the winter, since that marina kept their services (water and pump-out) working all year. The River Rats really helped each other out.

In Chicago, there are also a lot more amenities for people on the water – like restaurants you can cruise up to. And boaters are outside the boundaries, in a lot of ways, so we could do things under the radar, like just dock downtown and spend the night, or throw down an anchor in front of the John Hancock building and sleep out.

You have a chapter about geese-attacks. What are some other scary moments you encountered while living on the boat?

My first winter aboard we spent a weekend in the U.P. climbing ice, and when we got back to Chicago we found that the Chicago River had frozen, locking the boat in ice. The experience is detailed in “Surviving Shackleton’s Endurance.” (Which is excerpted below).  That was dangerous because the ice could have cracked the hull, or the engine would have frozen, or pipes could have burst. Luckily we were able to get things up and running again within a couple days. But it was a terrifying couple days (and I really wanted to bolt – but I learned to stay).

You talk a little bit in the book about how living on the boat may have caused problems in your marriage, where you were kind of second billing to the boat your husband was fixing up. What other ways did living on the boat affect your blossoming marriage?

Because we were in such close proximity, it was hard to hide anything. Like anybody, I had my own issues that I brought to the marriage, and such tight quarters brought everything out in the open – resulting in really good changes for me. (I write about it in “A Boat from Temperance.”)  Living on the boat also taught us how to work together, as partners (which has been great preparation for parenting three small kids).

What are your favorite nautical books or writers that inspired you while working on this project?

I loved Guy de Maupassant’s book about sailing, Afloat.  Libby Hill’s book The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History was always really helpful – it was like our neighborhood phone book.  And Julie Buckles’s memoir Paddling to Winter is a fascinating story about a different kind of newlywed boat trip – paddling 2,000 miles with her husband Charly from Lake Superior all the way up to the middle of Canada.

What’s next for you? What else are you working on?

I’m working on a novel about elite climbers. Climbing is not something I do well, but I really admire people who have the drive and the ability and the grace to achieve what seems impossible. I’m interested in the emotional lives of climbers, their intimate relationships.

An excerpt from Newlyweds Afloat: “Surviving Shackleton’s Endurance” 

When I told people I would be moving aboard my new husband Mark’s boat just after our September 30 wedding, initial reactions ranged from “That’s so romantic,” to “Can you do that in Chicago?” Then they would ask, “What about winter?”

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 2.43.57 PM“We live on the boat,” I would tell them.

“No, seriously,” they’d say.

I would explain like I knew what I was talking about: “There’s a heater, and Mark rigged up a furnace. It’s insulated, and he wraps the whole top in plastic. There’s a bubbler to keep the water circulating around the boat.”

They would look at me like I was crazy. “This is Chicago,” they would remind me.

I would shrug. “Mark’s done it for two years.”

I started dating Mark during his second winter on board and even spent some January nights on Mazurka. It seemed like he had worked out most of the bugs of a winter aboard, so I felt confident that the freezing Chicago temperatures would not be our biggest challenge in our newlywed year.

But let’s be honest: Before you spend a winter living aboard, you have no idea what you’re signing up for.

In early February we drove to the UP for the annual Ice Fest, a long weekend of cross-country skiing and climbing frozen waterfalls in subzero temperatures.

You have to really love the cold to want to climb ice. It requires putting on several layers of clothing, procuring the necessary gear (harness, crampons, ice axes, a helmet), and hiking out to a frozen waterfall. Walls of ice are unforgiving, and don’t much care how fit you are or how far you drive to climb them—they are cold and foreboding and will stand firm no matter how much ice you chip off in your attempt to scale the wall and conquer it.

We were exhilarated Sunday night, driving back to Chicago, counting down the temperatures (“Now it’s eight below!”). We returned from a weekend climbing ice to find . . . ice. It was something neither of us had ever seen. The Chicago River was completely frozen over, with geese like new penguins sliding around on the interlocking triangles of dark black ice. The River City Marina was solid; ice closed in on Mazurka’s hull so that it resembled Shackleton’s Endurance at the South Pole in 1915.

We opened up the door to find a frigid tomb. Inside, the cabin temperature was twenty-eight degrees—everything was frozen, including all the faucets, pipes, olive oil, shampoo, and contents of the refrigerator. It felt like an abandoned ghost ship, save for Hunter and Leo, their fur puffed up, looking a bit shell-shocked and thirsty—their water dish was a solid block.

I called my ex-husband (I had asked him to watch the cats over the weekend). When he came aboard Saturday afternoon, everything was fine. We deduced that sometime in the previous twenty-four hours, the Mermaid heater had stopped working, probably when the river temperature became so cold that the water inlet froze and the heater could no longer pull in warm water to heat the boat. The Toyoset furnace (which Mark had just begun fueling with kerosene, before solving the diesel issue) roared through the fuel in less than a day and also quit.

“This is my worst nightmare,” Mark said. He started the engine—the quickest way he could think to warm things up. (We never winterized the boat because we always kept it warm; maybe a day more and the engine would have frozen.)

We heard the terrible crack of a pipe breaking; thankfully it was just the drinking water filter under the sink. Expensive, but not dire. We stayed up till 1 a.m., when the cabin temperature had risen to forty-two degrees, then went to bed on an ice-cold mattress over the water tanks, which were probably frozen, too.

While I love climbing frozen waterfalls as much as the next girl, I like it even more when I know at the end of the day, we’re going to hike back to civilization and back to the hotel, where there’s hot soup and coffee and a sauna and whirlpool. Driving eight hours back to Chicago, I was looking forward to a luxurious six-minute shower, some clean clothes, and a warm bed. Instead, we lay down on a block of ice wearing the same three layers of clothing and hats and coats we’d worn all weekend. I tried to be grateful that I had a roof over my head when there were plenty of people sleeping under cardboard. It was all I could do not to break down sobbing.

“I feel like throwing up,” I told my husband in the darkness. He agreed. It was the first time in four months I thought maybe living on Mazurka wasn’t such a great idea.

The next morning we fretted about living aboard without water. We considered which friends we could stay with. Mark said he would stay on Mazurka to make sure she was okay. I wanted to put my cats in the car and drive three hours to my parents’ house till things heated up, but I thought again; I was married now—I would stick by my husband.

Purchase the book at Amazon. 

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Chicago, Illinois: Back to the Water’s Edge


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

My girlfriends always drove because they had cars, cool cars: a Monte Carlo, a Cadillac, and best of all, the Trans Am. Boy bait. And that’s what we were there for, after all, the boys. That, and a place that seemed about as far away as we could get from our land-locked suburban neighborhoods with low-slung ranch houses and two-car garages and flat, trimmed lawns.

Foster Beach.

The City. (You could hear how we capitalized it in the way we said it, like a title, a proper noun. The City. The City. THE CITY.)

The lake was there (is there), wide and wild sometimes, water rolling and crashing. Wild like we wanted to be, pulled by the moon on warm summer nights. And The City twinkled in the high rises behind us while we stood at the water’s edge.

Mostly, though, we parked. All of us. We drove to the beach as though called there, a line of cars cruising slowly, looking for a spot in the lot where we could pull in and hop out and jump onto the hoods of our rides, onto the trunks. We sat in the humid dark while our warm engines ticked and cooled beneath us.

The seventies. And we were white girls from the suburbs grown bored with the white suburban boys we knew who were either jocks or freaks, and who had curfews and homework: read The Canterbury Tales, “The Knight’s Tale;” solve for X, for Y; write a five-page paper on The Industrial Revolution.

My girlfriends, most of them, would drop out of high school, and I would go on to college, first one, then another, until I found the right one and made it work (Columbia College Chicago, just a few miles away from Foster Beach and overlooking that same great lake and the water’s edge there.)

But we didn’t know any of that yet.

What we knew was this: boys with names like Mario, like Ramon—City Boys—pulled huge speakers out of the trunks of their cars, played salsa at full volume, slapped their thighs and the vinyl landau tops in Latin rhythms. Clouds skittered across the moon lifting up over the water, and sometimes we would climb into the back seats of the cars with Mario, with Ramon, because they told us we were pretty. Different. And better times we would walk with them, holding hands and carrying our shoes, our toes in the sand close to the water’s edge. And Mario, Ramon, would say “Let’s sit, sientate,” and we would, and the world (or maybe just the sand) would shift under our bodies. And we’d listen to the sometimes loud, sometimes quiet lap of water on land, to the music swinging through the night from the parking lot, to the cars behind us rushing along Lake Shore Drive, toward The City, or toward Hollywood at the Drive’s end.

And sometimes, too, we’d lie back with Mario, with Ramon, and kiss under the summer stars that we couldn’t really see because dark is never full dark in The City; there’s always light. But we knew the stars were there like we knew other things: we were young. We were pretty (Mario said so, Ramon did.) We were miles away from home, from the suburbs, from sidewalks and shopping centers and our parents, asleep, probably, certain we were close by, safe, doing homework and sleeping over in twin beds in air-conditioned rooms.

And we knew best of all that we would come back to this place, this City place, this Foster Beach. We would leave by the backdoors of our houses and tiptoe over the patios of our yards and meet at the stop sign, the Trans Am purring, the girls inside lipsticked and ready and eager to get there. Not just the next night, and the next, but always. We would return. Pulled (even now, forty years later) by the moon, by the boys and the music, by the cars and the parking, by the possibilities, by the memories. Pulled again and again. Pulled back to the beach, back to the water’s edge.

Patricia Ann McNair‘s collection of stories, The Temple of Air, won the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, the Devil’s Kitchen Readers Award, and was a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors Award. She has had fiction and nonfiction appear in a variety of publications, including Creative Nonfiction, Riverteeth, Fourth Genre, Brevity, Prime Number, Superstition Review, and others. Her work has won a number of Illinois Arts Council awards, and has been nominated for the Pushcart five times. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Writing of Columbia College Chicago

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Bloody, Damn Sexy and Very Shakespearean: An interview with Tom Wells


Two Pence production poster--197x300Tom Wells is the co-founder and artistic director of Two Pence Theater Company, an organization devoted to theater of the Early Modern period, including that of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline playwrights, and Shakespeare in particular. They’re a performance company guided by Renaissance humanist principles devoted to human agency and the individual’s relationship to self and society. As they perform and entertain, Two Pence provides audiences a powerful introduction to another world and time that is much more like our own than we might first imagine. Two Pence also offers actors and other theater professionals a fertile training ground where they’re able to take risks and cultivate their crafts.

 Tom’s credits at Two Pence include directing the company’s inaugural productions The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Dogs of Reservoir; acting in The Malcontent and The Tamer Tamed; voice and text coaching for Richard II; and teaching classes and workshops including “Owning Shakespeare: A Workshop In Progress,” “Revealing Shakespeare,” “Shakespeare in Play,” the ongoing Two Pence Lab, and “Worthy Warriors” for theatre professionals, students, and U.S. veterans all around Chicago and Evanston. Before settling in Chicago, Tom acted, taught and directed for more than six years at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, and assisted with the Shakespeare in the Courts program supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, as well as numerous professional development workshops. In addition to his work with Two Pence, Tom is also a Designated Linklater Voice Teacher Trainee under Kristin Linklater and teaches at The Acting Studio Chicago.

 Tom and I have known each other since we were kids. The Internet hadn’t yet been invented, and Mark Zuckerberg was still doing all his friending at the sandbox. Given the technological wasteland we found ourselves in, it was good fortune that we lived three blocks from each other. Now that he’s in Chicago and I’m in Milwaukee, we corresponded by email while discussing Shakespeare, language, and the pursuit of something mysterious in a certain windy city on Lake Michigan’s southern shore. (David Bowen)

 David Bowen: How did Two Pence begin?

Tom Wells: I formed Two Pence Theatre Company in Chicago with co-founder and Managing Director Sarah Augusta near the end of 2008. Sarah and I met earlier that year through a mutual friend at an Actor’s Equity audition for The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We were both fairly new to the Chicago theater scene. I had been in the city for a few months, and she had just moved from Boston. We realized that we’d both undergone similar training, and we both lived for Shakespeare.

DB: What kind of training had you both undergone at that point?

TW: Sarah had gone to Emerson, and I’d spent a little more than six years acting and teaching at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. Emerson and Shakespeare & Company both approach actor training using Kristin Linklater’s Freeing the Natural Voice methodology. Shakespeare & Company has also developed an elegant body of text and movement training that works symbiotically with Kristin’s approach to voice.

So Sarah and I shared a common theatrical language. And as we talked about it, we realized that there weren’t (to our knowledge) any theater companies with a Linklater voice training core. So we began to talk about why there was a vocal training gap in the many actor and improv training programs in Chicago, and whether there might be interest if we tried to fill it by teaching a class or two—and if that went well, how we might go about producing a play.

DB: What draws you specifically to Shakespeare?

TW: I started acting in high-school because some guy I knew (my best friend to this day) wanted to audition for a play.

So, I thought, well, I couldn’t possibly have a less successful freshman year experience in high school, so why not? And it was a huge, huge win. And then every year after I got cast in a larger role than the last, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that Shakespeare’s plays, characters, thoughts, and words really spoke to and through me, communicating the huge emotional experience I was having as a teenager.

And Shakespeare has been with me every step of my journey since. He’s the one I turn to when I’m having the worst day ever, or the best, and I just can’t quite find words specific enough to communicate what I’m feeling. I just open up some of the tens of editions of his complete works I own, or look through the Shakespeare app I have on my iPhone while I’m on the train, and inevitably, in whatever play I open to, I find someone feeling the way I do in that moment. The character’s life situation is typically much more complicated and immediate than mine, because the greatest plays compress and pressurize time so much, but there’s still that connection to people past and present that allows me access to a deeper awareness of my own experience, connecting my microcosm of an interior feeling life to the macrocosm of such life throughout all time and human experience.

DB: Why should people go to the theater? What might other people get out of seeing work that was composed four-hundred years ago? Does it have to do with this self-awareness you’ve described?

TW: I don’t know why people should go to the theater. There are too many shoulds in the world already, and I don’t want theater to be another should in people’s lives. I think we get out of seeing theater the very same things the Greeks, the Elizabethans, and everyone else got out of seeing theater composed in their own time. I think that the question “Why am I going to the theater?” is actually one of the gifts people get before, during, and after seeing theater. Questions are the most divine tools we have in our toolbox, and I think it’s in a spirit of inquiry, the question, where true theater begins, and where the most rewarding experiences of theater can be discovered. If self-awareness is one of the rewards of seeing theater, and I think it is, then we must begin with questions.

Etymologists would tell us that the Greek word for theater was theatron, which means literally “a place for viewing,” but I would like to suggest that the theater is the place from which we view the gods. The gods without. And the gods within. The suffix –tron denotes “place,” and the word thea has two meanings: “to view” and “goddess.” Thea meant Goddess. Theo meant God. So, theo-logy is where you study the god(ess), the-rapy is where you talk about the god(ess), and thea-ter is where you get to hear, feel, and see the god(s) speak. And by god(ess) I mean the images, the myths, the archetypal characters and stories that have been passed down from human to human since before recorded time. And these stories are still being passed down—the same twelve or so stories, some would say—in the theater. It’s the very thing that connects the Millenial Generation, Generation X, and our parents’ generation, and back and back to theater that was wrought five-hundred years ago. And not just in an intellectual way, but in a very visceral, tangible way.

DB: Are there plays or roles or passages from Shakespeare’s work that have been particularly transformative for you?

TW: Yes. And even now, as I’m thinking the line in my head, it occurs to me how cliché it sounds to choose it, but here it is: To be, or not to be, that is the question. It expresses a divine understanding of what it is to stand on the precipice and view life in all its sublime horror, angst, and utter beauty. I don’t think anyone has ever written or said it more simply. I mean, this is the essence of the microcosm of man inside and out, and the macrocosm of life on earth, and the universe.

I think that thought alone gave birth to a new self-consciousness that we have been wrestling and coming to terms with since Shakespeare grappled with it himself. And the most important part of the line is the part at the end: that is the question. That is the quest-ion. That is the quest in life, and the question that every human embodies with every breath of every day.

The most exciting thing for me about the plays from this period is the way that the Elizabethans and Jacobean playwrights used the English language. Book after book has been written on the subject. They understood that the language you use, as an individual human walking around on the street of your hometown, in small town Wisconsin or Michigan or wherever, that to talk about that teeming, seething, sensual stuff happening on the inside of them, of you, was and still is in direct relationship to the words. Language shapes your experience of the world. That’s a fact.

DB: How have Two Pence and its projects evolved since 2008 to explore the language of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and how have you involved other actors and audience members in the quest?

TW: We began by teaching a text-based class called “Owning Shakespeare,” and then we produced Romeo & Juliet at The Evanston Arts Depot just north of the city. After a hugely successful six-week run, we ended up in the black financially. A huge deal in any theatrical venture.

The next summer we produced the pastoral comedy As You Like It, directed brilliantly by Kathryn Walsh. Several actors and a lighting designer got excited by what we were trying to create, and Sarah and I had been dreaming up new programming, so we agreed that it was the right time to grow the company. Associate Producing Director Kathryn Walsh, Director of Education Lucy Carapetyan, Grants Manager Michael Mercier, and Production Manager Jessica Carson became company members and all helped create As You Like It.

Since then, Eliza Hofman has come aboard as Literary Manager. We also produced Richard II at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theater; added A Dead Man’s Hand—Chicago’s only reading series dedicated to Jacobean playwrights—and developed middle school residencies and a high school festival (inspired by Shakespeare & Company). We also teach The 2P Lab—a free actor training program—and throw a “Fun(d)raising” mashup and cocktail mixer each summer. We keep having great ideas and huge successes.

DB: What are some of Two Pence’s upcoming projects?

TW: We’ll be opening the Chicago premiere of Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women on September 8 at The Den Theater in Wicker Park, one of Chicago’s ultra-hip neighborhoods. Kathryn Walsh will direct, and previews begin September 4. Women Beware Women is sexy, passionate, and deadly—a play that uses those “Machiavellian Italians” (a favorite Early Modern trope) to explore sexual politics, their consequences, and what happens when a gender imbalance impedes one sex’s ability to survive and thrive.

We’ll also produce the The Fall Festival of Shakespeare: Chicago, our flagship education program for high school students. Then in February or March of 2015 we’ll produce an original adaptation of Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker’s city-comedy The Roaring Girl, which I’ll adapt and direct. And then Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night, or What You Will in the Fall of 2015. We’ll also continue to explore the Early Modern period with the Dead Man’s Hand series. And we hope to raise funds for these projects and many others at our annual Fundraiser Gala Shakespeare Mash-up: Shake Wars: Revels, Alliance!

DB: Let’s talk a little more about the Dead Man’s Hand reading series. What draws you to Jacobean playwrights? Aside from Middleton and Dekker, which other playwrights have been part of the series? Who else would you like to include in the future?

TW: I love the Jacobean plays because they are bloody, damn sexy, and very Greek. And very Tarantino at times. Incest, patricide, genocide, murder, revenge, rage, jealousy, secrets, shame—all those feelings that we’re too polite to talk about. And those Jacobean playwrights really exploded the theatrical form, experimenting with dis-unity of plot and character. And because I’m still learning about Shakespeare’s many collaborators, comrades, and admirers, there’s the excitement that comes with exploring the unknown. There’s so much that’s been studied, written, known, and assumed about Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre that it’s really exciting to unearth these other plays written by his comrades and competitors, and explore the personal and theatrical connection to them, as well.

In 2014, we got Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Aphra Behn’s The Rover up on their respective feet. Aphra Behn is the first female playwright of the period that we’ve explored.  And in the past we’ve read John Fletcher, John Marston, and Ben Jonson.

As far as what I’d like to see us do in the future? I would love to do a reading of Nick Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor, James Shirley’s Hyde Park, and then even more obscure playwrights like Margaret Cavendish and Mary (Sidney) Herbert.

DB: What’s the Chicago theater scene like, and how does Two Pence fit into it?

TW: The Chicago theater scene is eclectic, dynamic, and mostly centered around contemporary and new works. I think it’s the best town for theater in the country. There is a sort of movement springing up where small theater companies are producing Shakespeare, but—this may be a bold claim but I’m gonna make it—I think that Two Pence is the only store-front theater company in Chicago whose specific mission is to produce Early Modern playwrights.

And we’re also the only theater company I know of in Chicago committed to training actors of all ages to speak the thoughts and words of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. That’s what we’re really passionate about. There are several small companies who are using modern methods of actor training (Improv, Meisner, Stanislavski, etc.) to work on Shakespeare, and that’s been going on for years. But it’s my experience that Early Modern playwrights demand a different type of training. To fully embody Shakespeare’s words, an actor has to embrace a different way of experiencing the cosmos, the physical world, their inner being and language, the language they use to express the connection between. This requires a more specific way of approaching the plays of that period. And Two Pence (inspired by the body of work created by Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts, and American Players Theater in Wisconsin, and other companies) fills that particular space for theatrical production and training in the community.

I think the best productions of Shakespeare’s plays trust the story of the play, and make Shakespeare’s words the star. And when Shakespeare’s words are the star, everything becomes illuminated because of the light of the consciousness with which he wrote. So, that’s what we’re gonna keep working towards…the light.

The latest Two Pence production, Thomas Middleton’s “Women Beware Women” directed by Kathryn Walsh, runs through September 26, 2014, and tickets are going fast. Find out more at http://www.twopencetheatre.org/see/.

This is a portion of the interview. For the full interview, check out the print edition of GLR Summer 2014,



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This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

There’s a plaque at the corner of West Wacker and North LaSalle, just above the Chicago River that most workers, tourists, homeless, cabbies, school children and shoppers hustle by without a glance. The bronze sign marks where 844 people drowned right in the Loop on a summer day.

The mammoth Western Electric plant in Cicero once held annual employee parties and promoted them with zeal.  Departments competed for the most attendance. It was a rare day off for employees and their families to dress up for a trip to the beach in Michigan City. There would be a parade and picnics, dancing, games and sports, and a cruise on one of the big steamer ships. In 1915 seven thousand put on their Sunday clothes and went into the city to board in the early morning of July 24.

Western Electric hired five excursion steamers to shuttle passengers back and forth and the S.S. Eastland was popular because she was scheduled to depart first. White, elegant, she was slim as a narrow slice of a five-layered cake. The Eastland once sailed regularly between Chicago and South Haven, Mich. loaded with summer vacationers and docked exactly where I now enjoy my summer drinks on the Black River.  In fact, the Eastland was built to navigate the shallow Black River which made the ship notoriously tippy.

On that July day, while 2,500 Western Electric people surged on board, Ragtime music floated from her promenade deck. They squeezed through the mob to claim an empty chair, their first beer or a spot in the smoking lounge or along the rail to wave their handkerchiefs in happy farewells.

It was the kind of day you proposed to your girl, put your toddler in his best sailor suit.  And maybe when the ship first rolled and righted, you gasped, then laughed out loud. Maybe you skidded and your stomach tightened but saw the ship was still lashed to the dock. When it tilted again, the band braced and kept on playing.  But then it leaned far over. In the stunning quiet a piling ripped from the pier like a yanked tooth and under the weight of too many passengers, too little attention to ballast, the tall, narrow ship rolled right over on its side into the filthy river.

Deck chairs, tables, china, lovers thrown. The piano slid and crushed a man.  Straw skimmers, music stands, the big safe. A refrigerator toppled. Bottles, exploded glass. Layers of fancy clothes dragged mothers under. The calliope. A small boy, his head lolling. Baskets, music stands, mandolins. Gawky young men slammed, pinned. Umbrellas, bookcases, babies, girls and grandmothers plunged below.

They fought for air, fought for help, fought each other. Men helped women; men clawed and clambered over women, and children slipped from their hands. Mouths open in shock filled with water. Rivets popped. The ship shuddered and growled. Those trapped in the black interior groped for purchase in pockets of air.  Held to each other. Held on alone.

The whole city galvanized and sprang to action. They threw beams, chicken crates, life preservers. They leapt, arms stretching, legs kicking, into a soup of bodies, trash and screaming. Grappling hooks and nets fished the river.  They cut open the Eastland’s hull and dropped ropes, ladders, helmeted divers.  A young man the newspapers called “the human frog” dove past exhaustion to pull up forty bodies on his own. The weight of sodden, tangled clothes.  Dresses clawed to shreds.  Hands full of hair.  Bodies were hauled to the great maw of the armory and laid out for someone to come and identify them.  The majority of the dead were young women and children.  The city ran out of coffins.

There were 10,000 witnesses in the Loop that day thinking, “They’ll still be talking about this a hundred years from now!”

Marion Starling Boyer is a professor emeritus of Communication courses at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She has two published collections of poetry, The Clock of the Long Now (2009, Mayapple Press) and Green 2003, Finishing Line Press). Boyer’s Composing the Rain won Grayson Book’s 2014 chapbook competition and publication is forthcoming. She enjoys spending her summers in South Haven, Mich..

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Courtesy of www.patrickmiceli.com

Courtesy of www.patrickmiceli.com


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

You have walked by that picture for years. Always avoided looking at it. Something forbidding about it. Today, you make yourself stop and look.

It’s a large oil painting, four-by-sixteen feet. There is a lot to look at. It was painted by Patrick Miceli. Maybe he’s famous, but you’ve never heard of him. The painting shows people standing on the platform at the Belmont El Station in Chicago. You’ve ridden by that El station.

The painting is realistic, but it’s a blurry realism. What you might have seen out a window of the El train as it passed by.

You look at the faces, searching, as you always do, for someone familiar. But, of course, they are all strangers. Next you count the people. Nineteen women and eight men. They are spread out along the platform. Only two people, a man and a woman, seem to be together. They face one another at an angle but are not looking at each other. No one is looking at you or at anyone else in the picture.

All of the people have closed their eyes or are looking down or are wearing sunglasses, although it is not a sunny day. Everyone looks sad, or maybe just resigned. They are waiting for a train, but they don’t seem to expect one to arrive. You know that they have been waiting here for a long time. The people are frozen in small separate spaces. No one is moving. A man is about to light a cigarette, but he is caught motionless, holding a match he cannot strike. At the edge of the platform is a red sign reading, “DANGER—KEEP OFF.” Beneath the platform is a black void.

You imagine standing among these people. You look for a way to enter the painting and a place you might occupy. You think that this is a space where there would be no demands from other people. You would not have to speak to anyone or touch anyone. Near the center of the painting, you see a small woman. You must have seen her before because you had counted her.

But you hadn’t looked at her. Now you notice that her arms and legs are swinging, and one foot is off the ground.

She becomes the only person in the painting you can see. Her head is lowered and her eyes are downcast, exactly like the others, but she is moving quickly. She will soon disappear behind the shelter near the back of the platform. You know that she will not appear again.

She will leave the painting and escape. Maybe she was the only person in the painting the artist could not control. Or maybe he painted her, hoping that you would see her and be warned.

Beverly Offen lives near Chicago. She recently earned a Certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the Writer’s Studio of the University of Chicago. She has been published in Still Crazy, Front Porch Review, Nostalgia Digest, Hippocampus, and other small journals. She was a community college librarian but now calls herself a writer.

Find Patrick Miceli’s work at his website. 


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DOLTON, ILLINOIS: My … kind of town?



This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

 When you find yourself approaching the vicinity of a popular national retailer such as Walgreens, and a pair of bulbs are blown on its massive red cursive letters so that it only reads ‘ al green’, not in homage of the 70’s soul singing reverend, but just from an accumulation of mere chance, short funds and pernicious Midwest weather, then you know that you’ve arrived in my neighborhood.

Dolton, Illinois, immediately south of the hostile city limits of Chicago.  If Illinois was the land of Lincoln then Dolton was one of his beard naps.  Their slogan should be ‘Welcome to Dolton.  Not as many homicides as Chicago but our politician’s are just as cooked!’  Yes, home to small town heroes such as  former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, acclaimed actress and comedian Jane Lynch, but more importantly, home to Spank. Now, nearly every small dilapidated town has their man of urban folklore. Ours was sir Spanky, a bony, musty native, whom legend has it, once survived a pit bull mauling by a prize winning middle weight dog fighting champion of the village. No one saw it but he reportedly, out of self defense, strangled the life out of the champ using nothing but his own ashy, bare mitts, and if you ask me, he wouldn’t have thrown three key interceptions against the Patriots in the Super Bowl despite the incident. What are you blind McNabb!

A town literally located in the Windy City’s overcast of a shadow.  What was once inhabited by working class white families evolved into an urban utopia of sorts.  Why, just a few decades ago, Dolton had been the site that hosted a slew of hate crimes, and though that dark chapter remains deeply buried inside the annals of the village, amongst the outskirts, you can still almost taste the racial history. Could use less salt.

I’d say the ethnic shift began around the mid-to-late Eighties. A cultural migration of biblical proportions. Property values plummeted, prosperous homeowners fled the area and a chain of ‘ Woo Woo’s Barbecue shack establishments sprung up across the landscape, polluting the neighborhood with fumes of charred pork fat that spread like locusts and specializing in a secret sauce recipe that would make Moses himself lick his fingers.

There were some elderly disgruntled remnants of the past population that stayed put, regardless that their once American dream had become overrun by minorities. They were the ones that hardly ever left the house and still referred to blacks as ‘ colored ‘. Having said that, it would be a disservice not to mention the trailer park Causation kids over East, whom having resided amongst the urban elements for such an extended duration were given honorable clearance with occasional usage of the N-word.

My hometown might have been the City of Broad Shoulders, and moving to Dolton as a child may not have been my ideal destination to grow up, but as I climb in age I can honestly say that I am proud to have been raised in the same neighborhood as the incomparable Spanky, whom if you ask me, would have won the Emmy for Outstanding actress in a comedy series in 2013. What are you blind, Lynch!

Marcus A. Millison is a writer from Chicago. He was a Fiction Writing major at Columbia College Chicago, has assisted playwrights at the Black Ensemble Theatre, and is registered with the WGA. The  father of two and resides in the South Suburbs of Chicago. 

Check out the Narrative Map on our site!

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CHICAGO: Beverly


An excerpt from Fall 2013 issue


I’ve never lived in a place where you couldn’t hear the neighbors moving around above your head or under your feet.

I’ve never lived in a place with a lawn, nor understood why anyone would want a lawn, not to even mention ever having to actually mow one.
I never thought I’d end up living here.

In the nine years I drove a cab in Chicago, aside from Hegewisch and Edgebrook, Beverly was probably the neighborhood I took the fewest fares to. My one memorable fare to Beverly was a very drunk city attorney coming from a North Side dance club, where—to hear him tell it–the ladies couldn’t keep their hands off him. He was on his way to meet up with his good South Side girlfriend and her friends—all of whom hated his guts.

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