WRITE CLUB, “Literature as Blood Sport,” at The Hideout

  • Sumo

Tucked away around the industrial section of Elston Street and the north branch of the Chicago River, across the street from the complex that houses Chicago’s Department of Fleet Management, is The Hideout. Given its location it is not a stretch of the imagination to think of it as a place up to no good. It’s About Page bills The Hideout as “the last hold-out of the rebel club,” and given its storied list of performers, musical, literary and otherwise, it fits. Keep in mind the place has been around since 1934, so you can guess at the old (Oscar Wilde) as well as the more recent (Jack White, Phantom Planet).

Entering The Hideout is like entering many local bars in Chicago: dark, noisy with music and the shouted chatter of conversation. I’ve come to expect this of everywhere I go in Chicago, a constant reminder of its 2.7 million people v. the 578,000 of Vancouver, BC. Unlike most others, though, the bar at The Hideout is merely a teaser. Behind drapes you don’t notice until someone walks out, lies the performance.

Chairs are set up in rows, high tables along the sides beneath various large fish, and a stage at the front, elevated to such an extent I expect anyone getting up there must half-bow. Tonight, with some fellow StoryStudio classmates, I’ve come to see WRITE CLUB.

Literature as Bloodsport, as it bills itself. Three bouts, each seven minutes long, pits two writers against each other with opposing themes. Last night’s theme’s were:

  • Metric v. Imperial
  • Teach v. Learn
  • Art v. Science

What people can pack into seven minutes amazes me. What people pack into seven minutes and still hold the attention of the audience astounds me. Keep in mind these are not professional performers but, for lack of a better term, regular people. Regular people with regular jobs making impassioned pleas in favor of one topic or the other. The creativity in the performances as palpable, the organization of each as varied as the performers themselves yet the audience remained engaged, alert and rapt. Wyl Villacres, for example, who argued in favor of teaching, and teaching how to win a Write Club bout, structured his piece in such a way that the audience was laughing in hysterics, sitting in rapt, contemplative silence as the piece turned more serious only to close with a turn of phrase complete with “drop the mic” hilarity.

Someone reading this will think “Hey, that sounds like The Moth.” You are correct in the sense that The Moth, like WRITE CLUB, is live lit. That is all that they have in common.

While The Moth can be heard in person, or on the radio without much distinction, WRITE CLUB must be experienced. Part of what makes the experience is the interplay between the two WRITE CLUB founders: Ian Belknap and Lindsay Muscato. Even me, the non-reactionary rule breaker who doesn’t partake in audience participation, had difficulty not participating. The energy between the two threads itself through the audience, binding them in preparation for the night’s performances.

The performances were fantastic, and hilarious. People consider me witty and sarcastic, and as the number of people who refer to me that way is greater than the number of people who don’t, I’ve started to think of myself also as witty and sarcastic. The performances last night at Write Club demonstrate that my wit and sarcasm pales in comparison, so now I have an aspiration.

WRITE CLUB is a monthly affair, held every third Tuesday at The Hideout. $10 at the door and portion of the proceeds go to charity. The charity is chosen by the audience, who chooses a winner from each bout.

Yes, you read that correctly. The audience chooses, and a portion of the proceeds go to charities. There is a subtly in how that all works, so show up Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

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