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Prepare To Be Converted: 'REVIVAL' Artists Bring Life To Pritzker's Catacombs

By Ester Alegria in News on Jan 24, 2015 9:00PM

Photo Credit: Jonathan Mathias

The idea, like many, started in the back seat of a mutual friend's car. REVIVAL founders Jesse Young and Eric Hoff pondered ways to make underground and genre-defying art more visible. After last year's successful installment, the team decided to reprise the event with artists who have just the right mixture of quirk and determination to make a performance series in the catacombs of Pritzker Pavilion during the Polar Vortex the best damned idea ever. The show's series promises sweat, spectacle, and dancing. All things Chicago can use to get over this bitter cold.

REVIVAL is a metaphor for searching further ways to evolve while basking in the evolutionary process—finding sense of self. The thought was taken from Antony and the Johnson's live spoken word performance on race, gender identity, and religion. Jesse and Eric melded these ideas into a way to expose underground, community based artists.

The artists chosen are unique, driven, and unconventional. One even freaked out Nick Cannon on America’s Got Talent and that is always a merit. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a few of them at Beauty Bar's Salonathon, and we’ve all experienced a vast range of emotions in the small space. They are hardworking, sexy, open, mindful, professional, well-rounded, and whatever’s the opposite of catty. From day one, I felt completely welcome.

                     Caroline Rau (Winnifred Coombe)

Photo Credit: Kiam Marcelo Junio

Chicagoist: Let's get started! But first, I just want to say, one creepy person to another, you have a marvelously set pelvic bone. Just let that one set in.

CKR: I LIVE for compliments on my pelvic bone structure, but I'm assuming you are referring to the photograph for REVIVAL by Kiam Marcelo Junio. The compliment belongs to Kiam's photography and also the fact that I was lying down so gravity made the flesh roll back and the hip bones protrude seductively.

Chicagoist: Moving on. Has Winnifred ever experienced stage fright in strange places?

CKR: Winnifred has never experienced stage fright anywhere because she is a seasoned orator with the feminine divine and powerful spirits from beyond on her side. I, on the other hand, have had stage fright or just a lack of confidence in lots of places, which is why perhaps, on one level, I created her.

Chicagoist: I'm just going assume that includes sex.
So my follow-up to that is, do you and Winnifred ever get confused as to who's lover is who?

CKR: You know, I have never thought to bring Winnifred into my actual boudoir, which could be interesting - I shall have to try that. However, people do sometimes think, if they haven't met me out of character, that my name is Winnifred and that I am as fiery as she is. I think all performers sort of struggle with the fact that they are transcending their real selves when on stage and maybe people tend to fall in love with the performance and not the performer. I think as much as people want to know about the people behind performances, we are still hungry for mystery and for mythical creatures to seem real. Should we just re-do this interview completely in character so that people think there really is a re-incarnated Victorian Psychic Suffragette walking around Chicago?

Chicagoist: What element does Winnifred focus on while performing?

CKR: Argon. Ha! Just kiddin'. Science Jokes, anyone? But now seriously, because I write my own material, and Winnifred is a mouthpiece for that material, I'm really focused on what I want to say. So, if I'm thinking about how I really want to tap into the creative potential within me and the people around me, it comes out in Winnifred's voice, so it ends up being a magical spell like "fallopia, pudenda." Even though chanting about inner-lady parts, amusing to the audience. Winnifred and I are pretty serious about it.

                                   Soft Rock Sanctuary

Photo Credit: Kiam Marcelo Junio
Chicagoist: You are named Soft Rock Sanctuary so obviously I assume you are a duo that teamed up after a tragic nipple rubbing accident at a Yanni lover's convention, where Jyldo applied just the right amount chap stick to the affected areas while Nicholas serenaded onlookers, and maintained one single tear. Explain this.

SRS: Nick and I met a few years ago when we working on the musical "Alien Queen". We discovered we had a love for saxophone solos and body rolls.

Chicagoist: SRS, you are ghost people. I tried. But I couldn't find a trace of you anywhere. How did you manage to create a magical cloak in which to hide yourselves from the NSA?

SRS: Soft Rock Sanctuary is an interactive fellowship service that celebrates the music, the magic and the message of Hall & Oates. We created SRS for last year's Revival event and then reprised it this summer at the Whistler. No video or website info to send you - sorry. We are looking forward to creating this 3rd installment of SRS for REVIVAL!

Chicagoist: How did Soft Rock Sanctuary become such a beloved and internationally known collective?

SRS: The audience is invited to join us in the revelry or - they can also just sit back, relax and enjoy the journey into the soft, smooth crystal blue waters of soft rock. No forced participation - everything is optional. The only thing mandatory in the Soft Rock Sanctuary is the breath. Everyone who enters the sanctuary must breathe—deeply. 

I’m also a fan of this:

Chicagoist: Those are pretty moist.

                                            Honey Pot Performance

Photo Credit: Kiam Marcelo Junio
Chicagoist: Felicia, we've known each other almost a year. You were my feminist. No one reading this understands what the hell we're talking about and that means we have a bond. Can I please be a part of Honey Blonde Productions?

Felicia Holman: I don't know Honey Blonde Productions but you're certainly welcome to join Team Honey Pot Performance, my dear! We don't hold auditions but we do collaborate w/partners. you mentioned, you and I met collaborating during one of your performances at Salonathon! We were meant to be, Ester.

Chicagoist: Success! Now, you are such a strong, tightly knit group. What would the one thing be that bonds you all together? And please don't say glue.

FH: Ha! Most definitely not glue, we're too real for that! There are SO many reasons I consider these women my primary 'framilly' and collaborators. But after nearly 15 years of crafting critical performance and public humanities programming together, I'll boil it down to this: the tie that binds us to this work is our shared reverence of an Afrodiasporic feminist worldview/perspective. Now within that context, it's simply four kindred creative sistas from the Chi who genuinely dig each other's artistry, scholarship and each other's passion for the unabashed love/pride for expressions of Black Humanity.

Chicagoist: Hello, Abra. I really enjoy your work. You're a great dancer, poet, performer, and just a great artist overall.

Abra Johnson: A great many thanks, Ester. You're very kind and thank you for supporting HPP!

Chicagoist: Look, what I really want to say is...that day at JukeCryHandClap, my daughter with the hair, you remember her? She drew a really cool picture of the four of you, with a kick ass poem that really meant a lot to you guys? And I think Felicia cried, and it was a really emotional moment for all of us? Yeah, I kinda want it back.

AJ: My apologies, Ester! We didn't realize this! We love it and we’re very touched by it and by your beautifully, spirited daughter. I took pics of the card/poem she gave us and then I passed it on to Felicia for archiving! I don't want it returned to you!

Chicagoist: Ok. I respect that decision. I have a pretty heavy question next. At Malcolm X College, your teaching puts you in a position to speak on matters of intersecting sexuality, gender, and ethnicity. Did I make a good pun just now?

AJ: You did! And what a great pun and position it is! You're right I get to teach intersectionality and validate lived identities as complex, intertwined, marginalizing, empowering, resistant, challenging, rich, meaningful, imprisoning...our identities are complicated, in their histories and their currency...and yet they are to some extent collective--we are living out and battling our common intersections together

Chicagoist: And all that black feminine energy emanates from the stage. Thank you!

                                     WITCH HAZEL

Photo Credit: Kiam Marcelo Junio
Chicagoist: First off, can I pay anyone in the group two dollars not to cast a spell on me?

Deven Casey: l’ll take it! But you can keep one.

Chicagoist: No because…the spirits…just keep it.

Chicagoist: This one is for the entire group. You named yourselves ‘WITCH HAZEL’. Did you do that because alcohol already was taken by the entire beverage industry?

WITCH HAZEL: Hahaha!! WITCH HAZEL started as a joke in college. We said we’ll make a group called WITCH HAZEL so that we’ll make sure none of us is an artist in 5 years. To make sure none of us got day jobs and stopped making artwork. And we got a Salonathon slot, and that was our first performance.

Chicagoist: So you named yourself a band that would never get famous, based off of its name?

WH: Yeah! Absolutely.

AZ: I don’t think I’ve ever used witch hazel before. The astringent? No none of us has used that.

DC: People text me pictures of the bottle and I’m like what is that?

Chicagoist: So you didn’t have black mothers?

WH: Exactly.

Chicagoist: O.K. the band is not black. Moving on.

Chicagoist: Deven Casey. You are a dream boat. Will you please, after today, accept my Facebook friend request? Ever since I saw FISH, I’ve just been really nervous about sending it.

DC: Absolutely!

Chicagoist: O.K. just sign and date here:

                                                Photo Credit: Ester Alegria

Chicagoist: And that is now legally binding in a real court of law.

Chicagoist: Imp Kid. Sigh…How do I put this? You have the coolest name in the band. What else do you bring to the table?

Imp Kid: Mostly Imping. I can Imp any situation or experience.

Chicagoist: Ariel, if you had to choose three things, what would they be?

AZ: Oh my God. I think I’d do a pizza, a flower and a vase, and…

Chicagoist: You can’t do that. The flower and vase are two things.

AZ: Oh shit! Then, I’d just choose pizza, a flower, and a vase.

Chicagoist: O.K. This last question is a hard one. What exactly are you planning on accomplishing with your music? What should our readers lookout for in the future?

WH: Look out for Gurl Grime. Bubble Gum Bass. Basically our music is putting trans voices into the world really directly and for us recently that has looked like live music. A lot of our work has only existed live so far and we’re interested in createing a lot more work digitally, and also a presence that can also extend beyond Chicago. I think WITCH HAZEL will always be an art project, and ideally that can be any form we want. So we can do music forever that way.

Listen to the full audio in these two places and be blown away by my sexually seductive voice and WITCH HAZEL’S sexual witchery.

                                                   Joseph Ravens


Photo Credit: Kiam Marcelo Junio

Chicagoist: Joseph Ravens. As founder of the art space, DFBRL8TR, I heard you briefly speak at Joe Varisco's, 'QUEER ILL & OKAY.' You seemed slightly less interesting than Kiam made you look with a Raven on your head. Have you always been a master of disguise?

JR: Yes, I guess so. I have always wanted to be someone or something else. I always want to transform my body, to re-invent my physical design, to corrupt my human form, to distort, to fuck with the proportions, to call it into question, to falsify.

Chicagoist: I’m a multi-disciplined performance artist. So I think it's safe to say that I would be able to hold at least a 12 minute conversation with you in a bar. Would you actually listen to my ideas, or think about cats?

JR: It depends on where we are. If we’re in a bar or a social situation I may start thinking about my furry little friends. It’s simple—If I’m lucky enough to find a little time to make it out to a party or something, I’d rather not talk shop. I need a little time off, too, you know? So my answer is, it’s all about timing. Test the waters. And if they’re a little chilly, maybe try a bell around your neck…

Chicagoist: I'm really looking forward to your performance. What can I expect to come off of your person? And can I have it afterwards?

JR: Are you referring to the fact that I’m often excreting, birthing, or otherwise producing something from a body cavity of some kind or construction? Then…the answer is LIGHT. I’ll become a raven and secrete light from the tip of my raven beak—A long string of light that i'm using to make a nest/web. There may be some small relic from the performance that you can have...I’m all about ephemera!

Reserve your free tickets today for REVIVAL at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park premiering January 28th-31st Doors at 8pm