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Literary Thu Mar 07 2013

Obsession-Worthy: Lionhearted Live Lit at Guts & Glory

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Keith Ecker and Samantha Irby are names that are revered in the Chicago storytelling scene. If you see these names on the bill of a show, you can rest assured that you're in for a good night. At least at the show. You still might get a parking ticket or have other, unrelated problems. They're good, but they're not magic!

Or are they? Ecker and Irby do seem to have a touch of the supernatural about them. In their storytelling, they spew truth wrapped in smart, sassy phrasing and delivered with pizazz. Yes, pizazz. They've got it. Ecker and Irby are forces of nature, producing so much material and participating in so many shows that you'd have a hard time stalking them if you tried. (I've tried). They also both look exceedingly hip every time you see them. How do they do this? If only someone could successfully stalk them to find out. But today I'm interviewing them less about their outfits and more about their newest creation, a night of live lit that is a unique addition to the booming Chicago storytelling scene: Guts & Glory.

If you haven't been to Guts & Glory, cancel your spa day and do this instead; it is acupuncture for the soul. On the third Wednesday of every month, an audience bigger than your extended family's Christmas gathering (and far less awkward) snuggles into the back of Powell's Bookstore to hear fearless tales of guts, and possibly glory. But, as Ecker points out, the glory mainly comes from just getting up there and talking. How did these two hip, smart storytellers create a hugely successful show and make it look effortless? And am I or am I not obsessed with them? Do I just get obsessed with everyone who can tell a good story in a cute outfit? Sorry, excuse me, I promise this is about Guts & Glory. Let the questions begin.

What inspired you to start Guts & Glory?

Keith: I had been doing Essay Fiesta for more than two years, and I felt ready to start a new project, one that took storytelling to a new level. Specifically I wanted to develop a show where artists could share personal stories that really force them to leave their comfort zones while still feeling the support of an appreciative and attentive audience.
Samantha: OH MAN, everybody else's boring-ass shows. I mean, um, a lack of visceral, riveting, badass storytelling events?

How did you choose the name?

Samantha: "Live lit for the lionhearted" came from Keith, and that made me think "guts and glory." Also, there's a Crohn's disease/gay joke in there that you smarty-pants are going to have to figure out for yourselves.

How did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

Keith: I met Sam at a literary event in Logan Square we both were performing at. I fell in love with her storytelling style and sensibilities. She seemed pretty fond of me, too.
Samantha: OkCupid. Things didn't work out. Because I'm not a man.

Powell's Bookstore seems like a perfect venue. Is it true they built the stage for you?

Keith: They cleared out the back storage area and decorated it to make it nice and pretty and set out some old bowling alley lanes that we use as a stage. I don't know where they found those, but they are awesome.

How does Guts & Glory differ from other live lit shows in Chicago?

Keith: I like to think we push the envelope more than most. We challenge our performers to take personal risks, whatever that means to them. This doesn't mean we want our artists to shock for the sake of shock value. It just means we don't want them to hesitate diving head first into and exploring topics that would normally be considered off limits, like sex, disease, abuse, death, etc. That said, the show is still full of moments of comedic levity, which makes the serious segments that much more powerful.
Samantha: 1) Not boring, not too long 2) it's a super safe space with a close-knit energy 3) we only book the baddest kids around. ALL KILLER, NO FILLER.

How do you choose performers? What do you look for in a good G&G performance?

Keith: We want the brave and talented. We don't want you to hold back, but we also want you to have the ability to craft a compelling and complex narrative that amounts to more than emotional vomit. These aren't confessional blog entries. These are stories. Also, a strong performance ability is essential. You can have a great story, but without the ability to sell it to an audience, it can fall flat.
Samantha: Prior badassery. And, if we haven't got proof, we ask people who ask us to do the show to send us some stuff worth listening to.

Is there a moment in the show that stands out to you as extremely gratifying?

Keith: Words can't describe the joy I feel at the end of each show. There really is a kind of magic that circulates throughout the room when you have these amazing artists bravely sharing these personal stories. And the audience reaction and support is just incredible. People are seriously moved, often to the point of tears. The whole event just draws everyone closer together in a way that is rare in this day and age.
Samantha: At the February show, when the entire crowd was laughing uproariously because when Keith pointed out from the stage that I was blushing at his sex story, that was a moment I will never forget.

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What do you hope audiences will take away from G&G? How about performers?

Keith: I hope the show helps people understand that we all have interesting lives full of moments of joy and moments of great pain and that is what being human is all about. And that there is no shame in being human.
Samantha: This sounds like pure cheddar cheese, but it is my sincere hope that both the people who listen to and the people who tell those stories leave our show feeling relieved that they aren't alone, feeling better connected to other people, feeling.

Where else can fans see you performing/doing your thing?

Keith: You can check out the events section of my website, keithecker.com. I perform usually several times a month at shows throughout Chicago.
Samantha: bitchesgottaeat.com is my hilarious blog, and I am a staff writer at The Paper Machete. And I do a lot of other shows, too. I guess what I'm basically trying to say is STALK ME.

Little does she know...

Guts & Glory happens third Wednesdays of every month at 7pm at Powell's Bookstore, 2850 N Lincoln Ave. Monetary donations are collected for charity. The March 20 show features playwright Chris Bower, Essay Fiesta host Willy Nast, writer Jill Summers, Stoop-Style Stories producer Lily Be and writer Amanda Glasbrenner.


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