Arts & Culture

iO’s new show breeds space for fresh, diverse voices in comedy

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

Six brand new performance teams took the stage in iO Theater’s two-night New Team Smell Season 2 premiere on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. These new groups of students are selected by audition, and earn a spot performing at iO on Tuesday nights throughout the eight-week season.

Lincoln Park’s iO Theater, formerly the ImprovOlympic Theater,  1501 N Kingsbury St, is one of Chicago’s prestigious venues and schools for improvisational comedy. The star-studded theater alumni include Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Tim Meadows and many more. And the theater’s writers and performers frequently feed into Saturday Night Live.

Chicago has a reputation as a breeding ground for aspiring comedians and has been home to successful artists such as Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert and Aidy Bryant. It is no surprise that so many young performers come to Chicago to perfect their craft.

Continue reading

Meet ‘Big G’s’ Spicy Pizza Pioneer Jaime Gamez

By Harrison Liao
Medill Reports

Picture your dream pizza.

Whether it’s monstrous Chicago deep dish or a bright, red Naples style pie, you can envision a few common savory traits — cheese stretching at the seams with the physics-defying grace of an Olympic gymnast, steam rolling off of shimmering tomato sauce and crust decorated with deeply blackened blisters.

But one feature that might not come to mind for most pizza lovers? Sizzling spiciness.

That’s one thing Jaime Gamez, 38, hangs his hat on at his Chicago pizzeria, Big G’s in Wrigleyville at 3716 N Clark St.

Gamez believes, “without a doubt,” that he has the spiciest pizza in Chicago. He calls it the “Dance with El Diablo.”

Continue reading

Latino USA’s Antonia Cerejido wins Medill’s first Cecilia Vaisman award

By Carolina Gonzalez
Medill Reports

Antonia Cerejido, an award-winning audio journalist for NPR’s Latino USA, received the first Cecilia Vaisman Award for Multimedia Reporters Tuesday from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

In a ceremony attended by Cerejido’s family, Vaisman’s husband investigative reporter Gary Marx and Medill faculty and students, Cerejido thanked everyone for the recognition. She talked about her reporting and how Vaisman helped her reach her goals.

Cerejido most renowned stories for Latino USA vary from a profile of the Mexican-American man who became wealthy by building controversial shelters housing migrant children, to a meditation on whether Latinos cry more on average, to the role Dora the Explorer had in portraying Latinos in television.

Antonia Cerejido talked about her career in audio and the role Cecilia Vaisman had in it. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)

Continue reading

When science needs a little art

By Elena Bruess
Medill Reports

Imagine you broke a bone in your left toe while paragliding.

It was intense. And now you can’t walk, so you hobble to the doctor’s office and await an x-ray. When you finally learn what exactly is broken, the doctor pulls out a brightly illustrated and tightly labeled drawing of a left foot. She points. “It’s right here.”

The drawing is practically made for you. It’s not very complicated and it makes so much sense. You are really starting to understand your left toe.

And that’s because the drawing is made for you. Continue reading

The ancient art of henna: Immigrant women create couture designs for a new generation of customers

By Madhurita Goswami
Medill Reports

Twenty-four-year-old Juna Syakya can draw intricate flowers or butterflies on your hands with her henna cone in less than 20 minutes. Mehndi, or henna, is a form of body art that uses a plant-based dye and Syakya brings the ancient art form to the Deeba Beauty Salon on Devon Avenue where she works.

The plant, Lawsonia inermis, grows in hot climates. Its leaves, flowers and twigs contain tannins, which are natural dyes used across the ages to create the intricate lace-like designs of henna.
“Henna is best for people who don’t want permanent tattoos. Also, it doesn’t cause infections and is way cheaper,” said Syakya’s colleague, Farzana Mirza, who is from Pakistan.

Heeba Khan draws a floral pattern for a customer. (Madhurita Goswami)

Traditionally, henna artists have been women and only women would get henna on their hands and feet. Costs range from $10-$40 depending on the area covered. Usually, henna gets washed away in less than 10 days. The dye doesn’t penetrate the skin and is safe.

Continue reading

Open House Chicago brings visitors inside Chicago’s skyline icons

By Nicole Stock
Medill Reports

Tourists and locals alike enjoy the vista of Chicago’s skyline,  often lauded as one of the most beautiful in the country.

But for one weekend in fall, Open House Chicago let’s people see the skyline from the inside out. This annual tradition benefits both visitors and the building owners, as it shows people the interiors  of the buildings in and around the city that they so often just bustle past.  

Susan Bedard, assistant chair of House and Grounds for the Women’s Center in Evanston, one of the places participating in the weekends event, said that the open house gives the community a chance to look inside the buildings they often wonder about, but don’t get a chance to stop in.

The Women’s Club of Evanston at Chicago Avenue and Church Street. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

“It’s very gratifying to see so many people who are interested in seeing inside this really lovely building,” Bedard said. “They’re curious – it’s an unusual building type that you don’t see so much anymore” 

Bedard explained that volunteers greet every visitor, give a short tour, and then invite them to explore the building. Though many only stay inside for 10 minutes or so, some visitors walk away with plans to use the space as a wedding venue, or even leave inquiring about membership, Bedard said.  

Just a few blocks down the street, at the gin and whiskey distillery Few Spirits, 918 Chicago Ave, Evanston, Katherine Loftus greeted guests at the business for the fourth time.  

Loftus, who describes herself as “the girl of all things at Few,” became  involved with the collaboration between the distillery and Open House Chicago once the event  started including Evanston locations. Every year, this building draws in about 1,000 visitors, she said. 

”it’s interesting to see how people plot out their plans for Open House Chicago, doing it mostly, from what we hear, is area of the city by area of the city,” Loftus said.

It’s not just Chicagoland residents stopping by, she added, noting that tourists  from neighboring cities such as Minneapolis and Milwaukee often make the trek. And sometimes, visitors come from even farther away. 

“We had a couple from Switzerland that comes to Chicago for every Open House Chicago weekend because they just want that to be part of their tourism experience,” Loftus said. 

Katherine Loftus speaks in the tasting room at Few Distillery. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

Open House Chicago is organized by the Chicago Architecture Center. The event launched in 2011 and has featured over 650 unique sites since.

“The most salient impacts are that about 60% of our audience tell us that, each year in OHC, they visit a neighborhood they’ve never been to before,” said Eric Rogers, manager of Open House Chicago and Community Outreach,

Citing a survey following last years’ event, Rogers added that “93% of attendees who identify as Chicagoans tell us that the event makes them proud to be Chicagoans.” 

Above all, Bedard said the event is a way to foster awareness of the architecture and organizations in the Chicago area. 

“We’re trying to be involved with the community and one of the things about Open House Chicago that I think is great is it’s a chance for us to just say ‘come in,’ see who we are, see what we’re about, hear about us,” Bedard said. “That’s what we’re here for, for the community.” 

Although the next Chicago Open House won’t happen until October 2020, the Chicago Architecture Center hosts events and architectural tours throughout the year, including a gingerbread making festivity on Dec. 7. More information can be found here.

Photo at top: A sign for Open House Chicago directs visitors at the Women’s Club of Evanston. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)

Photography exhibit gives candid and ominous view of what immigration detention facilities are really like

By Carolina Gonzalez
Medill Reports

Barren land, industrial facilities, deserts and then a small concrete building in the middle of the void. These are the scenes portrayed in the 12 panoramic photographs covering the walls of the Gage Gallery in Chicago’s Loop.

Greg Constantine, a famed American social justice photographer, unveiled his latest work this month at the gallery at Roosevelt University. The series sheds a light on how ominous detention facilities really look from the outside, accompanied by stories from people who were caught inside.

People gather at the Gage Gallery for the opening of the documentary exhibit, with Greg Constantine’s photographs of detention centers. (Carolina Gonzalez/Medill)

Continue reading

Northwestern musician joins Baha’i bicentenary performances this month

By Nicole Stock
Medill Reports

Chaos spilled through the streets outside, but the corner of a modest apartment in Kampala, Uganda, sheltered a small pot of tea and a plate of cookies. Christopher LaMountain, a Northwestern University senior, sat on a broken couch as the host passed out  on mcookies, a cup of tea, and a book of Baha’i prayers to every guest.

“The biggest shock for me was how standard everything is across the board in Baha’I communities,” said LaMountain, who is from Westborough, Mass. “I could be in a very humble house in Uganda and witness the exact same method of devotion, as happens in Sydney, Australia, in a mansion.”

LaMountain, a religious studies and opera major at Northwestern, spent this past summer traveling the globe to seven of the eight continental Baha’i temples, learning the choral music within each Baha’i community. His trip took him to Frankfurt, Germany, Kampala, Uganda, New Delhi, India, Apia, Samoa, Sydney, Australia, Santiago, Chile.

As the recipient of the Northwestern University Travel-Study Circumnavigators Grant, LaMountain received $9,500 to travel around the world, researching and learning about the intersection between the Baha’i faith and its musical practices.

LaMountain Baha'i Temple
LaMountain discusses the different influences that play a part in the Baha’i choral traditions.

Now back in school, LaMountain will performing  in the celebration of the Baha’i bicentenary on Oct. 29-30. He will be singing with the choir at the Wilmette temple, a lakefront house of worship that opened its doors in 1953.

LaMountain noted that something that stood out to him about the Baha’i faith was how welcomed he felt in each community.

 “The choral director from the Uganda temple came and picked me up off the dusty roads of Entebbe, Uganda, and whisked me through their only highway to get to the compound I was staying at,” LaMountain said. 

He attributed this generosity to how universal the community values are, and how standard the religious practices remain in every city around the world. The one place where he did see cultural differences was in the music. 

LaMountain Baha'i Temple
The gardens at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette.

“These faith spaces are purposefully not administratively guided on devotional music so that each house of worship can tailor the sound of the house of worship to local styles of worship music,” he said. 

Joyce Jackson, a consultant in the Office of Community Administration for the National Baha’i Center, which is Evanston,  met LaMountain through his involvement with the Baha’i choir in Wilmette. She said she saw a similar trends within music styling across Baha’i cultures. 

“Even though there’s a lot sort of ‘formal’ Baha’i music that might be a little bit more classical that they might sing in all the temples, they also have their own music traditions,” Jackson said.“They put the Baha’i writing or whatever’s being sung in those traditions.”

As LaMountain learned the choral stylings of each of the communities he worked with, he also learned music in preparation for the bicentenary, which celebrates the birth of the Bab, who is considered the prophet herald of the Baha’i faith, and Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the faith. 

LaMountain said he practiced for these celebrations both in Europe and in Chile, and will be performing in the festivities held in Wilmette at the end of the month.

LaMountain Baha'i Temple
LaMountain poses in front of the Wilmette House of Worship.

The Wilmette temple will kick off the celebrations around the world, said Joyce Litoff, a communication specialist in the Baha’i Office of Communications.

The celebrations for the bicentenary officially begin on Oct. 26, with a concert put on by the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra and the Baha’i House of Worship choir. This is followed by two days of events on Oct. 29 and 30. More information about the events can be found here.  

Although this bicentenary will be well-celebrated within the community, Litoff notes that the importance pales in comparison to the day-to-day work Baha’i members do in the community. 

Litoff said that the Baha’i community works to promote racial and gender equality on multiple fronts, ranging from engaging in social discourse to taking action. For example, she noted that the choir director from Wilmette traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, this year to host a concert in honor of the fifth anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting.

“Really what the Baha’is have been doing in the communities over the past two years is more significant than what we’re going to do in these couple of days,” Litoff said.

Photo at top:  (Nicole Stock/MEDILL) —– The Baha’i House of Worship at Sheridan Road and Linden Avenue in Wilmette, is the oldest standing temple in the world. All are welcome.

Pumpkins in the Park 5k celebrates 20th Anniversary

By Junie Burns and Zachary Fishman
Medill Reports

More than 1,300 people took their Halloween costumes for a test run at the 20th annual Pumpkins in the Park 5K on Oct. 19.

Runners enjoyed unusually warm temperatures as they looped through Lincoln Park for the race. Real estate agent Joel Bendtsen was the first across the finish line in 16:51, completing the 5K nearly 20 seconds ahead of the next runner.

“When it’s 70 degrees in the middle of October, you can’t beat it,” said Bendtsen, 34. 

The women’s top spot belonged to 26-year-old fitness clinic manager Emily Paull, who finished with a time of 18:56. Other notable runners included Captain Jack Sparrow, Pac-Man and Forrest Gump.

The family-friendly event also featured pumpkin carving, costume contests and free pumpkin pie for race finishers. 

The race made its debut in 1999 to raise money for the Chicago Park District and was organized by park district employee Krista Bryski-Richard. Today, the 5K supports Night Out in the Parks, a Chicago Park District program overseen by Bryski-Richard that plans over 2,000 events each year.

Hundreds of children, some as young as 2, ran (and crawled) alongside their peers in the “Spooky Sprints” held earlier in the day. The youngest racers toddled across 10 yards while the 10-year-olds covered nearly 400 yards. Superheroes, princesses and animals dominated their costume choices.

Five-year-old Sofia Villarreal, who dressed as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen,” said she “ran as fast as a cheetah” during her sprint. Businessman Gabe Villarreal, her father and a longtime runner, attested to her first time at the event.

“It’s great seeing her be a part of the running community,” said Gabe, 41. “She loves the bling, getting the medals.”

The VIllarreals participated in Pumpkins in the Park as a family: He and his wife, Sandra, ran their 5K with Sofia in a stroller.

“It really brings out the community and brings out the families,” Gabe said.

The event also attracted hundreds of costume-wearing adults like Corey Fast, 30, who ran her fourth “P in the P” dressed in green and wearing an alligator hat. She didn’t have time to complete the “Chance the Snapper” costume she was planning, Fast said, but the evening was still a success.

Fast attended the race with seven-time participant Doug Baker, 33, who dressed as a pumpkin and was the first costumed runner to finish.

“It’s a great way to get outside in the fall,” Baker said. “It’s just nice to come out and use our parks.”

Photo at top: Kids line up at the start line for the “Spooky Sprints” fun run at the Pumpkins in the Park 20th Anniversary.

Northwestern students find stress relief in high-intensity boxing

By Selah Holland
Medill Reports

Classes. Grades. Stress. Clubs. Homework. These words probably trigger thoughts of school and, more specifically, college. Higher education is notorious for cultivating high-pressure environments, making it challenging for students to prioritize their personal well-being.

At a top school such as Northwestern University, students are often seeking ways to relieve their stress. And while physical activity has been proven to improve mood,  high-intensity workouts, such as boxing classes at TITLE Boxing Club in Evanston, deliver an extra boost.

Northwestern sophomore Rachel Philips, 20 (pictured below), warms up for a boxing class and talks about how boxing gets her to a different space.

Photo at top: Northwestern sophomore Rachel Philips, 20, wraps her hands before the boxing class begins. (Selah Holland/MEDILL)