Published in Chicago Tribune on February 07, 2016
"The poetry of parenthood -
Louder Than a Mom storytellers take the stage at Martyrs'"
Louder Than a Mom takes the live lit stage
Risa McDonell speaks at the Louder Than A Mom storytelling event. Parents, inspired by their children's poetry slam -- Louder Than a Bomb -- host Louder Than a Mom at Martyrs'. (Kristen Norman / For the Tribune)
Terri Murray was joking with her daughter, a participant in Chicago's Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam for high school students. Murray warned her, "I'm going to get all the moms together. We'll do poetry: We'll call it 'Louder Than a Mom' and just talk about how much we hate our kids."
And so, on the third Monday of every month, the venerable rock club Martyrs' cedes its concert stage for a couple of hours to storytellers — some men, but primarily women — for a live lit show called, yes, Louder Than a Mom.
Coming up on its two-year anniversary in June, Louder Than a Mom has expanded its tent. At a recent performance, the first four storytellers before the designated "beer break" shared personal narratives inspired by the theme, "You made your bed." Topics included a recalcitrant dog, a mother-daughter bond, young adult independence and the perils of not so much being John Malkovich as copping his persona.
The stories were, by turn, bittersweet, poignant, empowering and hilarious.
"We thought Louder Than a Mom would be a platform for parenting stories," said Kate Hill, a friend of Murray's and co- owner of Martyrs'. With another friend, Dee Ryan, with whom Hill shares roots in improv and sketch comedy, they further developed the concept.
"It has become more a celebration of community," Hill said. "That's what people crave: being heard, sharing other people's lives and knowing you're not alone."
The story's the thing, but while they did not want Louder Than a Mom to be exclusively female storytellers, they feel it is important that it provide a voice to women underrepresented in popular culture. "Women of a certain age disappear," Murray
said. "Their voices aren't heard. But they have life stories to tell and a need to connect with other people."
Nicole Hollander and June Huitt, both in their 70s, have emerged as two of Louder Than a Mom's most popular storytellers. Hollander — creator of "Sylvia," and currently working on a graphic memoir of growing up on Chicago's West Side — and Huitt — a semi-retired editor and proofreader — met at a senior center in a class called GeNarrations, a personal narrative performance workshop taught under the auspices of the Goodman Theatre.
Hollander had not performed in front of an audience since a 2008 one-woman show at Live Bait Theater. Huitt, who also has improv training, had not performed in decades. But Hollander felt a kindred sense of humor despite their different backgrounds ("She, a Pentecostal who grew up on a Missouri farm, and me a big city Jewish girl") and asked if she wanted to work together. As a creative outlet, Hollander said, Louder Than a Mom offers the instant gratification of an audience.
"When I did 'Sylvia' for 35 years, I sat alone in an office or with other people who were also working but not talking to me," she said. "I like the immediacy. You hear people laughing. I certainly never heard people laughing when I looked at 'Sylvia' in the newspaper."
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Huitt thinks it may not be a coincidence that live lit shows are popular.
"The more we are laser-focused on our digital equipment, the more we miss knowing about other people and relating ourselves to other people and understanding our experiences in comparison to other people," she said in a separate interview. "When I was a child, I can remember people would sit around and tell stories. This was just conversation. I think it's still a valid way of learning about the world."
Other performers included performance artist Brigid Murphy and her husband, actor Marc Grapey. Grapey co-stars in the
Goodman Theatre's production of "The Matchmaker" and has a recurring role on the NBC series "Chicago Med."
Carie Lovstad, who performed the story about the recalcitrant dog, came to Louder Than a Mom from the Uptown Poetry Slam. She started out reading some of her poetry but then switched to storytelling.
"There are a wonderful variety of people who show up," she said. "You never know what you'll hear. You laugh, you cry — it's like therapy with a full bar and an $8 co-pay."
Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-area freelancer.
Louder Than a Mom is at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., on the third Monday of each month at 8 p.m. The next show is Feb. 15.
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune
A version of this article appeared in print on February 07, 2016, in the Printers Row section of the Chicago Tribune.
(Kristin Norman/For the Tribune)