While our crazily erroneous winter weather may strike terror into the hearts of many Midwest residents, a plucky handful of Illinoisan artists are currently exploring a more theatrical view of the dark side.
Every Friday night at Excalibur Nightclub, fascinating North Shore resident Neil Tobin explores the historical aspects of Chicago’s haunted history with his eclectic show Supernatural Chicago. With a hint of the poetic, Tobin begins by referencing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Referring to the city as one built upon its cremation, for an hour and a half he beguiles with notions both chilling and informative. With neat twists of truth, card imagery and aura filled magical spectacle, Tobin ultimately reveals many of the mysteries behind Resurrection Mary, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Rosemary’s Baby.
In fact, at the end of a recent show, audience members left secure in the knowledge that they had just witnessed some things that they previously would have never thought possible.
Here the extremely talented Tobin talks about his path to Supernatural Chicago and how lucky Sheridan Road readers can make use of his skills when the party season hits.
SR: What initially sparked you to combine your love of magic, history and the macabre into one super cool, totally spooky show?
Neil: I was a pretty strange kid. Starting in grade school, I had an interest in psychic phenomena, largely because most children have a certain amount of intuitive ability. To find out more about it, I went to the library, where I read everything I could on the subject. Well, next to those books were books about haunting – and next to those were books about magic. I ended up consuming them all. After I got older and picked up an education in theatre and writing, the time struck me as right to create an original theatre piece of my own. Of course, I wanted it to have the emotional honesty of having sprung from the things that are part of me. And at the same time, I received some interest from Excalibur, which has its own well-documented haunted past. Amazingly, all the pieces meshed together—and I have been extremely fortunate that audiences have responded so positively.
SR: You have undoubtedly had many fascinating incidents occur while performing Supernatural Chicago at Excalibur over the years. Is there a particular event or audience reaction that stands out in your mind, though?
Neil: One funny thing about Supernatural Chicago is that audience members often leave it with more questions than they had coming in. The material is unabashedly a mixture of the real and the unreal: documented stories of Chicago’s paranormal history are blended with demonstrations of the psychic and magical. So, at the end of the evening, it’s up to them to decide how much of it to believe in—and that lack of a clear-cut answer can keep some people awake at night. I’ve gotten some amazing emails from guests, weeks after they’ve seen the show, describing what they experienced and asking me to verify the reality of it all. I love that response! What it tells me is that I’m not adding to the mountain of forgettable entertainment, but creating something that truly sticks with people.
SR: If one of our fabulous readers gets in the mood for entertaining, what different programs can you offer for their viewing pleasure?
Neil: That depends largely on the event’s format and tone. For those of the low-key, cocktail-party variety, I’m often asked to mingle with guests and engage them one-on-one and in small groups. In such instances I’ll offer a choice of experiences, from reading their tarot cards and palms to possibly even reading their minds! Some events are more structured, with guests seated around a plated meal; or they simply demand a bigger entertainment splash. For these, I will engage the whole room at once with a 60-minute show that’s a fast-paced and interactive blend of the psychic and magical. It’s not spooky, just fun—and designed to get everybody laughing with amazement. Then there are the events that request me to do both: mingle with guests during cocktail hour then perform a full-length show after dinner. It’s like getting the best of both worlds. Lastly, for those who specifically want the spookiness of Supernatural Chicago, I will perform the full 90-minute show for private groups—either at Excalibur or at the venue of their choice. Since every event is different, I encourage planners to contact me so we can discuss a customized solution; I can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, happy residents of Andersonville are being treated to the sight of a distinguished troupe of actors milling around Raven Theatre due to their participation in a compelling production of Boy Gets Girl.
With dashes of honesty and humor, Rebecca Gillman’s award winning drama centers upon the terrifying truths of stalking. Notable for being included in Time Magazine’s List of the Best Plays and Musicals of the Decade, Boy Gets Girl chronicles the dissolution of a successful magazine writer’s life as a blind date turns frighteningly obsessive.
Sensitively directed by Cody Estle, this powerful evening ultimately explores both the subtle and the radical differences between men and women. Meanwhile, fine work from lead actress Kristin Collins and the entire company adds much sweetness to the taut situations the show, fully, addresses.
Lastly, the young adults in your life are sure to enjoy Clock Productions’ Scary Tales 2013. This annual production details six tales of haunting mayhem. Reveling in the style of story that was often included in Scholastic books of old, this short romp includes some comic looks at urban legends and a new take on vampire myths.
Highlighted by its extremely young but incredibly eager cast, this light entertainment is a nice remembrance of half forgotten fantasies and a fine introduction to the macabre side for those looking to gain their first impressions of the weird and wonderful.
Further information on Supernatural Chicago, which has an open ended run, can be gleaned at supernaturalchicago.com or necromancerevents.com.
Contact raventheatre.com or 773-338-2177 for ticket information on Boy Gets Girl, running until March 2nd at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark.
Scary Tales 2013 runs until February 9th at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence. For info and $10-$15 tickets, call 773-327-7077. – Brian Kirst