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Variety Show: Gretchen Travers debuts her Wicker Park Nights

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At 7pm, the room is empty. It looks like an abandoned PayLess. There has been some trouble with the city regarding permits. Audience and artists are asked to come back around nine o’clock, after a sound system, tables and chairs will have been set up. At 9pm, things look pretty much the same, save for a P.A. system and a few more people in the room.

Wicker Park Nights is the vision of Gretchen Travers. Her goal is to bring artists of different mediums together and to provide them a common audience. Inspired by Around the Coyote, the long-running art show that has since moved its big annual event from Wicker Park, Wicker Park Nights is what Travers refers to as a Room Opera. “We have painters and architects and poets and filmmakers and actors and dance troupes, and hip-hop, classical, opera, jazz and so on,” Travers says. On a given night, an artist is given fifteen minutes to perform or showcase his or her work, and the hope is that the fast-paced changes will keep an audience interested in everything that is presented to them.

Around 11pm, after an hour of a sort of free-form jam session that includes beats, electrical guitar and classical guitar that serves to open the night, the lights are dimmed and Saniqua Thompson is introduced to the stage. Thompson performs three pieces of spoken word. The audience is attentive, and after the third, a round of applause is given, and the next artist, Dwayne Richardson is introduced.

Richardson plays the blues. He introduces himself and his music with a story. When he was 5 years old, he looked up at the sky, and asked himself, “What the hell is wrong with this world?” He closes his set with a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” He repeats the chorus four times in a sing-along fashion as the audience sings with him, “If you’re lost you can look, and you will find me, time after time. If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting, time after time.”

“It’s an opportunity for musicians to just play and meet each other and there’s no pretenses, there’s no glitter and glamour,” Richardson says, “It’s just a place to come, and everybody can do their thing.”

Following Richardson is a stream of short performances from artists, a singer/songwriter, a poet, a spoken word artist, a guitarist and a filmmaker.

“It’s a cool idea,” says Whitney Jones, an audience member. “It’s good for all of the artists to be able to come together.”

The evening begins to wind down with two short films from filmmaker Amir George. The first, “Sneaker Freaks,” and the second, a music video that he directed for hip-hop artist Go Bezerk, “Drunken Monkee.” When the credits roll, the champagne is popped. (Todd Miller)

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