photo: courtesy of chicago home theatre
“I like to butcher meat in lingerie.”
You don’t expect to hear those words every day. Especially not in the far west suburb of Forest Park on a nippy Wednesday night.
But Anna Felicity Friedman, a college professor and amateur butcher, is not an average Forest Park resident. And the event she’s hosting, wearing nothing but a silk bra and panties, is not a typical artist meet-and-greet.
It’s day two of the inaugural Chicago Home Theater Festival, and Friedman, also known as the Burlesque Butcher, is one of more than 20 artists who have signed on to open their homes to curious attendees as part of a 13-day arts festival throughout the city during the first two weeks of May.
“Every single home that we have [hosting] has a unique character, a unique set of performances,” explains Blake Russell, cofounder of the festival. He got the idea for the fest after stumbling across the Bay Area’s home theatre festival website. “It’s a personal exchange of ideas,” Russell says. He linked up with Irina Zadov, an arts and community organizer, who worked on the event in the Bay Area—where the fest originated—and they hastily began preparations a few months ago.
For a suggested donation of $10, attendees can catch a wide range of activities from the musical stylings of various singer/songwriters, to bookbinding lessons, to—as on Wednesday—ham-carving sessions. The whole thing sounds gimmicky, but Zadov and Russell are adamant about underscoring the comity aspect of the project, purposefully choosing artists in less-touted parts of the city.
Each session begins with a walking guided tour of the selected neighborhood and participating hosts, which include controversial scholar Bill Ayers and Southside Hub of Production founder Laura Shaeffer live as far north as Rogers Park and as far south as South Shore.
“We’re not in the Steppenwolf for a reason,” says Russell.
The intimacy of the space at Wednesday’s session created an interesting ambiance as guests—about 12 in all, milled about Friedman’s living room, while professional dancer McKenzie Gilliam served homemade appetizers in lingerie and magician Trick the Old Puss performed parlor card tricks.
“One of the things I noticed when I was going to slaughterhouses and farms to pick up the meat, was that [butchering] was a very male-dominated world,” Friedman explained during the night’s marquee event, the ham carving session. “I would see these pinup girl calendars [in the meat houses] and so I thought, what if these women were to crawl out of these pages and be present in the room with them?”
And thus the Burlesque Butcher was born.
Each session varies greatly from the others. The opening night at Russell’s industrial loft in Lake View was a bacchanalian affair with about forty people in attendance. Last night’s was much more subdued and thoughtful, as guests talked about the consequences of the Red Line construction slated to happen south of Roosevelt of Roosevelt on May 12.
Of course, events like this are incredibly self-selecting. Usually, the only people with enough wherewithal to enter a stranger’s home on a weeknight are intrepid journalists and friends of the hosts. But still, there’s something powerful about visiting someone’s home in a neighborhood you don’t frequent, especially in one of the most segregated cities in America. That fact is usually the subject of handwringing editorials or something we blithely ignore.
With its neighborhood-centric mission, the Chicago Home Theater Festival challenges this ongoing urban ailment, albeit obliquely. It’s a simple gesture, but a powerful one as well.
The Chicago Home Theater Festival continues through May 13. For more information, visit chicagohtf.org.