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RISHI SHARMA: Preserving World War II Combat Stories, One Veteran at a Time

Rishi Sharma has logged a lot of hours on the road in recent years, connecting, meeting and filming interviews with combat veterans who served in World War II. To date, he has amassed a comprehensive archive of over 850 interviews – easily over 4,500 total hours and counting — all part of his ambitious plan to honor America’s World War II heroes and preserve their stories for generations to come.

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Remember May 16, 2018. That will be the day that fans of the spoken word have two things to celebrate. The first is to honor what would have been Studs Terkel’s 106th birthday. The second is the public launch of a new online project that has been years in the making – The Studs Terkel Radio Archive. There is a preview of things to come in our CONVERSATION with WFMT Radio Network Director Tony Macaluso which includes clips from a 1960 interview between Studs and silent film legend Buster Keaton.

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EXIT STRATEGY - A Nick Mason Novel

Not much shakes Nick Mason, author Steve Hamilton’s new antihero. He is relentless, calculating and for a time, appears to accept his release from the last 20 years of a 25-year federal sentence as an opportunity. In his new world, there is a Chicago town house in toney Lincoln Park, fast cars and a chance to reconnect with his ex-wife, daughter and the pals he protected by taking the rap for a poorly executed heist that landed him in prison. 

He owes this opportunity to one man, Darius Cole, one of the most powerful and ruthless criminal bosses ever, who happens to run his vast empire from the very same prison. Mason’s new job on the outside is to answer his cell phone when it rings and follow orders. As you would expect, while it sounds simple enough, he soon realizes that lives are at stake, and not just the target that has been chosen for him to kill next.

All this and a Chicago skyline formed the backdrop for Hamilton’s first book in the series, 2016’s The Second Life of Nick Mason, a highly-anticipated and critically-acclaimed new work that landed on the Best Book lists for Kirkus and NPR, was Top Thriller for the Library Journal and received stellar reviews from the New York Times, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal and AP to name a few.

Hamilton, in case you didn’t know by now, is the author of ten books in the Alex McKnight series which received an Edgar and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel for A Cold Day in Paradise. A standalone novel, The Lock Artist, was a New York Times Notable Crime Book and won an Alex Award and the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

EXIT STRATEGY by Steve Hamilton     G.P. Putnam's Sons May 16, 2017 "Nick Mason returns deadlier than ever."

by Steve Hamilton

G.P. Putnam's Sons
May 16, 2017
"Nick Mason returns
deadlier than ever."

Now comes Exit Strategy and Nick Mason returns deadlier than ever. We caught up with author Steve Hamilton for a conversation in Chicago on May 15th to talk about the new book, the Lionsgate film project that is underway, and what is it about the turbulent and violent world of Nick Mason that keeps us coming back for more.

On the first book in the series, The Second Life of Nick Mason
“Nick Mason is a career criminal. That is something you understand about him from the first book. There’s no getting around that. You meet him in federal prison. He’s there for a good reason. It is not a case of him being falsely accused, either … He is not a fugitive trying to break out and prove that he is innocent … Throughout his career, he has lived by a code and had very strict rules for himself, to keep himself out of prison and to keep himself alive … it was when he broke those rules, and made a big mistake, that got him in prison in the first place … He is offered this deal that will let him walk out the door, not just walk out, but walk into a whole new life in a town house on the north side of Chicago, a restored Mustang he gets to drive around, a beautiful roommate, $10,000 cash every month, that’s really what the first book in the series is about … how Nick has to take that deal and finding out what the cost of it is.”  

What drives Nick Mason …
“He knows what the terms of the deal are, but living through it is another story. Whenever that phone rings, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, he has to answer it and go do whatever he is told, no matter what it is. He realizes that anybody he is close to could be in danger if he does not go along with these orders … That is a real fear he has, being watched all the time … on call all the time. It’s really like he has traded one prison for a new one.”


Darius Cole …

“Darius Cole is the criminal mastermind, the head of an empire who is in prison with Nick Mason. He is a very smart person. He’s eight or nine moves ahead. He actually sees something in Nick that Nick does not even know is there, really … In fact, Nick even asks him, ‘You’ve got killers all around you, this whole cell block. You could take your pick. I’ve never killed anybody in my life and I don’t want to. Why would you pick me?’ That’s one of the mysteries of the first book, Nick finding out, as he goes out there, and as he does these things, he realizes that he does have certain talents that he didn’t know he had.”

Diana Rivelli …
“His roommate Diana is living in the same cage. She had a personal relationship with Darius Cole and was left in his town house to run some of the businesses."

Marcos Quintero …
“He is a former gang member … Darius Cole essentially bought him out of the gang … one more of his soldiers who have a special set of skills … He’s the man who watches over Nick, delivers the threats when they are necessary, gives him his assignments when it is time … He is essentially (Nick’s) handler in the outside world because Cole can not work with him directly.”

Nick Mason’s new adversary, Sean Burke …
“This guy is different. This guy is special. This guy actually had Nick’s job before Nick did. He was the old assassin who used to work for Darius Cole. He walked away from that job, the only guy who ever walked away from Darius Cole. That’s how tough this guy is … born to do this job. Nick Mason certainly was not ... So it is an interesting showdown between the new guy and the old guy who both have had the same job. Sean Burke is not the kind of guy who will sit around and wait, so he breaks out of this unbreakable place and he goes after Nick himself.”

On the new book, Exit Strategy …
“As we go into the second book, Exit Strategy, the missions for Nick Mason are becoming more and more dangerous and more brutal. He is finding it harder to hold on to the one thing, the one code, that he had left, which is that he didn’t want to kill anyone else other than the target. And, he is going to such great lengths in the first scene of Exit Strategy … He is going after his first target and he has to do so many things just to make sure he does not kill anybody else … He feels himself turning into this machine that Darius Cole was trying to create and he is losing himself, his humanity, so he has to get out.”  

On Nick Mason’s new tactical advantages …
“The weapons are more complicated because the missions are more complicated. He is infiltrating a building and not just going to find one person, track them down and kill them. Now, he has to deal with several different people at once … he needs a non-lethal weapon for one purpose. He has a pistol for another purpose.  When he infiltrates this underground bunker … He has this weird feeling. He feels like he is a special ops soldier almost, weighed down by all these grenades and things.”

The choice of Chicago as the backdrop for the series …
“Where you come from is a huge part of who you are. When I wrote about my former character, Alex McKnight, he is a Detroit cop. That’s just where he is from … When I was thinking about Nick Mason, I knew Chicago well enough, I thought, and it just seemed perfect that he would be a South Sider. That’s who Nick Mason is … he comes from a really rough neighborhood, in an amazing city. The other thing about Chicago is that you can come home to Chicago and not be home. He can go to the North Side and it is a different world from where he comes from and that’s the part of it that I wanted as well … of any city in the world that I have ever been to, none of them have quite the same sense of different worlds as Chicago does.”  

A new point of view in Exit Strategy …
“The first book is mostly from Nick’s point of view as he is discovering his way in this whole new life … It just felt like Exit Strategy needed to be a little bigger because there are other players who all have their own agendas.”

About the Lionsgate film …
"The first book was optioned by Lionsgate and that is very much in the works … They will come to Chicago and actually film it here, which will be just fantastic."

On the next five books in the Nick Mason series …
“I am working on the next one now … I’m right in the middle of it. I really have seven of them already in my mind which is a whole different approach for me. … With Nick Mason I really want to know the bigger story, each book feels like it is just part of that bigger story. There are a lot of surprises at the end of Exit Strategy and it does open up into a different world.”

Nick Mason’s favorite beer?
“Goose Island.”





You have seen Ed Kross. Everywhere. Dozens and dozens of times. Maybe on a cruise ship with Second City. Or during the three-year run of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change at Royal George, as the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakes, a tap-dancing monkey in Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre, or as the quirky studio host in I Love Lucy Live on Stage at the Broadway Playhouse.

There are two memorable roles as a bank manager on-camera opposite Tom Hanks, in Road to Perdition, and George Clooney in Oceans Twelve. Among his over 60 commercial appearances, Kross makes a copy machine selfie and shares a microphone with a dancing mini-wheat.

It is safe to say that Ed Kross is a natural born comic, actor, singer, and dancer. And while it was always part of the plan to pursue a theater and on-camera acting career, Kross says the key for him was to keep busy and apply some basic improv principles to his own life: be present, get out of your head, know the rules, learn skills, stay sharp and be sure to strive for balance in your life. 

These days, as we found out in our conversation on April 14th, the witty Kross delivers a more serious turn as a police officer struggling with PTSD in the new Amazon Prime web series Patriot, a role that is on the other end of the acting spectrum from his early days aboard the Norwegian Epic with Second City.

Take an improv class …
“Even if you are not going to be an improviser or if you do not think you are funny, it teaches you to be present in the moment and to get out of your head … I am a big fan too of not following a linear path as far as training. Even if you are not a dancer, take a dance class. Take something just to move and get your body going. Take an improv class even if you are a dramatic actor because it may open up some parts of you that you had no idea you had. Take a pottery class … For Pete’s sake, take a class!”

On Being a Triple Threat …
“Thank you, that is very nice of you to say. I think I am more of a jack of all trades, master of none, type of guy but if you want to say triple threat, my mother will be thrilled.”

On Getting Noticed …
“Looking back I realize how hard it is when you are starting … That is why I always say take a class, do a play, keep yourself fresh because you never know who will be in the audience that night. Do good work. I honestly believe cream rises to the top.”

Working with the Wiz in Jungle Book …
“I understudied André [De Shields] and went on three times for him … let me tell ya, when people are expecting the Wiz and they get this kid from Brookfield, Illinois … I am not saying it was bad but people are always disappointed when there is any understudy on.  I mean I was even disappointed when I was on …  André won a Jeff for Jungle Book. He was so ridiculously good … We did eight shows a week and he busted his butt. I never saw him give any less at the Wednesday matinee than he gave on Saturday night. That is old school pro. When I went on for him, he sent me flowers. This guy is the real deal.”

On Building your Skillset …
“Skills can be learned … ear prompter, teleprompter, tap dancing and juggling can be learned. Learn some skills and I think the more skills you have the more you can work.”

Knowing your Strengths …
“I certainly love doing drama as much as doing comedy but it is about knowing your strengths. I am not going to kid myself. I have been a goof since day one. It is fun to flex some other muscles but I know where my bread is buttered.”


No holiday season is complete without a visit back to Bedford Falls with George and Mary Bailey, Bert and Ernie, Mr. Potter, and an angel named Clarence. Frank Capra’s classic film, It’s A Wonderful Life, is the timeless and endearing story that tells the importance of one life to lives of others.

A holiday tradition not to be missed, and 15 years in the making is, It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! The American Blues Theater's production is a show for the entire family, set on stage in the style of a 1940’s radio broadcast with an original score, Foley sound effects and holiday songs. There’s something to comfort everyone here … right down to the milk and cookies served by the cast.  

The production is directed by Wendy Whiteside, Producing Artistic Director since 2010, who has played the role of Mary six times over the years. In that time, the Joseph Jefferson Award recipient and nominee has led a remarkable period of artistic growth and professional recognition for the 37-member Ensemble whose mission is to explore the American identity through the plays it produces and the communities it serves.

Wendy Whiteside, and Foley artist and designer, Shawn J. Goudie, joined the conversation on December 8th to tell us more about their wonderful lives in Chicago … and Bedford Falls.

Wendy on directing a live radio play …

“Most important thing when you tell a story live on stage is to be present in the moment … We direct our actors to be in the moment with this audience as well as the listening audience at home. Sometimes the actors will break the fourth wall and look into the audience … and sometimes they will direct the entire piece into the mic and close their eyes and imagine they have an audience member at home in their pajamas on the couch with hot cocoa.”

 What It’s A Wonderful Life means to her …

 “… Every season I am reminded of how important every single soul is to the present time we are living in.”

 Shawn Goudie "The Foley Guy" ... 

“It is such a wonderful art form and a lot of it, in fact, does still occur in films and radio as well … but you just do not think about it as much … It is easier for a one-person show to run things on an app but if you have the ability and the tools to do it … there is nothing like the crispness of that live sound.”

Live sound effects demonstration …

SG: Clarence leaping off the bridge to save George, and George subsequently jumping off to save him.


ET: I feel like I’m right at home in my bath tub.


2017 SEASON - The American Blues Theater presents It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from November 16, 2017 to January 6, 2018  at the Stage 773. WEBSITE BOX OFFICE: (773) 327-5252


SHELDON PATINKIN (1935-2014) helped shape the Chicago comedy and theatre scene as a writer, performer and director for well over six decades. He served as the longtime Chairman of the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago and was part of perhaps the greatest generation of Chicago improvisers, playing an integral role in the evolution of The Second City.

On September 19, 2013, as we prepared for the third episode of our PBS show Chicago Conversations, Sheldon Patinkin joined Ed for a wide-ranging conversation about his career, the development of The Second City and many of the extraordinary comedians he has worked with over the years. While portions of the interview appeared in our television show, Second City: First in Funny, this podcast is the audio track of the studio interview with Sheldon Patinkin -- unplugged and at his best -- in what is believed to be his last long-format interview.

Sheldon Patinkin on what he looked for in a student/performer while at Second City:
“The ability to relate to the others, the ability to take what you get and respond to it, and the ability to stop looking for laughs and jokes … I have a preference for the kind of improviser/actor who can become the next character instead of making the next character like themselves … that was Alan Arkin, that was Steve Carell – who is one of the best improvisers out of character that we ever had at Second City … as opposed to both Belushis … you could always tell it was Belushi … you could always tell it was John Candy, but they were so good at it that was fine too.”

A sampling of Sheldon Patinkin's one-word descriptions: 
Bill Murray: “Funny.”
Dan Akroyd: “Tough.”
John Candy: “Sweetheart.”

Sheldon Patinkin’s advice to aspiring comedians/actors:
“You have to be willing to fail … willing to not get an audition … willing to not get a call back… not willing, but you have to be able to handle it.  If you start getting depressed about it, then go find something else because you’re going to be a waiter the rest of your life.”



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