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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.

It is a lofty goal and he is determined to press on until there are no stories left to tell. In a relatively short time, Sharma has generated impressive public exposure and private support for his project. He is patient, polite, responsive and well-prepared, treating each veteran he meets with respectful reverence for their service and sacrifice.

There is one more thing that Rishi Sharma brings with him whenever and wherever he is conducting his interviews: a youthful curiosity and enthusiasm that has no seeming limitations.

That’s because Rishi Sharma just turned 20 years old.

It is hard not to be inspired by Sharma or his vision for a perfect world where veterans of World War II never die. He is driven to do all he can every day to meet and thank veterans while recording video of their story. He wants more people to reach out to the veterans in their communities before it is too late, and has created a step-by-step guide with sample questions to make the process easier.

His mission has garnered local and national media attention. CBS Sunday Morning has profiled Sharma twice in recent years, helping to catapult the program that he started in high school by visiting local veterans homes and senior centers to a broad-based national campaign. He has established a not-for profit organization that has already raised over $180,000 through a successful GoFundMe campaign started in May 2016. That funding has allowed Sharma to travel greater distances for his interviews, typically conducting two or more per day depending on the location. He provides a copy of the finished product to each family and is exploring options now for a permanent home for the collection.

What moves you most about Sharma is his determination to inspire others. His hope is that his generation will mobilize and embrace these extraordinary veterans as mentors, thank them for their service and utilize all the technological resources to post their stories online as part of a national archive at: #ww2vets.

Rishi Sharma joined the conversation as he was travelling by car from Fond De Lac, Wisconsin — where he met with James ‘Maggie’ Megellas, the most decorated veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, on the occasion of his 101st birthday — by way of an interview in Rockford, Illinois toward his final destination, a veteran meeting in Champaign, Illinois …  just another day in the life of a young man on a mission to preserve World War II combat stories, one veteran at a time. PODCAST

Rishi Sharma ...“Ever since I was a little kid, I've always been interested in World War II and I've always been fascinated talking to the older veterans. In high school. I visited a lot of nursing homes and I interviewed a lot of the World War II veterans there and I got hooked on it. I started calling up veterans who I'd read about in books with the idea that I could talk to like a real-life hero about what was written about them in a book and hear their side of what they went through.”

For future generations ...“I know that it means a lot to the families of the veterans I have interviewed to have that 4 to 5 hour filmed interview of their grandpa or their dad talking about what it was like going through hell. For future generations, that's going to mean a lot. They won't just get to know their grandfather's name, but they'll get to know what their great, great grandpa looked like, how he talked, how he laughed, how he cried and who he really was.”

Following their life journey ...“I prioritize combat World War II veterans and tend to focus on the infantry. My purpose is truly to highlight the sacrifices made in combat so that we could have a chance at life today, 75+ years later. … when I meet the veterans, basically the interviews follow a pattern. We talk about growing up in the great depression, what it was like as a kid, how they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then we dive straight into following their life journey. It's a chronological interview. … how they ended up in the service, whether they enlisted or they were drafted, and then the focus is on the battles that they saw, what their role was, their friends who didn't make it, the things that they had to see, the things that they had to do, the struggles of the living conditions in combat, the fear of not knowing if you're going to make it another day.”

One-on-One ...You're talking to people who saw the worst of the worst and had to do the worst of the worst and now to bring back those memories after 70+ years, it takes a lot out of the person being interviewed but also out of the interviewer because it's a tough thing to talk about killing people and seeing your friends die. I'm in a very fortunate position because I have three major things going for me. … my age, I just turned 20 and I'm the same age as a lot of the veterans were when they were in combat. … I do a lot of research before our interviews. It's important to know the difference between a company and a platoon, a division or what a certain division did in a certain battle. … it's hard enough for the veterans to talk about the worst days of their life, but it's even harder when they have to talk about it and try to explain it in terms that a civilian would understand. … the most important thing that I have going for me is that I'm not related to any of these veterans, so there's no emotional attachment and these men can sit down one-on-one with me and just talk as if I'm one of the guys and they know that they won't be judged.”

#WW2VETS ...“A lot of people will come to me and say, “My grandpa never talks about it. He wouldn't talk about the war.”  “My father never talks about it.” … but in all honesty, it's really because people don't ask. If you don't ask, they won't bring it up on their own. … all you have to do is whip out your phone and instead of taking a selfie, why not actually contribute to history, take a photo of a World War II veteran, add a caption to it and post it online at #ww2vets. A hundred years from now, historians will be digging through the online archives and they will find a composite image of all these different social media posts and videos that people have made. It took them like two seconds to make, to take a short video or take a picture, but they've contributed to this big composite image of what it was like to be a World War II combat veteran and what they went through.”

Comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rishi Sharma|Heroes of the Second World War

WEBSITE
PODCAST

Rishi Sharma's website(www.HeroesOfTheSecondWorldWar.org) offers detailed information about conducting interviews in your community, the World War II Veteran for A Day media initiative and how you can make a donation to support this initiative at: www.gofundme.com/ww2heroes.

Special thanks to Regus Chicago, the market leader for office space, for their support of our program.

PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher
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TONY MACALUSO - THE STUDS TERKEL RADIO ARCHIVE

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.

The Keaton interview is just one of 5,600 radio programs from Terkel’s 45 years on the air from 1952 to his retirement in 1997. Following his passing on October 31, 2008, the archive moved from WFMT to the Chicago History Museum where it has been carefully curated for scholars.

The new project developed in recent years is the result of a unique partnership between the Chicago History Museum and WFMT Radio Network, with major support from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and individual sponsors and donors. The state-of-the-art website will launch on May 16th and unveil the first phase of the digitized archive with audio-to-text features, a dynamic search function of over 60 topic categories and much more.

Tony Macaluso, who also serves as Director of the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, joined the conversation to talk about the launch and the work that has been done to make this extraordinary body of work available for future generations of scholars, journalists, and the general public.
PODCAST

One of a kind archive"I remember spending a month or two just talking and looking around … we found some parallels. … There was nothing quite like Studs … one person over almost half a century talking about so many different kinds of topics ... literature … politics … science … education policy ... and traveling around with a portable tape recorder. … so we realized at a certain point there wasn't going to be a model out there … then started asking 'Why is this so unique?' … Even early on in his career, Studs would go back and use a little bit of audio from an earlier program to start a new program and recognized that there was something going on here. And so fortunately for a daily radio station – that would usually not even bother to record or certainly not to save these kinds of programs – they started to be saved and taken care of."

Wide-ranging dialogue … "Studs prepared meticulously. If he was interviewing a writer, he would read the book, make incredible notes or research the person. The conversations themselves are so often so unpredictable and flow in different directions ... there is a kind of stream of consciousness and free association of thoughts and ideas … He might be talking to a blues musician and the next thing you know they might be talking about some aspect of agriculture economics or mythology from Yoruba region in Africa finding its way into the conversation. So there is something of a challenge just from a listening standpoint to slow down and get out of a multi-tasking 21st-century mindset and in some ways tune into a different era in history when ideas flowed differently … when there was a kind of a theatricality and a performance to conversations … an art of conversation that maybe has changed."

Boundless curiosity …  "his self-chosen epitaph was “Curiosity did not kill this cat!” … We all want to be curious, but, what is real boundless curiosity actually? How does it function … and what does it mean to continue to follow threads? ... I hope that the archive can serve as kind of touchstone for both, for people to be able to take audio and reuse it. … when he talked with Buster Keaton, he discovered things - got Keaton to articulate things – that maybe he had never said in another interview … some of that was not just that Studs was being a journalist or a disc jockey, whatever he calls himself … he watched those movies when he was younger, probably, and then later when they came back in revivals, he desperately wanted to know more about how they were made. 'How did you do the subtitles?' 'And the lips?'  'How did you plan the plots of those films?' When it comes from genuine curiosity, then real discoveries can happen."

PODCAST
WEBSITE
1960 BUSTER KEATON INTERVIEW
EXPLORE THE ARCHIVE

Edited for length and clarity.
TERKEL PHOTOS| Chicago History Museum Raeburn Flerlage, photographer

CARICATURE|Jan Folkman Hefter-Petterino's Collection|LEYE

CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy
Season 3|Episode 6 - May 7, 2018
PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher
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DE USURIS - Arnie Bernstein on Fritz Kuhn 80 Years Later

Charlottesville, August 12, 2017. Three deaths. Nineteen other serious injuries reported. Many more if you consider the psychological trauma inflicted on the scores of individuals there that day. Historian Arnie Bernstein sees comparisons and contrasts to another troubling time in our history.

 Historian Arnie Bernstein on Charlottesville and the 1930s German American Bund movement

Historian Arnie Bernstein on Charlottesville and the 1930s German American Bund movement

As we process these events, individual and corporate stands were swift, condemning racism, hate and bigotry, and awakening, even as the story continues to unfold, a new cycle of activist movement against the forces of evil exemplified in the KKK, neo-Nazi and white supremacists. With history as a barometer, words and boycotts are not enough to stem the tide of domestic terrorism in our Nation and around the world.

In the decade leading up to American involvement in World War II, the rise of the German American Bund Movement, a neo-Nazi organization led by Fritz Kuhn, is a harbinger of the kind of polarization we have witnessed that led to violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend.

Arnie Bernstein, author of Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund, joined me for a program last year during our live series at Skokie Theatre, a conversation about the life and times of a man whose rise and fall in 1930s America provides a glimpse into another troubling period in our nation's history.

This week, we asked Arnie Bernstein to expand on our conversation in the context of the events in Charlottesville.  ET 8/15/2017

ET: Talk about the social climate in the mid-1930s, the political divide that fostered Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund movement and how it compares or contrasts to the polarization in our society today?

AB: The German-American Bund movement was largely what the name said: German Americans, mostly naturalized immigrants escaping from the terrible economic conditions of post-WWI Germany.  But post-war America was rough for them, given the anti-German fervor in the United States during the war years and afterwards.  They banded together during the 1920s under various groups, culminating in the founding of the German-American Bund in 1936.  Instead of embracing American ideals, the members of these groups looked to Hitler and the rise of National Socialism back in the Fatherland. But the vast majority of German-Americans (both immigrant and those who had been here for a few generations) had no interest in the Bund and despised what it stood for.  The Bundists were a loud group of maybe 15,000 nationwide.  They never revealed official numbers, and estimates vary depending on what resource you look at, such as the FBI or the American Legion.

ET: The rise of the Bund had immediate detractors. Who were some of the more prominent individuals and organizations involved and how did they express themselves?

The Bund’s opponents were a disparate association of legal authorities like the FBI, elected officials including New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his district attorney Thomas Dewey (later governor and presidential candidate), citizen groups and veterans, Jewish organizations, and journalists, most famously Walter Winchell, who delighted in attacking the Bund’s leader Fritz Kuhn.  Others who went after the Bund included major players in the Jewish criminal underworld, like Mayer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Mickey Cohen.  They were approached on the sly by important figures in the Jewish community.  The boys in the mob responded, and refused to take payment for their services.  They busted up Bund meetings and busted up Bundists’ bones in the process.

ET: What impact did they have?

AB: As varied as the groups.  LaGuardia and Dewey were effective taking down the Bund by cutting off the dragon at the head: they found that Fritz Kuhn was embezzling the group’s money and eventually got him sent to prison on those charges, sort of like how Al Capone got tripped up not by his crimes but through tax evasion.  As I said, the mobsters broke up meetings with fists and Winchell attacked them in his column and on his radio show.  The FBI worked their wiles on the Bund, with something like 3,000 pages of files accumulated on their activities.  In one case, the community of Southbury, CT banded together so the Bundists could not open a private retreat on the outskirts of town.  The efforts around the country were considerable on so many fronts.

ET: Compare the rhetoric of the time to what is occurring now.

AB: Similar and different, to be sure.  The fascist Nazi standards of anti-Semitism, racial hatred, anti-Communist (which they associated with Jews and African-Americans), and the “purity” of the Aryan race sound exactly the same.  They are separated by decades but not rhetoric.  On the other hand, the groups today are much more violent in what they say and much more open about it.  You didn’t see Bundists walking around with tattooed swastikas on their arms, marching through streets of towns like Charlottesville wielding semi-automatic weapons.  The Bundists were scary, to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the things we’re seeing today.  Sure, they attacked people, but it was with fists and baseball bats, not wielding menacing heavy-duty firepower and driving cars into groups of protestors.

 More at   DE USURIS - ARNIE BERNSTEIN   or listen to the podcast on   iTunes   Libsyn   or   Stitcher

More at DE USURIS - ARNIE BERNSTEIN or listen to the podcast on iTunes Libsyn or Stitcher

ET: In your book, Swastika Nation, you attribute the collapse of the Bund movement to a series of factors. Talk about these and by example how they may or may not apply to what is happening today.

AB: The factors really are different.  The Bund was an organization with a strict constitution and bylaws that were enforced.  Fritz Kuhn brought them down himself in late 1939 by embezzling the group’s money to fund his romances.  He was a dynamic presence who made the Bund what it was, and when he was gone, they struggled.  With the rise of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, members jumped ship—it just wasn’t safe to be associated with a pro-Hitler movement in the United States.  Then came Pearl Harbor, America’s entry into WWII, and that was the end of the Bund.

ET: Historians often tend to examine social injustice, racism, gender issues and bigotry as having been the product of another time long past. And yet, today, we are grappling with extreme anger, hatred and a new strain of lawlessness fueled in growing numbers by fear, oppression and domestic terrorism.

Learn from the past … or doomed to repeat it?

AB: I think a bit of both.  The Bund was an overt group, while for a long time the people like what we’re seeing in Charlottesville were more underground and outcasts.  During the 1930s social conditions certainly fostered many alienated German immigrants and their sympathizers in the United States.  What they did not have were like-minded individuals in high positions engendering that anger and hatred, such as we’re seeing today.  There’s no question in my mind that what happened in Charlottesville was a culmination of many factors: a right-wing propaganda machine fostering hatred and playing to the lowest common denominator and using well-understood code words and social dog whistles.  “Liberals control the media” sounds just like what the 1930s counterparts said, only it was “Jews control the media.”  

Ultimately, though, there are many more good people in the world than there are of these types.  We’re always going to have to face the reality that they exist and they want to do damage in order to protect a mythical ideal of something that never was. But the world is changing. People who didn’t have a voice before are speaking out and standing up to these groups.  That happened in the 1930s and it’s happening now, as we’ve seen since the deadly events in Charlottesville.  We’re standing up to those who want to pervert American ideals.

ARNIE BERNSTEIN WEBSITE
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RANDALL NEWSOME - AH, WILDERNESS! GOODMAN THEATRE

If not for a comment by Walter Matthau on the set of Dennis the Menace, Randall Newsome might well be still behind the camera. 

The affable, engaging and very busy actor who is currently appearing in the superb production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! at Goodman Theatre, was serving as an assistant director on set with the task of keeping Matthau on schedule and away from watching a baseball game in his trailer.

“Randall, you belong on the stage!” Newsome recalls in the distinctive style of Matthau’s voice. It was then that Newsome realized that often times others can see things in you that you cannot see yourself. It was all about listening, a skill he feels is essential to everyone on stage and off.

So, Newsome took Matthau’s words to heart and lots of stage work followed including regional theatre at Shakespeare Theater Company and McCarter Theatre, Off-Broadway with Irish Repertory Theater and New York Theatre Workshop and Broadway in Enemy of the People (Manhattan Theatre Club), A Touch of the Poet (Roundabout Theatre Company) and Inherit the Wind. Last seen on the Goodman Theatre stage in Rebecca Gilman’s A True History of the Johnstown Flood, he has performed in Chicago with Steppenwolf, Straw Dog, and Lyric Opera, among others. Featured, supporting and principal roles in television and film projects include Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife, House of Cards, Washington Spies, Hidden Figures, Straw Dogs and a dozen more. This fall, look for Newsome in a featured role in the action film Geostorm (Warner Brothers) and coming up, Dirt Road to Lafayette(BBC Scotland/Singer Films (UK).  

Newsome credits his versatility to his training at the Ringling Brothers Clown College and as a member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey 125th Edition – Red Unit. In a moving moment of our conversation, he describes the long-ago experience – the sights, sounds and smells of the circus and seeing the joy on the faces of the audience as they looked up at the aerialists – as if it were yesterday.

In O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! at Goodman Theatre, Newsome plays Nat Miller alongside Ora Jones as Essie Miller, the parents of Richard Miller, who worry deeply about their son who is struggling with adolescence and young love on the Fourth of July in a small 1906 Connecticut town. The brilliant production of O’Neill’s nostalgic comedy is a play that director and the retiring long-time Goodman producer Steve Scott notes is “funny and sweet, but as profound in many ways as some of (O’Neill’s) tragic plays.”

There is much more in our fascinating June 21st conversation with Randall Newsome about the play, the special relationship of a father and son, the rehearsal process and the joy of working with Steve Scott and the amazing cast and production team to bring the O’Neill classic to the stage.

Themes in Ah, Wilderness! … “This play offers the notion that if you love each other and support and look for the positive … beautiful things will happen.”

Lessons learned in the circus … “Listening is perhaps the best leadership skill … I found that I was effective by stopping and waiting for things to happen … when you are really doing it in the right circumstance it is funny. I learned the value of just being still and paying attention … a discovery in the most unlikely of arenas … the circus.”

Goodman Theatre’s leadership role in Chicago …  “Even when I lived here several years ago before I was working in the theatre, I knew the Goodman to be the house of directors and that is because they were not just voices of playwrights but also voices of directors that had ingenuitive ideas regarding storytelling, not just in content, but format and manner of presentation.”

Working with Steve Scott … “In a way, he is the most childlike one in the room … so open and generous, and he laughs more than any of us. His gift to me in this show is his generous spirit.”

RANDALL NEWSOME WEBSITE

PODCAST

Ah, Wilderness!

GOODMAN THEATRE
170 N Dearborn Street Chicago, IL 60601
TICKETS: 312.443.3800
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STEVE HAMILTON

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."

EXIT STRATEGY
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.”

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS ... 

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.”

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ED KROSS - SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

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.”

AMERICAN BLUES THEATER - IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: Live in Chicago!

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.
  PODCAST

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.

CUE FOLEY - WATER EFFECTS


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

ITUNES      LIBSYN      STITCHER

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 UNPLUGGED

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.”

RELATED LINKS:
CHICAGO CONVERSATIONS - SECOND CITY: FIRST IN FUNNY: VIDEO
WGN RADIO - BILL LEFF AND WENDY SNYDER: INTERVIEW
SHELDON PATINKIN OBITUARY(CHRIS JONES TRIBUNE): SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

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