Last night I played at a real shithole. I’m telling you, this place was a shit hole. You’re probably thinking how can this guy say that? What a jerk. Well, everyone hold onto your horses because the place I performed at is actually called The Shit Hole. It was one of two (secret) locations that have weekly performances in Chicago. These shows are a variety of improv, sketch, stand-up, and music. When I walked in I only knew a few people, but when I left I knew everyone. I had made a room full of new friends. Friends that did things just like me (improv and sketch) and friends that did things different (like playing the guitar, singing, or adding super cool music to some of the improv sets). The show was at their upstairs location. The Attic. Yes, a show in an attic. I had heard about these shows from friends and heard that they were a ton of fun and nurtured a loving environment. “It’s very intimate and supportive” was something someone said. After doing the show, I can confirm exactly that. Sitting in that room, I felt like I was a part of something special. Better yet, I know I was a part of something special. I got to perform in front of a room full of people (as well as 70 viewers on ustream) that loved the performing arts. I’m thankful my friend Brooke invited me to play with a mash-up group she created which included improvisers who were born in Illinois. We called ourselves Prairie State and we’d never performed or rehearsed together at all. We had a fantastic show that included ghosts, sasquatches, chimney sweeps, and horrible pizza places.
I’d like to take a step back and say what an accomplishment this show is as a whole. Typically, if you were to try and mash standup, sketch, improv, and music all together you may get different results depending on the venue you decide to put that show up in. In fact, I’ve even said, “it’s tough to do an improv set in between a band and a stand-up” just based on prior experiences I’ve had trying to do a show like that. A prior experience I had (in a barprov show) where it didn’t work out made me want to never do it again. After playing at The Shit Hole, I take that statement back. It all depends on where you’re playing, the type of audience you’re playing to, and the set-up of the show. This wasn’t an open-mic at a bar. It wasn’t a pay to play theater/venue show. The location was at someone’s apartment and they charged people $0 to watch the show and $0 to perform. No one HAD to pay. There was donation suggested, but not required. The night was a success. Not only the night, but the Shit Hole’s entire journey as a whole is a testament that anyone can put together something special if you put your mind to it. For these guys, it was just by opening up their homes and inviting people that enjoyed the same things they did in.
When people think about putting up a show the entire process can become daunting. It’s because there is a worry that it’ll be costly and it’ll take time to build. There’s worry that it’ll take years to build a following or you need big names to attract an audience. Not necessarily true. These guys started their shows out of a garage (the shithole HQ). They created a makeshift stage with lights and curtains and chairs (some of them lawn chairs) for the audience. By word of mouth spreading and this community’s insatiable thirst for places to perform, it quickly became a success, which led to the opening of a second location (the shithole select) and another night of the week to perform. Keep in mind, these locations are not venues where you’re paying hundreds of dollars to put up a show or paying nightly rental fees to play with your group. The two shows are at people’s apartments. The guys aren’t trying to make money off this. They also aren’t keeping it a secret to make it inclusive to only a certain group of people or ‘friends only.’ They keep it ‘word of mouth’ to maintain that intimate and supportive environment. There are certain places where I feel like because I’m not a part of the ‘in-crowd’ I’m not welcome. I didn’t feel that when I walked into this space.
If you have the space and you want to perform or put up a show…what’s stopping you? You don’t need the lights and sirens. You don’t need the business license or the liquor license. You don’t need a marketing expert or a financial investment. All you need is a space to play in and a group of people who want to be there because they love performing and nothing else. If you’re thinking “playing in an apartment isn’t going to get me where I want to be”, I suggest you rethink why you’re doing this/performing in the first place. It shouldn’t be about trying to get anywhere. This show wasn’t a means to an end. It was a means to perform. Nothing more. Nothing less. There was nothing on the line. This wasn’t going to get you on SNL nor was this going to make you famous. No one was catching their big break sitting in that room. Everyone was in that room to support one another because we were all doing what we love and, at that moment, that’s all that mattered. In fact, that’s all that SHOULD ALWAYS matter. Once you start getting into contracts, rental fees, and feeling like sub-committee’s or certain people or agencies have control over your future, the fun starts to fade away. You also start doing things for the wrong reasons and forget about why you started in the first place. This reminded me how supportive this community can be.
Lorne Michaels, the SNL writing staff, and even talent agents shouldn’t limit their visits to the major theaters when scouting for talent. They should have places like this on their list because this is where some of the real stars shine. This is where real art happens. This place is a diamond in the rough.
It is one of the Chicago performing arts scenes best kept secrets.
I’m grateful I got to experience it.
Thank you #shithole.