The Handshake Conversation with Chloe Johnston and Megan Stielstra
Chicago possesses a unique, diverse, and exciting literary and theatre community that spreads across the city into small bars, independent theatres, libraries, coffee shops, art galleries, wine bars—anywhere people can make a stage and perform. And they draw crowds. People gather together to listen and watch and be part of the telling of stories—to be moved to laugh and cry and remember moments from their own lives worth telling.
Both Megan Stielstra and Chloe Johnston defy easy definition for they are as complex as the many avenues they use for creating art. At their most basic, they are storytellers. And damn good ones. Megan is a writer and the literary director of 2nd Story. She has performed for The Goodman, the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chicago Poetry Center, and Story Week Festival of Writers. Her writing has appeared in Other Voices, Pindeldyboz, Annalemma, Punk Planet and on Chicago Public Radio. Her upcoming collection of stories Everyone Remain Calm is due out in October 2011 from Joyland/ECW. She teaches creative writing at The University of Chicago and Columbia College. Chloe is a writer and director in Chicago. She has been writing and performing with The Neo-Futurists since 2001 in “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” She has worked many theatres in Chicago including Steppenwolf, The Goodman, Lookingglass, About Face, and CollaborAction. A founding member of The Laboratory for the Development of Substitute Materials, a performance collective blending literature, science, and architecture, she is co-author of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, published by Playscripts Inc. She has taught at Northwestern and The University of Chicago, and teaches at Lake Forest College.
The two met for coffee one morning to converse about a myriad of topics, including truth in storytelling, balance of an artistic life, and story ownership. -Kevin Kane
Chloe Johnston: Hi, we are testing this recording. My name is Chloe, blah blah blah—
Megan Stielstra: I feel like such a rock star: Testing, one two three—
MS: I’m so paranoid about recordings. A few years ago, I did this interview with Audrey Niffenegger for Other Voices, which was a huge deal for me ‘cause I’m such a fan of her visual work. I loved how she portrayed Chicago in Time Travelers Wife, and she’s just a super cool person to sit and talk with, and of course there was the small matter of this being it the first interview I’d ever done for a national publication. So we’re sitting there in Café Sel Marie, which is a lovely place but for some reason that day it was loud as hell—we’re talking frat party loud—and when I sat down later to transcribe the interview I could barely hear anything over the white noise. I’m sitting there, staring at this little tape recorder like, “Can I make up what Audrey Niffeneger said in order to finish this sentence?”