Peter Oyloe, music mondays

Music Mondays: Peter Oyloe

Peter Oyloe, music mondaysThe Filament Theatre Ensemble is pleased to announce the first of its Music Mondays, a concert series featuring local performers that will take place starting April 1 at 7pm in their new performance space at 4041 North Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago.

For the inaugural Music Monday, Filament ensemble member and accomplished folk singer/songwriter Peter Oyloe will be performing, accompanied by guitarist Marc Walloch. Called a “future folk legend”, Oyloe has played extensively in Chicago and all over the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Also a two-time Jeff Award-winning actor, he was last seen on the Filament stage in their hit production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway last summer in the title role, and recently completed an LCT Award-nominated performance of the same at the Cincinnati Playhouse. He will be performing a selection of originals and familiar standards.

Marc Walloch is lead guitarist and co-founder of acclaimed Chicago band Company of Thieves. Company of Thieves has released two albums on Wind-Up Records and won a New York Songwriters Circle contest for their single “Oscar Wilde”, which was also featured on an episode of Gossip Girl.

Music Mondays, created and curated by the Filament Theatre Ensemble, is an ongoing concert series held the first Monday evening of every month and featuring local musical performers. In keeping with Filament’s mission to do theatre in a folk tradition with an emphasis on community, Filament is interested in bringing musicians whose story and music illuminate and celebrate the lives of the world in which they are a part. The concerts will be free (donations accepted) and will be held in Filament’s newly-acquired theatre space at 4041 North Milwaukee Avenue. Please join us April 1 at 7pm for an evening of good songs, good friends, and good fun.

NAME: Music Monday, featuring Peter Oyloe with Marc Walloch
DATE: April 1, 2013 @ 7pm. Doors open thirty minutes before show time.
LOCATION: 4041 North Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641.
PRICE: Free admission. Donations welcome. No reservations.

Crossing Six Corners, Portage Park, Filament Theatre Ensemble

Crossing Six Corners

The Filament Theatre Ensemble will present Crossing Six Corners: A Neighborhood Heritage Project on February 22, 23, and 24 at its new home in the Six Corners Shopping District. Through interviews with past and current residents, archived news articles, and discussions with local historians, Filament has devised an original play about the Six Corners.

What a Year It’s Been!

As 2013 gets underway, we at Filament are reflecting on all the incredible gifts that 2012 brought. We are incredibly grateful to you, our audiences and supporters, for making this year our best one yet. With your help, we…

…signed a lease at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the beautiful Portage Park neighborhood.

…produced The Drawer Boy, which delighted audiences and was hailed by critics as “one of the year’s best.”

…worked with top-tier architects at McBride Kelley Baurer to design our brand-new theatre space.

…formed meaningful relationships with businesses and residents in Chicago’s 45th Ward.

…produced Hank Williams: Lost Highway, which played a sold out, extended run at the Athenaeum Theatre.

…and so much more!

And the best is yet to come! We are in the process of licensing and permitting that will allow us to begin building our theatre. We have begun development on the Six Corners Heritage Project, an original performance created in collaboration with residents of the 45th ward. 2013 will bring Filament to a whole new level, as we go from being a traveling troupe of artists to a full-time theatre operation.

It’s not too late to support our ongoing fundraising efforts, helping us to reach more people, build stronger community ties, and keep producing the great theatre you have come to expect from Filament. Simply click below to give a secure, tax-deductible gift.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your continued support in our work. Best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

The Folks at Filament

Holiday Fundraiser Party

You are cordially invited to the Filament Theatre Ensemble’s
 Holiday Fundraiser Party
Saturday December 8 at 6:30pm
at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Featuring a LIVE Radio Show Film Screening Double Feature of

A Charlie Brown Christmas
How the Grinch Stole Christmas

performed by members of the Filament Theatre Ensemble
and a live jazz trio.

Appetizers, Drinks, Raffle Prizes, and Holiday Cheer!

Help deck Filament’s Christmas tree, as we prepare to move into our own space!

Festivities begin at 6:30pm, with the performance at 7:00
Cocktail Attire

Tickets $30, on sale HERE.

If you are unable to attend, but still wish to contribute to the Filament Theatre Ensemble, we welcome you to make a tax deductible donation by clicking HERE.

We hope to see you there!Warmly,
The Folks at Filament

Coming Soon from Filament!

A rendering of the entryway of the theatre

It’s an exciting time for the Filament Theatre Ensemble as we prepare for the next phase in our journey. As you know, in May we signed a lease on our very own space in Portage Park, at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave. Since then we’ve been taking a crash course in architectural design, building codes, city permitting, Chicago fire safety guidelines – all that fun stuff! It’s been an exciting adventure and we can’t wait to show it to you. The walls will be going up here before we know it!

In the meantime, here are some ways you can follow the adventures, as well as our upcoming artistic endeavors!

  • Our first production in our new space is a Six Corners heritage project, an original piece created by our Ensemble from interviews and research on the 45th Ward. For more information about this project, we invite you to attend one of our information sessions (at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave.):
    November 10 at 11:00am

    November 15 at 6:30pm
  • To find out about opportunities to volunteer, donate, or get involved, contact Christian Libonati at christian [at] filamenttheatre [dot] org.


Lastly, but not leastly, we want to say a HUGE thank you to all the amazing Filament advocates who have been supporting us through this process. They’re super smart and generous people, very giving of their time, expertise, and advice. It’s safe to say that this ambitious building project would not be possible without these fabulous individuals, and we are tremendously grateful to them!

Alderman John Arena, Jill Arena, Cyd Smillie of Arts Alive 45, Marc Sussman (the best landlord that ever was), Clark Baurer and Mike Duggan (architects extraordinare of McBride, Kelley, Baurer Architects), Barry Bursak, Mark Goles and Dennis Wolkowicz of the Portage Theatre, Keith Parham, Dan Prebble, Devon Allen, Melissa Schlesinger, Will Dean, and many many others.

Stay tuned for more news and events! And thanks to all of you for your continued support.

The Folks of Filament

Hank Williams and mother

Mama Knows Best

In this post, we’ll take a look at Mama Lillie, the first of two important women in Hank’s life and career.  We also have the pleasure of introducing you to Danon Dastugue, the delightful lady playing the role in our production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway

Hank Williams and motherLadies and gentlemen, meet Jessie Lillybelle Skipper Williams, called “Mama Lillie,” Hank Williams’s mother and the woman responsible for launching his early career.  This strong-willed woman raised Hank and his sister by herself, after her husband Lon was permanently hospitalized for  a war injury.  To make ends meet Mama Lillie worked many odd jobs, including running a boarding house – which may or may not have been rented by the hour.  She had her children, Hank and his younger sister Irene, work odd jobs selling peanuts and shining shoes.

Lillie was not naturally a nurturing woman, and that combined with her working long hours to provide for her family meant that Hank spent a lot of time on his own.  What she lacked in maternal instincts, however, she made up for with drive – she was credited with buying Hank his first guitar, and often set him up outside the local radio station, selling packed lunches or peanuts, and playing music.  Although the specifics of how Hank got his guitar are up for debate, Lillie remembered it this way:

I’ll never forget the day I brought Hank home his first guitar, a second-hand instrument that cost $3.50.  That was a lot of money then.  I was making only a quarter a day nursing or sewing.  Hank was so overjoyed at the sight of the guitar, he rushed out in the yard and grabbed a calf by the tail.  The little animal threw him and broke his arm, and he couldn’t play his new guitar for weeks.

In the early days of Hank’s career, Lillie served as his manager of sorts, booking him on the radio and in honky tonks, and driving him to his various gigs.  Often, the members of Hank’s band would live in her boarding house, and she would feed them in lieu of wages.  After Hank married Audrey, there was much tension in the family; Mama Lillie did not approve of Audrey (who was older and had a daughter from a previous relationship), nor did she appreciate Audrey’s take-charge attitude over Hank’s career.  Only after Hank’s death did Lillie and Audrey finally agree about how his estate should be managed.

The lovely and talented Danon Dastugue is a firecracker of a woman with a bright smile and a big belly laugh.  She stepped into Mama Lillie’s shoes right away, and took Hank on a little tour around the country.  She shares her photos of their “tour” with us here.

Thanks, Danon!

Stay tuned for our next post, where we take a look at the other prominent female figure in Hank’s life, his first (and second!) wife Audrey Mae Sheppard Williams, played in our production by ensemble member Mary Spearen.

Hank Williams, Lost Highway, Chicago, Theatre, Theater, Filament Theatre Ensemble

Hank and his Tutor

In today’s blog post we examine the relationship between Hank Williams and his mentor Rufus Payne, known as Tee-Tot. Hank’s problems with his back (which we will explore in Hank’s upcoming blog entry) kept him from the normal jobs that a young man living rural America in the 1940’s would have done. Since he was unable to perform labor jobs, Hank turned instead to music, and an African American street singer known as Tee-Tot is credited with teaching Hank to sing the “hard time Southern blues.”

Hank Williams, Lost Highway, Chicago, Theatre, Theater, Filament Theatre EnsembleAs we peruse the many versions of Hank Williams’ story left behind in interviews, biographies, educated guesswork and a few tall tales, we’re amused to find how many people from his childhood have taken credit for giving Hank his first guitar. It’s not hard to imagine why so many versions of this story are in circulation: providing Hank with the conduit for his immortal music is like playing God in a country music creation myth. We don’t know how Hank got that first guitar, but we do know where he learned how to play it. The story of Hank and his tutor, Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, is really also a story of how country music came to be.

In the late 1930s in the small town of Greenville, Alabama, a preteen Hank Williams was living in his mother’s boarding house and slacking off at school. For any number of reasons, he couldn’t stay still: even as a youth, Hank was a drinker, probably to numb the pain of the spina bifida he’d been born with that must have made it torture to sit in a classroom.Hank Williams Lost Highway, Theatre, Theater, Chicago, Filament Theatre Ensemble Many of the standard boy’s pastimes—the sports, the roughhousing—weren’t really an option for a kid with a bad back; many have speculated that this is one of the reasons Hank turned to music.

The South in the Great Depression was saturated with music of all kinds. The record companies split up the era’s sounds along racial and thematic lines: “race music,” or Black blues, jazz, and honky-tonk; “hillbilly” or “folk” music, sung by rural white laborers; and the newly emerging “country” sound, which was a genre manufactured for movie stars like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. On the ground, though, “race” vs. “hillbilly” music was a much more difficult distinction to make. The blues arose through decades of Black slavery and poverty, while many folk songs had ancient European roots and had been preserved in white hill communities—but music is perpetually evolving, and there was a great deal of cross-pollination across regions and races. Poverty tends to equalize in certain ways, and especially during the Depression poor people shared campfires and shanty towns and bars, and they absorbed one another’s musical styles.

Not much is known about Tee-Tot, historically.  It’s said that his nickname is a reference to “teetotaler,” and that he always carried with him a mixture of alcohol and tea.  His mother, father, and birth date are not listed on his death certificate, and his death is simply listed as “unknown.”  But his musical legacy speaks for itself: Hank was always open in crediting Tee-Tot with teaching him music, even in that time of racial divide.

The dramaturg of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Kati Sweaney, created a playlist of music similar to what Hank would have listened to when he was growing up.  For more musical context, you can find that playlist here.

Hank Williams Lost Highway, Gerald Richardson, Theatre, Theater, Chicago, Hank Williams, Country, Music, Filament Theatre EnsembleAnd now, ladies and gentlemen, we’d like you to meet Gerald Richardson, who plays Tee-Tot in Hank Williams: Lost Highway.  Gerald blows the roof off on stage with his powerful voice, and is a joy off stage as well. 

What are you most excited about for this production?
Gerald: Putting all the pieces together and watching it grow.

What made you want to be part of this production?
Gerald: I loved the story, and being a southerner I grew up hearing this music throughout my childhood, so that is exciting.

If you could see any musician perform, living or dead, who would it be?
Gerald: Elvis Presley

Are you similar to Tee-Tot?
Gerald: Yes.  I love the blues and was raised in a southern baptist church.  Gospel and blues were always being sung when I was young!

One of Hank’s biggest struggles was the idea of “success” – he made it to the top, but found that once he was there he was still lonely and unhappy.  How do you define success for yourself?
Gerald: Success is being confident and happy in whatever you do.

Montgomery’s Largest Crowd

In today’s blog entry we examine Hank’s fans and look into what is was about Mr. Williams that had the country so enthralled, even now. Then we introduce you to Bryce Gangel, who plays  “The Waitress” in Hank Williams: Lost Highway.  The Waitress, who spends her days working in a truck stop diner listening to the radio, very much represents the every man/woman to whom Hank Williams meant so much.

Montgomery, Alabama has seen its fair share of history. As the state’s capitol, it’s been the site of Civil War battles, huge civil rights demonstrations, and many a state funeral. And yet to this day it’s said that the crowd of 25,000 people who gathered for Hank Williams’s funeral in 1953 was the largest Montgomery has ever seen.

Just what was it that gave Hank this enormous draw? Stick-thin in those shoulder-padded suits, Hank was polite in radio interviews and a notorious mess in his private life. He didn’t dance like Elvis or flirt like Sinatra, and yet something happened to people when he stepped on the stage. Even those who shared the spotlight with him couldn’t place just what the secret was. Jerry Rivers, fiddle player in the Drifting Cowboys, reminisced, “I could not then, nor can I yet understand the almost uncanny power Hank Williams held over his audience.” A fellow Opry headliner concurs: “The mystery of Hank Williams, I have never been able to figure it out. What was the magnetism that he had? …When he came on stage, it was over. People would come unglued.”

It may elude words, but his twenty-first century listeners understand that the deep pull of Hank’s presence still emanates from his recordings almost sixty years after his death. This disembodied Hank, a voice in a speaker, was likely the one Hank’s early fans first came to know. The radio was a relatively new medium, one which had risen to popularity during Hank’s lifetime. It granted people unprecedented access to music and information, even if they were illiterate or couldn’t leave the house. In fact, the sudden prevalence of radio 1920s is credited with making hillbilly music a mainstream genre. Tiny local radio stations began to appear all over the south, and when rural folk learned that they could record a song or two for air play they began to migrate into town in search of a little fame and money. Stations began to broadcast hour-long showcases where local talent played for live audiences; it was thus that shows like the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry were born.

The Grand Ole Opry broadcast was a major weekly event for country music fans. Neighbors who couldn’t afford the trip into Nashville to watch the live show would gather for what was essentially a tailgate party, hooking the radio up to a car battery and blasting Hank Williams and Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl while they drank beer and barbecued.

Anyone lucky enough to see the Opry in person on a night when the Drifting Cowboys played was in for a truly life-changing experience. Until things really fell apart in 1952, Hank’s rampant alcoholism didn’t interfere with his clear, unbroken singing voice or the concentrated power of his onstage gaze. Many viewers have reported that no matter where in the house they sat, when Hank sang he seemed to be speaking right to them. Audiences screamed for encores, particularly of “Lovesick Blues,” and Hank usually fulfilled their wishes. He was unusually generous with his fans one-on-one, happily hanging around after a show to sign autographs and stand for pictures.

The simple candor of Hank’s mien and music made fans believe he understood them like no one else could, and they felt the need to tell him so. In an interview, Hank once stated, “When you get to be a success, folks have a habit of writing you and telling you their troubles. All kinds of troubles. If their husband dies and their left with eight starving kids, they write. If their sweetheart done them wrong, they write. If they feel sorta blue, the write. I dunno, I reckon they think I’m something like the Red Cross.”


Bryce Gangel, Filament Theatre Ensemble, Hank Williams, Lost Highway, folk, country, music, Chicago, theatre, theaterBryce Gangel plays The Waitress in our production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway. She acts as the narrator of Hank’s public life as he rose to prominence on the American musical stage. Bryce’s natural warmth and light make her an instantly relatable “everywoman” in the show – the lonesome dreamer looking for a better life. She is a graduate of Loyola College and a former Oklahoma resident.

What aspect of Hank’s story do you most identify with? Why?
Bryce: His struggle to stay true to himself and his roots. I think it can be hard to be innovative and as successful as he was and still be genuine.

Are you similar to the character you are playing?
Bryce: I think we are similar. She’s openly described as lonely, optimistic, cheerful. I think she’s a product of her environment, but a dreamer! I’m originally from Oklahoma and think I at one point felt that same need to “escape”.

If you could see any musician perform (living or dead) who would it be?
Bryce: Hands down – Bjork.  She’s a true artist and even if you can’t identify with all of her music immediately, you have to respect her creativity, passion, and freakiness.  I love her!

What are you most excited about for this production?
Bryce: I am most excited to incorporate a live band into the show.  I mean, hello!

What’s your favorite Hank Williams lyric?
Bryce: “Tonight we’re settin’ the woods on fire!”

Stay tuned for our next blog post, when we introduce the musical mentor who taught Hank to play the guitar, and first introduced him to the Southern Blues music that would become his legacy.

Hank Williams Lost Highway, Filament Theatre Ensemble, Chicago

Meet The Band

We continue our on-going blog series on the life and music of Hank Williams and our production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway. In this post we are excited to introduce you to the actors that make up Hank’s band, The Drifting Cowboys, in our production. Join us next time as we examine Hank’s fans and why he made such a splash when he arrived on the music scene of the 1940’s.

Hank Williams Lost Highway, Filament Theatre Ensemble, ChicagoSam Quinn plays Jimmy, the lead guitarist of the Drifting Cowboys.  Called “Burrhead” by Hank and the rest of the band, Jimmy is the most easily fed up with Hank’s bad behavior and mistreatment of his friends.  Sam, a top-notch gentleman and fantastic musician, is a Chicago transplant originally hailing from the mountains of northern New Mexico. Since moving to Chicago Sam has performed with several local theatre companies, including Redmoon, Collaboraction, and Trap Door Theatre. For the last year his focus has been centered around developing and workshopping his original rock musical, EYE iNSIDE: The Rock-N-Roll Allegory of Vance Barrett.

What aspect of Hank’s story do you most identify with?
Sam: Hank just wanted to be a good songwriter.  That’s just how I feel about every day.

What are you most excited about for this production?
Sam: I’m stoked to call myself a lead guitarist, and just as nervous.

If you could see any musician perform (living or dead), who would it be?
Sam: I’d see Jim Morrison in his prime.  He seems electrifying to me…  Tom Waits is a close second.  Waits always seems like the music is controlling him, and not the other way around.

What artist inspires your work?
Sam: John Cameron Mitchell, the songwriter and playwright of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  He proved that musical theatre could rock.

Hank Williams Lost Highway, Filament Theatre Ensemble, ChicagoJesse Woelfel plays Hoss, Hank’s bass player and most loyal friend.  Jesse fell out of bass-player heaven and into the cast, after performing as the bass player of Million Dollar Quartet for a number of years.  Growing up in Northeastern Wisconsin, he only heard music from the 1950′s and 60′s because his father never changed the radio station from the ‘Oldies’ channel. His Grandfather played a pivotal role in his life by introducing him to the music of Hank Williams. Currently, he plays with the bands The Black Willoughbys and Pearls Mahone and the One Eyed Jacks.

What are you the most excited about for this production?  The most nervous for?
Jesse:  I am excited about being in the show as a cast member, and being able to perform some of my favorite songs.  I’m most nervous about singing.

What made you want to be a part of telling this story?
Jesse: Hank Williams was a favorite of my grandfather and he introduced me to it a number of years ago. Unfortunately, he passed away, so I guess it is a way of reconnecting with him.

If you could see any musician perform (living or dead), who would it be?
Jesse: Django Reinhardt, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Cab Calloway, Les Paul, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and The Clash. I would have loved to see these people because of the way they shaped and changed music.

What’s your favorite Hank Williams lyric?
Jesse:  It’s from “Angel of Death” – I’ve had an affinity for this song for a number of years.  “The Angel of Death will come from the sky and claim your poor soul when the time comes to die.”

Hank Williams Lost Highway, Filament Theatre Ensemble, ChicagoEric Labanauskas appears as Leon, called “Loudmouth” by Hank and the band, the taciturn fiddle player.  No stranger to the Musicians-Biography-As-Stage-Musical concept, Eric spent a number of years traveling around the country as Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story.  But now he’s trading in those trademark coke-bottle glasses and guitar to pick up the fiddle again – an instrument Eric has studied for over 18 years!

One of Hank’s biggest struggles was the idea of “success” – he made it to the top but once he was there, he was still lonely.  How do you define success for yourself?

Eric: Best I’ve heard it summed up comes courtesy of Lyle Lovett: “Success is getting to do what you love to do.” I think folks often shortchange themselves, and what seems like a small accomplishment – if one at all – is a mighty one.

If you could see any musician perform (living or dead), who would it be?
Eric: I never, ever, in my life thought I’d get as caught-up with Elvis as most the rest this country has seemed to. And then I made the trip to Memphis, and – of course – our first stop? Graceland. Walking out of there, I don’t think I can say I’ve looked at music the same way, ever again. Here was a guy doing something so new, so raw, so energetic…that would spring a country forward into the last half of the twentieth century. He was Rock, Roll, all of it. A good ‘ol boy. American to a “tee.” If for nothing else? Buddy Holly decided he wanted a career in Rock ‘n Roll after seeing Elvis perform. I’d simply want to go and see for myself what all the fuss was about.

What artists inspire you in your work?
Eric: Guys like Hank influence me. Or Buddy. Or Dylan. Or Johnny Cash. They took simple chords and transformed them with their words, singing them only like they could.  Their brilliance makes them musical legends, but their honesty makes them accessible, and I think that’s more important than anything in good music.

Is there a song that has special significance for you?
Eric: Whenever I’ve a quiet evening to myself  I’ll pop-on Buddy Holly’s “Apartment Tape” recordings. These weren’t known to the rest the world until they were released, posthumously. They’re as simple as can be: Buddy singing while backing himself on an acoustic guitar. The voice is the same and so is the simple chord structure, but there’s an emotional complexity that gets me every damn time.

What’s your favorite Hank Williams lyric?
Eric: “Did you ever see a robin weep/when the leaves begin to die/that means he’s lost the will to live/I’m so lonesome I could cry”

Hank Williams Lost Highway, Filament Theatre Ensemble, ChicagoAnd last but certainly not least, Tim McNulty plays Shag, the Drifting Cowboy’s steel guitar player – giving Hank that signature country sound.  Born in Vermont and raised in upstate New York, Tim has played many different instruments in many different styles – including punk rock, spiked hair and all.  During college, he wised up and finally ‘went country.’ After soaking up some genuine honky tonk sounds and working as a barbecue cook in Austin, Texas, he moved back north to Chicago in 2009. He currently plays guitar and sings for The Black Willoughbys, a Chicago- based Country/Americana band, and is studying steel guitar with local veteran Ken Champion.

What aspect of Hanks story do you most identify with?
Tim: I’m always inspired by the sort of mythic arc of his life — it’s the stuff of great novels. These days it reads like a cliche, but for him it was real: A man seemingly emerges from nowhere with guitar, songs and rugged voice that rattles the floorboards loose and takes no prisoners. Everything about country and pop music changes after Hank. Everything.

What are you most excited about for this production?
 Tim: Shit-kickin’ boots and pearl snap shirts!

If you could see any musician perform (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Tim: Impossible question. But, at this moment, I’d pick Billie Holiday. Because, she’s Billie Holiday.

What is your favorite Hank lyric?
Tim: “I went down to the river to watch the fish swim by
I went down to the river, so lonesome I wanted to die
but when I jumped in the river, the doggone river was dry”

Hank Williams, Drifting Cowboys, Chicago. Music, theatre, theater, folk, country

The Drifting Cowboys

Welcome to Filament’s on-going blog series, providing insight into the world of Hank Williams, both the real-life man and the production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway coming to the Athenaeum Theatre June 8 – July 8.   To kick off the blog, we’ll take a look at The Drifting Cowboys – the name Hank gave every band he ever played with – and what life as a touring country musician of the ’40s and ’50s was like.  Stay tuned for our next entry, where you’ll get to meet Filament’s own Drifting Cowboys!

Hank Williams, Drifting Cowboys, Chicago. Music, theatre, theater, folk, countryBefore we started work on Hank Williams: Lost Highway at Filament, if someone asked us what defined Hank Williams’ music we would probably have had any number of descriptions to offer: “heartbreak,” “loneliness,” or even “yodeling.” Now that we’ve done deeper research into the world of the play, we’re surprised at some of the things we’ve been able to add to this list of defining characteristics. For instance: “road trips.”

While Hank’s lyrics often touch on the classic, romanticized country theme of traveling far from one’s home on lost highways and the lonesome whistles of trains, we were surprised to learn that a huge daily volume of decidedly un-romantic travel played a huge role in the lifestyles of Hank and his band. In order to make money, Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys had to spend each night of each week in a different Southern city. He and the whole band piled into the bucket seat of a car and spent all day squeezed together in close, hot quarters. Travel schedules were punishingly tight: gas station stops couldn’t even last the time it takes to cook a hamburger, so the boys would buy a bag of donuts and a gallon of milk and call that dinner before they jumped out of the car and onto a stage that night.

With all this time spent in the car, when did Hank find the time to sit back and write his famous songs? The answer is that more than one of them was written on the road. In interviews, Hank’s former bandmates recall the fact that Hank was the kind of artist who would think up a whole set of lyrics all of a sudden. On tour, however, there would be no room to pull out a guitar–or even a notebook–with the whole band crammed into a car. So on more than one occasion, Hank would announce that inspiration had struck, and a band member would pull the cardboard out of a freshly-laundered shirt so the songwriter could scrawl the lyrics out right then and there. These humble means produced some major hits, including the well-loved “Jambalaya.”

The Cowboys were surely delighted when Hank’s popularity earned them a coveted spot in the lineup of the Grand Ole Opry in 1949, but even this event didn’t get them more time at home with their families. Opry members were required to perform the Saturday show in Nashville twenty-six weekends out of every year. Though the Opry was a prestigious platform, it hardly paid well: even in the 1960s, the paid to artists was only $44 dollars a show. Hank Williams, Lost Highway, Chicago Theatre, Filament Theatre, Theater, folk, countryTo keep their earnings up the band had to take off first thing Sunday morning to play a huge outdoor show in one of the “country music parks” in states as far away as Pennsylvania, where the fees were more like $1000 a show. The rest of the week, the Drifting Cowboys rode across the Southern states with Hank for smaller shows, live radio performances, and various publicity events. Many of Hank’s bandmates had families in Nashville, as Hank himself did—but in the average week, it was rare for the Cowboys to spend more than an afternoon with their loved ones.

Over the years many musicians came and went through Hank’s band.  They were fired, quit, or drafted into military service.   The important thing is that, even though they came and went, these men spent a lot of time with Hank and many of them would have been considered friends of his. There was certainly a love and respect that was built up over the many weeks and years of traveling as they saw the country together, and changed the course of popular music along the way.

Now that you know a little bit about the historical Drifting Cowboys, look out for our next blog post, taking you behind the scenes with Filament’s Drifting Cowboys as seen in Hank Williams: Lost Highway.


Announcing Allie’s Gift 2012

The Filament Theatre Ensemble is thrilled to announce that the 2012 recipient of Allie’s Gift is Vanessa Valliere.

Vanessa is a theatre artist with a diverse background including acting, physical theatre performance, clown, directing, and dance. Vanessa has performed and assistant directed at the Neo-Futurists, understudied and assisted at The New Colony, performed as back up dancer/clown for Steinomite and Sssnake (two Chicago musicians), performed in a devised piece for Collaboration’s Sketchbook, and performed with a vintage dance troupe called the Tackie Annies. She also performs and tours regularly as a cheerleader/clown for Mucca Pazza, Chicago’s own thirty-piece circus punk marching band.

Vanessa recently quit her day job to pursue her art full time. Her diverse talents, passion for her craft, and warmth and good humor exemplify so many of the qualities that Allie Powell demonstrated in her life. Vanessa will use Allie’s Gift to study with the internationally-renowned master teacher Paola Coletto. Her study is part of the creation of a solo show that will tour the country as part of New Belgium’s Tour de Fat, and ultimately land in Chicago for a hometown performance.

Allie’s Gift is an annual financial gift given to a Chicago artist in honor of Allison Powell, Filament’s business manager from February 2010 to her untimely passing on January 2, 2011. Allie had a business mind with an artistic heart. Like so many of us, Allie aspired to ultimately earn a living in the arts, but held day jobs in the meantime to support herself and save money for graduate school. As she wrote in her first correspondence with Filament when discussing her day job, “I love art, but I also love food.” She worked with us to begin setting a path for Filament to create a financially sustainable model where we may one day support an administrative staff as well as the artists who work with us. The Filament Theatre Ensemble will award Allie’s Gift annually on her birthday to one Chicago artist who demonstrates passion, dedication, and a love for their art in addition to a financial need.

We are so honored to be celebrating Allie’s memory through the giving of this award. Her parents, Dayle and Will Spencer, and friends Susanne Brooks, Luisa Engel, Sarah Yost, and Polly Wood have given generous donation tso the Allie’s Gift fund, ensuring that we could extend this gift in her honor. We are grateful to their contributions, just as we are grateful for Allie Powell, who continues to inspire all of our work.

Hank Williams, Hank, Williams, Theatre, Theater, Chicago, Filament Theatre Ensemble, Peter Oyloe, Julie Ritchey, Athenaeum Theatre, music, folk, country, Folk, Country

The Hank Williams: Lost Highway Story

Over the next several weeks, as we enter into rehearsals for Hank Williams: Lost Highway,we will be featuring articles delving into the story of Hank Williams’ life. Who were the Drifting Cowboys? What was Mama Lily really like? How did he come to write the music that has changed the world in some many wonderful ways? These are just a few of the things we will be looking into and sharing with you through videos, pictures, and audio clips from that period in American history.

We are really excited to be exploring the music and life of this wonderful American Legend with you and look forward to sharing more in the weeks to come!

Visit the Hank Williams: Lost Highway Show Information Page to find out more about how you can get in on the fun!

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Filament, Theatre, Allison Powell, Allie's Gift, Chicago, Artists

With Allie’s Gift, Filament Honors A Friend By Paying It Forward

Below is an article that appeared on Theatre in Chicago on March 17th. In honor of our dear friend and collaborator, Allison Powell, we continue our support of our fellow theatre artists in Chicago. We encourage theatre artists to apply for this year’s Allie’s Gift. We look forward to connecting with you.


Filament, Theatre, Allison Powell, Allie's Gift, Chicago, ArtistsWhen Allison Powell first contacted Filament Theatre Ensemble about becoming involved with their company, she described her artistic aspirations for herself and for the future of the ensemble, but was also forthcoming about the reality, her reality, of trying to pursue a theatrical career while also being committed to one of those “day jobs” that can keep one from spending as much time and energy as one would like on the artistic endeavors that one loves. Or as Powell herself put it, “I love art, but I also love food.”

Sadly, Allison Powell passed away unexpectedly in January of 2011, having served as Filament’s Business Manager and occasional playwright (her work Choose Thine Own Adventure was produced by Filament in October 2010). To honor her memory and her belief that artists should be paid for the work they do, Filament created Allie’s Gift, a one-time annual award of up to $350 given to “one Chicago artist who demonstrates passion, dedication, and a love for their art in addition to financial need.” Explains Filament Artistic Director Julie Ritchey, “One of Allie’s major goals in her work with Filament was to work towards paying our artists and ourselves a livable wage. Allie’s Gift is a small way we hope to honor that goal and her legacy, by helping a local theatre artist cover career-related costs that they would not otherwise be able to afford.”

The inaugural award, handed out in May of 2011, was given to Kevin Crowley, an actor and musician who had recently completed a run as the title character in Filament’s spring 2011 production of Orpheus. “Kevin wrote us and told us that he was in the process of writing a one-man show that had lots of music in it,” says Ritchey. “In order to compose this music, he wanted to buy himself a keyboard because he had no access to one except at the library downtown. We thought that was a perfect example of what Allie’s Gift was intended to be used for.”

And so, Filament is now accepting applications for the second annual Allie’s Gift, to be awarded in April of this year. Details and specific application requirements can be found at www.filamenttheatre.orgcategory/allies-gift/, and include a letter introducing yourself and describing your intended use of the award money, a statement of your current financial situation, and a resume. Supporting materials including photos, demo reels, etc. are encouraged but not required. Applicants need not be involved with Filament Theatre Ensemble to be eligible. Applications are due by 5pm on Friday, April 13. The award will be announced on April 26. Applications should be sent (as pdfs) to Questions about Allie’s Gift, the application process, or Filament in general can be directed to


A Fragile Memory

We’ve been receiving many questions from audience members about how we arrived at the portrayal of Angus’s memory loss in our production of Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy.  It has been a collaboration between the playwright (who sculpted the character and his thought processes), the director, the dramaturgeand — of course — Will Kinnear, who has taken on the challenge of playing this enormously difficult role, and who does so with honesty and grace.  We love that our audiences are curious about Angus’s background, and at how we arrived at the choices we made, and we would love to share some of the research and resources we used in rehearsal!

One of the major challenges in The Drawer Boy is how to represent Angus’s memory loss. As written, Michael Healey provides a generous and empathetic portrayal of the character, with a full inner life and clear thought process. In transferring the writing from the page to a living, breathing character, the production team of The Drawer Boy wanted to dive deeper – to gain an understanding of the symptoms and effects of brain trauma, so that we might represent Angus as truthfully as possible. Together, with the help of our dramaturge Kati Sweaney, we researched different kinds of amnesia and brain trauma, in order to fully understand the character and the unique inner-working of his mind.

One of the main cases we studied was a man named K.C., who suffered a traumatic brain injury following a severe motorcycle accident. According to the website on K.C. and his history:

“The motorcycle accident drastically impacted K.C.’s personality and memories. His once thrill seeking-character was changed to a soft spoken and calm person. He is still able to gather his own and other’s thoughts, feelings and intentions, since that part of his brain was unaffected. His humour and sarcasm remain intact, yet he is unable to remember any previous personal memories (referred to as retrograde amnesia) or store new ones. K.C. has no problem recalling that an event has occurred but is unable to associate that event to him. It is as if someone else experienced his memories and just told him about them. Therefore, he has no personal attachments to his past memories. K.C. is no longer able to commit any new type of information to long term memory (referred to as anterograde amnesia) and details of his personal occurrences exist only in the present, vanishing from his reality as soon as he thinks about something else. However, he can learn new information or skills normally, like sorting books but he doesn’t remember actually learning it.”

There are also some fascinating interviews with K.C., which provided us with a helpful frame of reference for understanding someone whose memory loss is in so many ways similar to Angus’s.


Another patient we studied was Clive Wearing, a gifted musician who suffered from a virus, leaving him with both retrograde and anterograde amnesia.  Fascinatingly, Clive exhibits no symptoms at all when he is playing the piano or conducting, which you can see in this video:


Like K.C. and Clive, Angus does not fall along one clear, clinical diagnosis of amnesia, but exhibits symptoms of retrograde amnesia, anterograde amnesia, and repressed memory. He can remember basic tasks such as knitting, running the tractor, baking bread, etc., but cannot maintain a conversation, recognize new faces, or remember events from long in the past. And, although one review mischaracterizes Angus’s injury as having “unlocked Rainman-like abilities with numbers,” both the script and our research suggest that Angus was always intelligent and academically-minded (he had planned to go to university), so his ability to do the accounting on the farm would still be part of his procedural memory.

We are so thrilled that our audiences have been as curious as we were to find out more about Angus, and the cause and symptoms of his memory loss.  Please do not hesitate to contact us of you have more questions, or would like to find out more about our process and research!

The Drawer Boy, Filament Theatre Ensemble, The Den Theatre, Theater, Chicago, Plays, Music, Julie Ritchey, Sustainability, League of Chicago Theatres,

The Drawer Boy

We of the Filament Theatre Ensemble would love to invite you to our JEFF RECOMMENDED production!

The Drawer Boy, Filament Theatre Ensemble, The Den Theatre, Theater, Chicago, Plays, Music, Julie Ritchey, Sustainability, League of Chicago Theatres,The Drawer Boy
by Michael Healey

Produced in collaboration with The Den Theatre and performed at The Den’s beautiful space at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.

  • Pay-What-You-Can Previews (Thursday January 19 and Friday January 20 at 7:30pm)
  • Opening January 22 at 3:00, with a reception to follow catered by Native Foods.
  • Performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm through February 25.
  • See below for details and more special events!
  • Click here to purchase your tickets now! 
The Drawer Boy, Filament Theatre Ensemble, Peter Oyloe, The Den Theatre

Nick Polus and Will Kinnear in The Drawer Boy

Special Events

Mark your calendars for these exciting opportunities to delve deeper into the world of The Drawer Boy.

Theatre Thursday Thursday, January 26 at 7:30pm
Stay after Thursday’s performance for a special post-show conversation with the artists and a reception catered by the Birchwood Kitchen at this fantastic event through the League of Chicago Theatres.

Arts + Environment XChange Sunday, February 5 at 3:00pm
Filament and The Den are pleased to host Chicago’s Arts + Environment XChange first ever Xchange Xclusive, a networking event for artists and businesses with a passion for the environment. Stay after the show for a discussion on Sustainable Practices and Partnerships, and a unique opportunity to network with like-minded artists and professionals.

Film Screening Sunday, February 12 at 5:00pm
Want to learn more about The Farm Show, the Theatre Passe Muraille production that inspired The Drawer Boy?  Join us after a matinee performance for a screening of Michael Ondaatje’s 1974  documentary The Clinton Special – and see footage of the real Miles Potter in action!

Marco Minichiello, Nick Polus, Will Kinnear in The Drawer Boy


Join Filament Theatre Ensemble and The Den Ensemble for The Drawer Boy, the award winning play by Michael Healey inspired by the Theatre Passe Muraille’s landmark production of The Farm Show. The Drawer Boy examines the relationship between two WWII veterans whose lives are turned upside down when a young actor visits their farm to gather research for a play. What unfolds is a powerful and often humorous journey, as the two older men begin to rebuild the story of their lives, the truth of which has long been left unspoken.

Directed by Julie Ritchey, Filament Artistic Director

Featuring: Filament Theatre Ensemble member Marco Minichiello (Miles) with guest artists Will Kinnear (Angus) and Nick Polus (Morgan)

Production Team:  Michael Healey (Playwright), Julie Ritchey (Director), Noel Huntzinger (Costume Design), Chad Bianchi (Scenic Design), Melissa Schlesinger (Sound Designer), Will Dean (Lighting Designer), Kati Sweaney (Dramaturge), Luke Heiden (Assistant Director), Jen Bukovsky (Stage Manager), Kris Kontour (Technical Director), Ryan Martin (The Den Theatre Artistic Director), Jane Phillips (Production Manager), Peter Oyloe (Marketing Director and Graphic Design)

Allison Powell Filament Theatre Ensemble

One Year Later

Allison Powell Filament Theatre Ensemble Artistic Director Julie Ritchey reflects on 2011, and our dear friend Allison Powell.

To say that I am grateful for the many blessings that filled this last year would be an understatement. Filament has grown in ways I never thought imaginable in such a short time. From new supporters, audience, collaborators, our astonishing advisory board members – we have been graced with so many generous people, ready to cheer us on and provide support and insight whenever we need it. It has been a year of tremendous joy, and for that I am profoundly thankful.

This New Year also carries with it a degree of sadness, however, as January 2 marks the one year anniversary of Allison Powell’s passing. With every step forward Filament has taken, I have felt a pang of sorrow at the realization that Allie is not here to share in our celebrations. We recently performed Choose Thine Own Adventure at a children’s theatre in Wisconsin, and it was so marvelous and surreal to hear her play spoken again. Her presence was so strong, through all the jokes and irreverence and thoughtful use of text – in a way it was like having her in the room again.

As I reflect on this anniversary, mixed in among the tears and the ache of missing my friend, I feel a kind of gladness. The depth of sorrow comes from a depth of love, and I feel so fortunate to have known and loved Allie.

I think back to the day I met Allie: She had seen online that Filament was looking to hire a business manager, and she applied with the most

Allison Powell Choose Thine Own Adventure William Shakespeare

Opening Night of "Choose"

heart-warming cover letter I’ve ever read (I still have it saved, and read it often). We met for an interview, and the second she walked out the door I called Peter and Christian to say that my conversation with Allie felt more like the best first date of all time than it did a job interview. That moment was so characteristic of every conversation I ever had with Allie – she is funny, charming, intelligent, and beautiful. As soon as the rest of the company met her, they fell in love just like I did. How could they not? How lucky we are that her life brought her to Chicago, that she saw that listing, that we happened to meet, to collaborate, to become friends.

How astonishing it is for any one of us to find ourselves on the earth at the same time as each other. Think of all the events that led up to your birth. If your mom had been sick on the day of the party. If your grandmother had moved to a different town. If your great-grandfather hadn’t survived the war. If, if, if, back and back and back in time. If any one moment had aligned differently, you would not be here. What a miracle it is – and as an atheist I do not use the word miracle lightly – that with billions of people on the earth, and infinite individual human choices, we find ourselves sitting across the table from any one of the remarkable people we are fortunate enough to call friends.

Allie helped lay the groundwork for all the developments this last year has brought. I see her work, vision, and ideas with every step we take. She helped to point us in a new direction, and I will work tirelessly to help finish the work that she could not. I am so grateful that Allison Powell is part of my story, of Filament’s story – of all of our story.  I miss my friend. I will always miss my friend.

As 2012 begins, let us celebrate. Let us remember the miracle that in the vast sea of people and places and choices, we have found each other. Let us hold our friends close, and cherish the overlapping of our lives. Let us treasure all the moments, good and bad, that have led us to be right where we are, loving the people we love. Let us not forget for a moment what a gift it is that we have shared another year together, and that we will share in this next year to come.

Sustain Filament 2011

What a year it has been!

Thanks to you, Filament has become an emerging leader in sustainable theatrical production. Our work has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, TEDx, and we even had an article about our ticketing platform make it all the way to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). We’ve received some great publicity, but it’s your voice that matters most:

“The entire experience, top to bottom, was incredibly awe-inspiring and wonderful.
Intimate, gorgeous, professional. This theatre company should be a model for
companies leaps and bounds above it.”

 –Audience Member, From the Circle

Your support, encouragement, and feedback have helped us to grow, shaped our programming, and kept us feeling inspired. Thank you.

Hearing what our work has meant to you has pushed us to keep moving forward. Currently, we are working closely with Alderman John Arena of the 45th Ward to secure a new home in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, which will allow us even more opportunities to work, share, and grow with you as together we explore folk theatre and a healthier relationship with our environment.

And we have even more exciting news to share with you. As we wrap up 2011, we received word from an individual donor who will double match all donations up to $5,000 thru December 31st. You give us $10 – we receive $30. If we meet our goal of raising $5,000 – it becomes $15,000!

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Filament Theatre Ensemble. Donations can be made by clicking the link below:

Or by mailing a check to:
Filament Theatre Ensemble
2748 West Giddings St.
Grdn Apt.
Chicago, IL 60625

We’ve shared our stories, you’ve shared yours. Help keep this circle going.

The Folks at Filament

Alderman Arena, Cyd Smilie, Arts Alive 45, Portage Park, Filament, Theatre, Theater, Chicago

Alderman Arena and Filament Present Living Diorama


Alderman Arena, Cyd Smilie, Arts Alive 45, Portage Park, Filament, Theatre, Theater, ChicagoCHICAGO, IL – As part of his continuing effort to reinvigorate the historic Six Corners area of the 45th Ward, Alderman John Arena and Arts Alive 45 have partnered with Filament Theatre Ensemble to present “Four Actors in Search of a Holiday Memory.”

Four actors from Filament will improvise holiday vignettes, set in a retro storefront along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in the Six Corners shopping district.
“This is another imaginative use of storefront space to draw attention to the potential of Six Corners,” Alderman Arena said. “I want to demonstrate my commitment to rebuilding our business districts through a unique partnership with art and culture.”

The living diorama begins Saturday, December 17th between noon and 3 p.m., at 4047 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The audience will stand, framed by the U-shaped store windows where the actors will perform.

The theatre production is part of an all-day holiday affair, sponsored by the Six Corner Association, featuring a holiday sing-a-long accompanied by acclaimed organist Jay Warren on a historic Kimball pipe organ at the Portage Theater. Following the performance, the Portage Theater will show the film, “A Christmas Story.”

Giving Thanks For Thanksgiving

Filament’s Jack Novak shares with us his being thankful  for Thanksgiving itself and how we form our own narratives for our holiday experiences. 

Every year we hear a lot of talk about what to give thanks for at Thanksgiving. For my own part, I will say that I am currently more focused on the holiday itself. I am thankful for Thanksgiving. Of course when I sit at the thanksgiving table I’m sure I’ll think of many other things that I am genuinely thankful for, but right now I’m pretty focused on just making it to that table full of home-cooked delight. Is that bad?

“If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be a tedious as to work, but when they seldom come, they wished-for come” – that’s Shakespeare. After all, what is the point of a holiday? I’m pretty sure most of us don’t celebrate Thanksgiving to pay homage to the historical relationship of the pilgrims and the Native Americans (actually Thanksgiving’s ‘true’ history has prompted some protests to the holiday). Similarly most of us probably don’t give much thought to the Christian narrative behind Christmas, and still fewer to its Pagan roots.

I think we tend to create our own narrative for holidays. We do this in much the same way that a storyteller finds his own meaning in an ancient folktale – anyone who saw our “From the Circle” will have some insight into that comparison. Any ancient story, ritual, or holiday is somewhat mysterious to a contemporary observer. These are things that have spawned from generations of collective observation, belief, and imagination, and are therefore full of symbols, references, and metaphors which are not immediately accessible (much like Shakespeare’s plays, in fact). We add a little of our own society into the mix in order to have a way to access the whole. Thanksgiving is a potent example of this. Although few celebrate the history of Thanksgiving, even fewer lack their own unique family folklore surrounding the holiday. This folklore is present down to the smallest detail – who cuts the turkey, who brings the pecan pie. A friend of mine has a particularly odd Thanksgiving tradition in his family – they pick up the turkey and ‘walk’ it to the pan. Yes, that’s right, they make the turkey look like it’s walking to the pan before they cook it. This goes back to his father being a young boy having just moved to the U.S. His older sister, in an attempt to make the new American holiday of Thanksgiving more…entertaining? who knows…walked the turkey to the pan, and this strange ritual stuck.

So, I guess, this coming Thursday, as you’re giving thanks for whatever other noble things, don’t forget to also give thanks for Thanksgiving – and not just Thanksgiving in general, but your Thanksgiving. I’m sure it is a holiday worth celebrating.

Encore! A Deleted Scene From the Circle

Ensemble member and From the Circle storyteller Audrey Bertaux-Skeirik shares the wonderful story of Gluskabe a Native American legend that didn’t quite make it into From the Circle: Remembering the Earth through Folktales.

Here’s a little secret. There was never a script (per se) for From the Circle: Remembering the Earth Through Folktakes. Instead, there were stories, from books, from oral tradition, from memory, from personal experience, and even from science we extracted these stories that were used in the performance. Throughout the rehearsal processes we tested out a multitude of stories that, over time, came and went, were shortened, lengthened, cut and pasted, exchanged for different versions, and ultimately fourteen stories made it to the stage.
But what about the stories that didn’t make it to the stage? Here is one that almost made it in, but ultimately was cut from the show the week before we opened.

A large statue of Gluskabe beside the town hall of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia


When the Creator finished making the world, he dusted off his hands and from those sprinkles of dust Gluskabe formed himself. Gluskabe sat up and walked around and the Creator exclaimed how wonderful Gluskabe was!
“I am wonderful because you sprinkled me!” said Gluskabe
Then the Creator and Gluskabe walk over the whole world, exclaiming on its beauty and wonder!

It is a delightfully simple story about creation, appreciation, and wonder. But why did we remove this story? Ultimately we found that these elements were already in other stories we were telling, and although the story was interesting and engaging, it led the show to linger, rather than propelling it forward.
Gluskabe shows up in many folk tales and has a multitude of adventures, so if this deleted scene caught your attention, you may want to read more Gluskabe stories!

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