Dorothy Milne on Chicago’s Vibrant Storytelling Scene and the 19th Year of Fillet of Solo

Fillet of Solo is an annual three week, multi-venue festival celebrating Chicago’s storytelling and live lit scene. Originally produced by Live Bait Theatre, the festival now takes place in Rogers Park produced by Lifeline Theatre. Dorothy Milne, Lifeline’s artistic director and a festival performer, talks about her experience performing and coordinating Fillet of Solo and its importance to Chicago live lit. Below is an interview with Dorothy Milne previewing this year’s festival which opens January 13th at 7:00p.m. at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park.   TCR: Fillet of Solo is in its 19th did the festival come to be? DM: Fillet of Solo first began at Live Bait Theatre in 1995, created by artistic director Sharon Evans as a showcase for Chicago’s burgeoning solo performance scene. In Live Bait’s twenty-year history, story telling luminaries such as Jeff Garlin, Jim Carrane, Cheryl Trykv, Marcia Wilkie, Edward Thomas Herrera, David Kodeski, Susan Karp, Stephanie Shaw, Tekki Lomnicki and many other artists found encouragement and early opportunity at Live Bait. Voices like these put the Festival on the map as one of the notable storytelling events in Chicago. When Live Bait Theater closed its doors in 2008, Sharon wanted to see the Fillet of Solo Fest continue. As a long-time fan of the festival (and a regular storyteller there with my collective, Sweat Girls) I was delighted when Sharon proposed that Lifeline might offer the Fest its new home. After a year of hiatus, Live Bait and Lifeline Theatre co-produced the 2010 Festival and, with that experiment a success, Lifeline has taken over the production of the Festival, while Sharon remains a guiding artistic force in the event. Dorothy Milne (second from the left) performing with "Sweat Girls" in 2015. Photo by Kevin Davis. Dorothy Milne (second from the left) performing with "Sweat Girls" in 2015. Photo by Kevin Davis. TCR: What role was it filling 19 years ago and has that role shifted in recent years?   DM: Chicago has a long, proud history with the storytelling form, but the scene was much smaller and less visible when Sharon started the Festival. Almost 20 years later, the scene has boomed. On any given night in Chicago, you can find a place to listen to stories as an audience member or to test out your work as a writer-performer. Radio programs like NPR’s Fresh Air and The Moth have been instrumental in bringing the storytelling form into mainstream consciousness. So 19 years ago, the Festival served the purpose of introducing audience members to something that was probably new to them. Now the Festival provides opportunity for Chicago's dozens of storytelling collectives, curated shows and open-mic events that produce across the city year-round to gather in one place over a 3-week period and showcase themselves to their shared audiences. It also continues to be an opportunity for these performers to produce work in a theater-setting, which affords different opportunities (and draws different audience) than when they perform in bars and coffee shops. The performer can approach the story differently knowing it will be performed in a focused environment rather than somewhere you might have to overcome the noise of a cappuccino machine and commerce in the background. TCR: Are there other live lit festivals like this in Chicago or in other cities? What makes Fillet of Solo unique? DM: Well, I know that the side project (also in Rogers Park, in Jarvis Square area) has been doing an annual October festival for the past several years. And I bet there are other ones as well. Ours is the oldest and the biggest in Chicago as far as I know. Now that Chicago has such a busy and vibrant scene, we like to show that off and represent as many local performers as possible so audience members can really sample a smorgasbord of live lit experiences. This year we feature 15 group performances and 5 one-person-shows for a total of over 120 performers.  You will see established artists as well as debut performances by new talent. There are true-life stories, op-ed style pieces, and a little performance poetry.  All performers are Chicago-based. TCR: What makes the live lit community different from other small Chicago entertainment circles?  DM: Well there are ways I know we're similar... As a theater-maker (as well as a storyteller) I've always been proud of Chicago's reputation for collaboration and generosity of spirit. Theater artists and companies reach out to each other for help and advice and we are glad to support each other. I see this in the storytelling/live lit community too. Performers and groups go see each other's shows.  Several storytelling groups are specifically formed around the idea of constantly bringing in new people and mentoring first-time tellers.  It is an embracing community. TCR:What performances are you most looking forward to from this year's festival? DM: That is hard to answer! I am super geeked about every single one of them. If you're interested in participating in the form yourself one day, check out The Stoop, Story Sessions and Story Club as they are three of the groups that are always bringing in new people. (In fact, Story Club shows each feature three planned performances and then they'll draw names from a hat. So audience members who put their name in the hat could have a chance to perform at the Fest.) I hear that You're Being Ridiculous is doing "a musical version" this year -- I don't even know what that means but I can't wait to see it. Some of our group shows will be doing the same show all three weekends. Others are rotating performers every week. Many of our audience members work with charts and keep track of which groups rotate people out to make sure they see as many performers as possible over the performance period. So there's a lot of excitement around those groups shows. And we have rocking one person shows, as well! Thanks, Dorothy for taking the time to talk with TCR! Fillet of Solo kicks off at Mayne Stage on January 13th at 7:00p.m. with a free show featuring Minita Gandhi, Julie Ganey, Nestor Gomez, Tyler Greene, David Kodeski, Jeremy Owens, and Amy Sumpter. Festival tickets will be available for purchase at the kickoff event for a discounted rate of $25. Regular festival passes are $50. Tickets to individual performances are also available. You can find ticket info, a schedule, and the location of performances here.
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Emma Terhaar