In the Frunchroom: John Tolley

As often as possible, we bring Frunchroom audience members onto the stage to tell their own stories – often to bring a new perspective to a common narrative.

John Tolley is a Chicagoan who’s spent most of his life living on the Southwest Side of Chicago. He’s had many occupations and experiences, one of which is being a Chicago Police Officer. He’s currently a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) instructor and Critical Response Unit (CRU) officer. As an instructor, his team teaches fellow police officers from Chicago, neighboring suburbs and local universities communication skills designed to help build rapport and calm an individual in mental crisis. As a CRU member, his team will respond to situations that call for more teamwork or communication skills, such as a hostage barricade situation, assisting the negotiator. 

Married to his high school sweetheart for the past 30 years, he has four children, all boys. One of his sons lives with schizophrenia. He is one of four children, two of whom live with bi-polar disease – including him. 

Here’s what John says about his work with mental health – his own and others’:

I work with people living in crisis because of their mental illnesses and I, myself, live with one as well. I see the stigma everywhere I go. I see the way people deal with the homeless on the streets of Chicago. I see people refusing to accept the fact that a family member or loved one may have a mental illness. I see people afraid to seek help because of fear or intimidation caused by stigma. One in five people live with a major mental illness. Mental illness effects all our lives, yet people are frightened by it. People are ashamed to have it. People refuse to accept it. And the stigma grows.

In 2017, we had 17 suicides in the department. It is my hope that by sharing my life, by “outing” myself to other officers, they may see there is hope in recovery. That we can still live with a mental illness and remain officers. 

John is the author of Disturbance With A Mental, which features his short stories and poems about mental illness. He’ll read two poems and a short story about his son son living with schizophrenia.

Join John and the rest of our readers this Thursday, July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center.

RSVP on Facebook here

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In the Frunchroom: James Gordon

If you’ve watched a show with the word “Chicago” in the title, you’ve probably seen our next storyteller.

James Gordon is an international award winning poet and author, champion storyteller, and acclaimed actor.

He is a member of the talent conglomerate known as The Act Pack, which comprises talented individuals across many genres of entertainment.

James will play Nathaniel in the upcoming play “He Answered Me” on August 24th and 25th at Christ Tabernacle Church and can be heard and seen as the introductory voice of Amazon’s The G, as well as Detective Smiley.

James grew up in Windsor Park and Englewood and now lives in Marquette Park. He’ll tell a story about getting caught in gang warfare on the South Side – a story he performed and won with at The Moth.

Join James and the rest of our readers this Thursday, July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center.

RSVP on Facebook here

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In the Frunchroom: Kathy Benson

One of the guarantees of a Frunchroom show is you’ll see and hear a mix of the old and new, the familiar and the fresh, neighborhood voices and surprising perspectives. Most importantly, The Frunchroom is a place where the line between fan and performer is blurred.

Kathy Benson represents many of the contrasts of our show.

Kathy is a bereaved & blessed, fit & healthy, ally and advocate, mom, writer, group fitness instructor, and coach. She has been married to her college sweetheart Bob, from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, since 2000. They moved to Beverly from Kathy’s hometown of Evanston in 2003.

Kathy and Bob have two living children, a fifteen-year old son Sean and a nine-year old daughter Abby. Their baby girl Molly died the day she was born in 2008. Kathy has been blogging at bereavedandblessed.com since 2007. She is passionate about helping people to cope and find joy when life doesn’t go as we hope, dream and plan (whether due to due to infertility, loss, illness and/or other circumstances), as well as to work towards their health and fitness goals. She loves to exercise and eat healthy (most of the time), which is therapeutic and keeps her in shape.

You can connect with her on Instagram at @bereavedandblessed and Twitter via @bereavedblessed.

Her story will be about grief and loss and reconciling the growth that comes after it. Join Kathy and the rest of our readers this Thursday, July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center.

RSVP on Facebook here

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In the Frunchroom: Whitney Capps

In the larger conversation about the city, the nuance of the South Side and its many cultural gems are often ignored. Hyde Park has been a unique part of the South Side’s story for decades, encapsulating the conflicts of the old and new while also acting as the birthplace of some of the city’s greatest cultural institutions.

Whitney Capps is in the center of the live lit and arts scenes in Hyde Park. And she’ll join us on Thursday at The Frunchroom.

Whitney is a talker. Always has been, and probably always will be.

She is the co-host and co-creator of the Split The Difference podcast, host of Grown Folks’ Stories, a monthly storytelling event by The Silver Room in partnership with UChicago’s Arts and Public Life and a regular contributor to Vocalo Radio’s Morning AMp. She is also a member of improv team FlyClap.

None of this really pays the bills; her day job is a leadership and team effectiveness coach with ClearSpace, LLC. She’s an aspiring yogi, an accomplished home cook, a shameless consumer of the arts and fiercely Chicagoan.

A resident of Garfield Park, Whitney will talk about The Silver Room Block Party, an annual tradition that now calls Hyde Park home and is one of the great celebrations of city life. Join Whitney and the rest of the Frunchroom readers this Thursday, July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center.

RSVP on Facebook here

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In the Frunchroom: Jim DeRogatis

July brings hot temps (finally) and cool storytelling to The Frunchroom. Our first reader for our next show is critic, author and Sound Opinions co-host Jim DeRogatis.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the year the Beatles arrived in America, Jim DeRogatis began voicing his opinions about rock ’n’ roll shortly thereafter.

He is an associate professor of instruction in the English Department at Columbia College Chicago, and together with Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune, he co-hosts Sound Opinions, the weekly rock ’n’ roll talk show heard on 125 Public Radio stations nationwide, as well as via podcast on the Web.

DeRogatis spent 15 years as the rock critic at The Chicago Sun-Times and is the author of nine books about music, including Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic; Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips; Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock; and Milk It! Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the ’90s.

He has played in punk-rock bands since age 13 but jokes that he is a drummer, not a musician; his current band Vortis recently released its seventh album, on vinyl via Cavetone Records: This Machine Kills Fascists. He lives on the North Side of Chicago with his wife Carmél Carrillo, and his daughter Melody studies theater at Drake University.

His latest book is Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly, was published by Abrams Books this June.

Join Jim and the rest of our storytellers this Thursday, July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center.

RSVP on Facebook here

Photo: Marty Perez

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In memoriam: Tom Cramer

Tom Cramer passed away on Friday, July 12th at the age of 54. Longtime Frunchroom attendees will remember Tom from the first night of our special two-night, 2nd anniversary extravaganza at Beverly Woods. But many people knew him as a storyteller of and about the Far Southwest Side.

I’ve included Tom’s complete Frunchroom performance at the bottom of this post. It will be included in the next episode of the relaunch of The Frunchroom podcast later this summer. He told three stories: “G.I. Joe and the Moral Test at the Five-and-Dime” and “Birthday Parties, Sleepovers, and Sunday Mass” and “Miss Daley, Linus, and Oratoricals.”

What you won’t see, but can likely hear, is Tom’s charisma and warmth as well as his love of the tiny details that make you feel a story in your heart.

As you’ll hear in the clip below, I ask every reader to send a bio. Tom’s was unique in that it traced his entire life, from birth right up until that moment. I’m reprinting it here because his voice comes through clearly – a voice that will forever be a part of The Frunchroom and will ring in the ears of those who knew him for a long time to come.

I was born in 1965 at Little Company of Mary in Evergreen Park into a South Side Irish Catholic family. I have 4 siblings, ranging 14 to 27 years older than I (the word you’re searching for is surprise; not mistake). I was an uncle at the age of 2, have 10 nieces and nephews and 20 great nieces and nephews.

My first home was at 103rd and Drake, second near 107th and Kildare in Oak Lawn, and then moved to the Oak Forest/Tinley Park area. I attended Kolmar (Oak Lawn) and St. Damian’s (Oak Forest) for grammar school, Marist High School and the University of Notre Dame.

Several years ago, I was shocked to hear that my friend Bob had passed suddenly. We met in 7th grade, and graduated St. Damian’s, Marist and Notre Dame together. That night, I had a flood of vivid memories about my childhood in Oak Lawn, before I ever met Bob. I typed them up and sent them to all the Kolmar school friends I could track down. Much to my surprise, one was an editor for the Huffington Post.  She loved the piece and invited me to blog about growing up in the 70’s, and I started in the fall of 2012.

I’ve spent my entire career in the printing industry, which led me to live in the Dutch/Flemish speaking area of Belgium for a while during the 1990’s. This afforded me the opportunity to travel, including a visit to County Kerry Ireland, where both of my mother’s parents were born. Living in Belgium and traveling in Europe exposed me to the many different styles of beer, and I returned to the States just as the craft beer scene started to take off. I also blog for a social media craft beer group called the Pints Templars. Currently I’m working on building my own blogging site and ideas for fiction.

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The Frunchroom Vol. 18: It’s finally summer edition

frunchroompodcastfull (1).jpgJoin us July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111th St.) for another evening of South Sider storytelling. 

Here’s our lineup:

Kathy Benson
Wounded healer and daydream believer

Whitney Capps
Host of Grown Folks’ Stories, podcaster, improv’er

Jim DeRogatis
Author, “Sound Opinions” co-host

James Gordon
Poet, storyteller, and actor

John Tolley, Jr.
Cop, artist, dad

$5 donation requested. Proceeds go to support the work of the Beverly Area Arts Alliance.

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The Frunchroom celebrates its 4th anniversary

Frunchroom May 2019 lineup

(Clockwise from left: John Brand, Griselda Garibay, Kambium Buckner, Frank Williams, Tim Samuelson)

The Frunchroom, the live storytelling series about the South Side of Chicago that makes its home in Beverly/Morgan Park celebrates its 4th anniversary with a new lineup that celebrates all aspects of the South Side.

The next show will be at 730pm on Thursday, May 23rd at Beverly Arts Center (2407 W 111th St, Chicago). A $5 donation to benefit the Beverly Area Arts Alliance is requested.

Scheduled to appear at The Frunchroom’s January show are John Brand, owner of Open Outcry Brewing; Illinois State Representative Kambium Buckner (D-26th); Griselda Garibay, National Director of the Mujeres Leadership Program for Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE); Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson; and realtor and fair housing advocate Frank Williams.

“When the Arts Alliance and I started this project, I’m not sure any of us imagined it would be a years-long endeavor,” said Scott Smith, host and co-producer of The Frunchroom. “We’ve received so much support from the community. That’s what makes it possible.”

Attendees are encouraged to dine before the show at Ellie’s Cafe and Catering (10701 S. Hale, Chicago). Anyone who brings a meal receipt from Ellie’s for that evening can show it at the door in lieu of a donation.

The unique mix of art, cocktails and stories at The Frunchroom is sponsored by The Beverly Arts Center. The event continues to be produced as a showcase for original written work and presented in partnership with The Beverly Area Arts Alliance, the organization responsible for local arts events like the Uprising Craft Market and Local Art on Tap.

The Frunchroom has played to packed houses since it began in April 2015. Previous readers include local residents and business owners; radio and podcast hosts, teachers, poets, politicians and artists. In addition, The Frunchroom has featured reporters and anchors from the Chicago Tribune, South Side Weekly, Bloomberg News, WBEZ-FM and WGN-TV.

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The Frunchroom, Volume XVII, 4th anniversary edition

Four years of this with our friends at the Beverly Area Arts Alliance.

See you on May 23rd at Beverly Arts Center.

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Everything you need to know about The Frunchroom, Volume XVI

“Passing Souls” by Preston Thomas

Usually at this time, we’re lamenting the winter: the cold that descends upon us each year, the snow that’s piled up around our feet and the homebound feeling that keeps our bodies wrapped in sweaters and blankets and our butts firmly planted on our couches.

While this winter has been more mild than most, tonight’s lineup is still the best reason to get out of the house, hang out with friends and neighbors and feel the warmth of a night of South Side storytelling.

Here are tonight’s storytellers:

Dennis Foley 
Author, The Blue Circus

Angela Jackson
Poet, novelist, playwright

Nneka Jones Tapia|
Psychologist committed to justice

Preston Thomas
Photographer, musician, writer

Lisa Wilberding
Quilty as charged

What’s the time? And where?
730pm. But show up to the Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111th St.) by 7-715pm to guarantee yourself a seat, chat with friends, get a drink from the bar, check out the art (see below) and settle in. We usually close the balcony at BAC to keep things a bit more intimate and cozy unless the crowd size demands it. 

Wait, there’s art?
Come early, grab a drink and enjoy the photography of Preston Thomas, one of tonight’s storytellers. His work will be on display in the BAC lobby, including the image above, “Passing Souls.”

Where do I park?
Beverly Arts Center has parking just west of the building and another lot on the south.

How do I get there via transit?
Take the Metra Rock Island Line which departs from the LaSalle Street Station in the Loop. Get off at 111th Street. Head west up the hill for about three blocks. The BAC is the big red building on the corner.

Where can I eat?
Places nearby include Manzo’s Burgers and Waldo Cooney’s Pizza on 111th Street and AmericanosOpen Outcry Brewing and Horse Thief Hollow on Western Avenue.

You mentioned drinks?
Beer, wine and liquor will be available at the cash bar before and during the show. The post-Frunchroom festivities will continue at Open Outcry Brewing.

What are the stories like?
Some are sincere, some are tongue-in-cheek. One may be a call-to-action, another might make you think. One might be historical, one might make you remember a place you haven’t been since childhood. Basically, like having a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a while. This review from South Side Weekly really captures what we’re about.

Who’s helping you with this?
I’m producing this in partnership with The Beverly Area Arts Alliance (or The Alliance, for short).

A big thanks to Monica Wilczak, Sal Campbell, David Barsotti, Jane Zia, Chris Wilczak, Lizzy Benner, Chris Castaneda, Corinne Rose and Cicely Harris who’ve given this event material, financial and moral support. And a huge thanks to Beverly Arts Center for sponsoring the show.

See you there!

The Frunchroom is presented by The Beverly Area Arts Alliance and sponsored by Beverly Arts Center. 

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