Below are three stories that I worked on for my feature writing class. Enjoy!
A Venue and a Vote
It’s 4 p.m. on the last of four days at Chicago’s Lollapalooza Festival and the heat, along with the crowd’s anticipation, is rising. California indie band Local Natives steps on the Bud Light stage. Taylor Rice, the band’s lead singer, carries the band through about seven songs before he takes a break to mingle with the audience. His black wavy hair, usually worn just past his collarbone, is elaborately done up in a French braid, curling around his head into a bun. His mayonnaise-colored electric guitar states “Make America afraid again,” a large X drawn through “afraid” in blood red paint.
He clears his throat to speak:
“It’s a really super chaotic and insane time in the world right now, and in our country, and you could be very cynical, but I think there is a lot of reason for us to be very optimistic and idealistic, and this is up to us. So, let’s do it.”
The band begins their newest single “Fountain of Youth,” a song discussing the current political climate in America and how it’s up to the young people to stand up and make a difference. Later, Local Natives will return to Chicago for a sold-out show at the Riviera Theater, and Rice will make a similar statement before performing the same song to a youthful and enthusiastic audience. The band will feature a voter registration table called “HeadCount,” adjacent to their merchandise.
Musicians, comedians and artists have increasingly become involved in politics and social movements, particularly with the growing anxiety surrounding our current election. Legends like Bob Dylan sang about politics in his music in the booming New York neighborhood of Greenwich Village during his early stages of his career. Folk performer Pete Seeger wrote and recorded music influenced by his activism for the Civil Rights Movement.
While politically charged music was once good enough, consumers now expect artists to be more influential with their platforms, and social media has definitely affected this standard. Artists like Chance the Rapper, The Head and The Heart, and Sia, like Local Natives, encourage their fans to take democracy into their own hands. All four musicians have recently partnered with HeadCount, an organization that sets up voter registration tables at concerts and festivals across the country run by volunteers.
HeadCount is an unbiased organization that collaborates with musicians to encourage citizens to register to vote. The non-profit organization has registered over 300,000 voters since 2004, and continue to make progress by creating successful digital media campaigns with the likes of Jay-Z, Dave Matthews Band, and the Grateful Dead.
It is easy for anyone to get involved with HeadCount by creating an account on their website and signing up to volunteer at concerts all over the country. Upcoming shows and events are also easily accessible.
Many artists have reached out to HeadCount on their own in order to have the organization appear at their events, according to Patricia Murray, a public relations and intercultural communication student at DePaul. Murray has been volunteering with HeadCount for the past couple years after learning about the organization while attending Bonnaroo in 2013. She has always been enthusiastic about politics, and quickly signed up to volunteer. Murray was excited to be promoted to a Chicago team leader shortly after.
Murray loves volunteering her time to this organization because she feels like she is truly making an impact.
“Working with HeadCount is rewarding because not only do you get to help educate people on their voting rights and make the democratic process less of a hassle, but you also get to see really great music,” said Murray.
“When you help someone understand that their voice has power, that’s really something special,” she said.
Murray also thinks that our country’s current election strongly contributes to HeadCount’s ability to convince people to register to vote.
“We are always busier during election years, but this year’s political climate is definitely having an impact on voter registrations,” she said.
“There’s a lot of older first-time voters telling us that they’ve never voted, but this election has changed their viewpoint and they feel compelled to vote in 2016.”
It is statistically proven that young people are not going to the polls to vote. According to a study done by CIRCLE, or The Center for Information and Research and Civic Learning and Engagement, a survey from 2014 showed that only 19.9% of 18-to-29-year olds voted in the 2014 election – which was the lowest turnout for this age group in the last 40 years. The same study showed that only 46.7% of young people were registered to vote, also the lowest percentage over the past forty years.
In a world where virtually everything is accessible online, what could possibly be stopping young people from voting?
Elisabeth Klain, a 20-year-old student at DePaul, thinks that there is a lack of responsibility within college students to access their voter registration information.
“While not every college student goes away for school, it becomes the responsibility for the university to bring up registering to vote or absentee ballots. I think more education about the process is important,” she said.
Klain is familiar with HeadCount and even praised them for their efforts.
“I have heard of HeadCount and actually know someone who was out on Warped Tour with them. I know that they were able to get a lot of people registered to vote, at least 2,500. I find that number pretty impressive considering it was one of their first few years out, if not the first year on the tour,” she said.
While Klain is already prepared to vote in this year’s presidential election, she thinks that registering to vote isn’t “the most accessible thing to do.”
It’s clear that organizations like HeadCount are striving to make voter registration more user-friendly and exciting for young people.
– End –
The Theater School
For students who attend the Theater School at DePaul University, the “Second City” certainly doesn’t mean that we are second to anywhere else. As the entertainment business continues to flood into Chicago, weaving in and out of neighborhoods filming the latest episode of “Shameless” or Hollywood’s newest blockbuster (or flop – i.e. the highly disappointing “Suicide Squad”), new opportunities will continue to arise for young actors, actresses and performers – particularly for those who are theater students at DePaul.
Andra Beatty, a junior at the time, had one of her most memorable performances in The Theater’s School 2015 performance of “God of Carnage,” a dark comedy about two married couples who meet for dinner to discuss an altercation between their sons – and how the night unfolds due to childish and petty behavior. I had a chance to see the show and was impressed with Beatty’s determination as an actress in her role of Véronique Houllié, which included a massive amount of screaming, some glass breaking, and rage passionate enough to burn a city to the ground.
According to The Theater School’s website, the acceptance rate is impressively competitive – only an average of 15 percent of applicants are accepted into the school each year, compared to an acceptance rate of 60 percent for the general university programs. Notable alumni include John C. Reilly, Gillian Anderson and Joe Keery – known for his role as Steve Harrington in the breakout Netflix hit “Stranger Things.”
What may be more of an unknown fact to most DePaul students is how rigorous the course load and activities are for theater students. Beatty, who is now in her final year, is studying acting at the theater school. Beatty transferred to DePaul after one semester at an arts school in Los Angeles. Growing up in Dublin, Ohio – a small suburb outside of Columbus, her high school years consisted of boarding school and an extremely structured routine.
During our discussion at a crowded Starbucks on a rainy Friday afternoon, I found Beatty quietly studying her lines, brows furrowed in concentration, shuffling through the papers with such vigor that I thought her energy might catapult her out of her seat. Her plans for the day included going to two different rehearsals – one in Lincoln Park and one at the Merle Reskin theater located downtown.
“Other than your classes that you take during the day, you also have crew – when you are doing other things besides your major, helping with other things that are going on. These are either Tuesday and Thursday mornings or when the show opens, it’s during weekday evenings.”
As if having to set aside time for classes isn’t stressful enough for students, theater students have to also prepare to be immersed in the “casting pool” once they hit their junior year.
“One you can be casted into productions, rehearsals are Monday through Thursday every night from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. So we have our regular class schedules, but on top of that, I am usually there for an extra forty hours a week,” she said with an exasperated smile.
If you’re not convinced that Beatty is busy enough, she also has a job as a server at a local Italian restaurant just north of the Lincoln Park campus.
Although Beatty is constantly running around rehearsing lines and being a part of show’s tech crews, she says that she has learned to balance her lifestyle early on due to her theater background being as extensive as performing in elementary school. Being a transfer student and having to adapt to a brand new college environment and course load isn’t necessarily the easiest task, either.
“Honestly, it’s not terrible – I think going to boarding school and having that structure helped me prepare for coming to DePaul. I definitely know people who struggle with it – people tell me that they get literally zero hours of sleep multiple times per week – but taking care of myself is my first priority.”
– End –
The Modern Day Penny Lane
Kelly Donlan is 5 feet tall, barely one hundred pounds, and is a fireball of passion. She will tell you how it is unapologetically, an honesty so brutal that it could make you cry. A fact that surprises many about Donlan: she loves children. Studying elementary education at Lewis University, she will start student teaching at an elementary school in the suburbs of Chicago this January and plans on graduating the following May.
She’s also in $900 of credit card debt.
You may be wondering why, or assuming it’s because she pays for her own schooling and is struggling to stay afloat, like hundreds of thousands of college students across America, but that’s not her story.
She’s a groupie, a modern day Penny Lane from the award winning film Almost Famous. Instead of the fictional band Stillwater, Donlan’s chosen musical act to follow around the country (and sometimes the continent) is a band called The Maine. The Maine is an indie rock band hailing from Arizona who have been making music since 2007, and have been touring the world ever since. They are currently in the process of recording their sixth studio album, predicted to be released in 2017.
Only holding a part time job while she’s in school, Donlan spends nearly all of her money on traveling to the band’s shows while they are on tour. She’s slept overnight in her car and has eaten gas station hot dogs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While most college students are lucky enough to catch their favorite band perform in their respective city about once or twice a year, Donlan has seen The Maine a whopping 64 times in concert since her first The Maine show in 2008.
Donlan says the moment she knew her interest in the band shifted from a casual listener to dedicated super fan happened after the band released their album American Candy in 2015.
“It was that album that made me want to start going to every show that they were touring for that album. I went to three shows in a row for the first time and just kept going. I didn’t want to stop,” she said.
Living in the age of boy-bands, it’s easy for female fans to be defined as “fangirls,” which usually has a negative connotation to the word. The debate of sexism in fandoms is one of great proportions, and many fans of all genders find issues with the term. On the website urbandictionary.com, fangirl is defined as “known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obsessions,” a statement perpetuating the idea that female fans cannot control themselves when it comes to being passionate about musicians, celebrities, or anything of that nature.
Deborah Stanish writes in Apex Magazine, “You’ll find a distressing number of women who distance themselves from the term fangirl, not just because of the word “girl” which may imply a certain sense of immaturity, but rather because of the negative connotation they’ve internalized and helped perpetuate. Women in fandom have a hard enough time being taken seriously.”
Donlan doesn’t mind being called a a fangirl because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her lifestyle following The Maine. She figures that she should do things she loves while she has the time and freedom to do so.
So why does Donlan like this band so much? The answer is simple: the music and the people. Throughout her many days of following the band’s tours around the country in 22 states (driving as far as Chicago to Washington D.C., Ontario, and Arizona), she’s made a great group of friends along the way. These friends have driven around the country with Donlan and even surprised her at her 21st birthday celebration.
Being able to follow a band for about eight years bridges the gap between a musician and their fans, which is something that Donlan appreciates about her relationship with The Maine. “They always come out to talk to fans after shows and know me by name, and I know that they appreciate my dedication to their music. I feel like I can get to know them on a better level,” she said.
Her dedication paid off in 2015. At an outdoor show in a mall parking lot in Westland, Michigan, Donlan was plopped in the front row of the ground on a summer day so hot, you could see the heat emanating from the asphalt. The band was performing of Donlan’s favorite songs, “Right Girl,” and the lead singer, John, suddenly reached for her hand to have her join the band onstage to sing the chorus. It happened again the following March in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Donlan may be in debt, and may be graduating college soon, forcing her to face the reality of a steady job and less flexibility to travel, but she will continue to gallivant across the country in the meantime (and hopes to catch some shows on the weekend once she’s a full-time teacher).
She couldn’t care less if you think she’s crazy: she already knows that she is.