Remember that college essay you wrote about what famous people you would like to invite to dinner? Obviously, the correct answers were Woody Allen, Cher and James Beard. Worked for me.
But what if you were writing it today, and could invite present-day Chicago luminaries, say, in the arts? Maybe you’d ask Peter Sagal from NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” or maybe actor and funnyman Tim Kazurinsky… and don’t forget virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine! And the food would be from somewhere hip and happening, like Nellcote. It would be of the moment.
Master of Ceremonies
Elysabeth Alfano had a similar brainstorm, but unlike you and me, she didn’t just talk about it—she made it happen. But you can still have a seat in the audience, if not at the table. On the last Monday of the month at Mayne Stage, her production company, Fear No ART Chicago, throws an on-stage dinner party featuring a musical act, conversation with three vital members of the Chicago arts community, and great food from an incendiary Chicago restaurant. Sagal, Kazurinsky, Barton Pine, Nellcote… that was the all-star lineup in November.
The audience listens to the discussion, watches videos of the famous chefs and their food preparation, drinks the same wine and eats the same delicious food as the guest artists, and live tweets questions to the host. Meanwhile, the whole show is live-streamed on the web.
Of course, Alfano has been “bridging the gap between artists and the public” for a while, first as owner of a downtown art gallery, then a textile designer, and now as an arts and culture journalist. She’s appeared regularly on local PBS affiliate WTTW and writes for the Huffington Post. For “The Dinner Party,” Alfano has partnered with Mayne Stage, DPR Art Rescue and Time Out Chicago to create something new and fabulous in the Chicago area.
The January show, which featured indie rocker Kelly Hogan (with a guest appearance by guitarist/songwriter Jon Langford), art collector and philanthropist Howard Tullman, and force of nature Jackie Taylor, Executive Director of the Black Ensemble Theater, was a blast. Dinner, created by Chefs Michael and Patrick Sheerin of the very hot Trenchermen restaurant, included their famous Pickle Tots and a Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Brown Butter Spaghetti Squash, Pecorino Cheese and Romaine, paired with wine from Domane Wachau and Vosges chocolates. Jazz singer Dee Alexander opened the evening with a brief but terrific set for the sold-out crowd.
On Monday, May 6, she’s taking her act on the road to City Winery. Hubbard Street II is the opening act; panelists include Art Collector Candace Jordan, WXRT eminence grise Lin Brehmer, and Nick Bowling from Timeline Theatre. City Winery will provide the wine, Vosges the chocolates, and Sean Pharr of NoMi Restaurant handles the vittles. Tickets are available for purchase online.
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