It's sunny out. I open the windows and the warm breeze blows the window drapes. We sip coffee and play music and bake bread. I'm wearing a breezy blousy top and cut off shorts. The cats wander around the bottle tree artsy veranda outside.
Ok, so in this daydream, apparently we are rich. And we live in New Orleans and it is warmer than 10 degrees outside. And we don't really have jobs, but we create art and enjoy color. But hey, it's my day dream, right?
(I need to get out of Chicago more.)
It's sunny out. I open the windows and the warm breeze blows the window drapes. We sip coffee and play music and bake bread. I'm wearing a breezy blousy top and cut off shorts. The cats wander around the bottle tree artsy veranda outside.
I am running a Kickstarter campaign to support my upcoming dance performance entitled Collected and Conscious June 12-14 at Links Hall in Chicago. Here is the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/
Through the years, I have not only created a successful comedy career that I continue to work in to this day (see: any other post on this blog), but I have established myself as a sought-after choreographer in the burlesque, musical theatre, comedy, and kids theatre worlds. I've danced a little bit, but mostly focused on choreography for others.
In 2013, the planets aligned, and I started my own dance company with a group of amazing women who were looking for a stress-free place to dance and create dances together. The Modet Dance Collective debuted at the Bridgeport Arts Center in conjunction with the Artemesia After 40 Art Opening, and partnered with the Living Room Playmakers to create our first full-length show, Future Perfect Tension, which was performed at Stage773 on June 15, 2014.
In the fall of 2014, Melissa Talleda, a member of Modet, brought her previous dance company from Baltimore, Shmib Dance, to Chicago. Shmib is a modern dance company, which is not a discipline I trained in, but I am having the most amazing time dancing in the company. So now I am dancing in TWO companies, and I could not be happier about it. Yes, my knees still hurt and grind, but I am better about care, rehab and management of the issue, and I know my limits and how to push them.
I feel like it is a rebirth being able to reconnect to the art form I love most. Here I am, 35 years old, living my dreams and feeling stronger and better than ever!
January 2015 I think is the most insane epic month in Team Gerdes history.
*Fuzzy's video game was released.**
*I had 2 SNORFs, with more good things for SNORF to come.**
*More good things for the dance company.**
*I went to NATPE in Miami with Star Makers.**
*A treasured old friend I haven't seen in ages is in town.**
*She's Crafty show Jan 24
*Fuzzy in San Fran doing press
*Fuzzy going to Philadephia this weekend for the Royal Rumble
And a lot more. Fuzzy and I are ships passing in the night. I am freaking exhausted.
**More info coming soon--stay tuned.
One of my closest friends, Jason Chin, passed away on Thursday, January 8th, 2015.
I can't even believe it.
He was only 46.
I've had a lot of death in my life. Several friends and aquaintances over the years. Oodles of family. Even super close family--my dad. Jason was my closest non-family death. But really, Jason was family. I loved him so so much.
I don't really even have anything cohesive to say, but I want to get some of these things out of my head, so forgive the randomness.
Jason was my very first friend in Chicago. I met him in April of 1999--almost 16 years ago. We met at the CIF that year, and performed together with 2 others from my MS group and 4 others in Chicago. Charna put us all together. When we got back to town, I found Jason's blog review of our show, and he mentioned that it was my birthday that weekend and he only said great things about us. I reached out to him, and our epic friendship was created. We emailed tons, and talked on the phone nearly every night for a while. I had decided after that festival weekend that I was moving to Chicago in 2000, so I visited several times to get a feel for it and interview for jobs, etc. I always stayed with Jason. He introduced me to all his people and teammates and went with me to job interviews.
The first pic of us together, after the CIF 99 show in the upstairs IO Greenroom, where I will later take several more photos with him. Jason, Sara, Mulhern, Cindy and me.
He came to Jackson and stayed with Christopher and I one weekend.
He hosted Erica, Sara and me for CIF 2000, and I have a million photos of us in his apartment and pics that he took from that weekend. When the 3 of us all lived together, we hung out with Jason a lot.
Sara, Erica, Mulhern, me, Jason at Nookies on Halsted.
I have a memory of me having to rush out to get to my CCI call time at The Living Room in downtown Jackson, and Parker had gotten out. I was running late cause of having to chase her down, and Jason was going to go to the show with Christopher, who wasn't yet home. Jason hated cats, but I remember him awkwardly and begrudgingly holding her under the arms as I looked back while rushing out the door. It was hilarious. Last January, when Parker died, I texted him to tell him the news. He said she and I were always a good team.
Piero, Mulhern, Parker, Jason, Erica and me.
Jason was such a mainstay in the improv community that I can't believe I met him only FOUR YEARS after his arrival in Chicago. Insane. Talking with Rich Sohn the other night, I told him that the Pat Shay Dancers were my very first friends in Chicago due to Jason, and he said "you've been here that long?" Yeah. 15 and 16 years is a freaking long time. Insane.
Jason showing Mom the Del Close wall at the old IO.
Jason found me my first apartment. The sister building to the one he lived in. I was 739 W Belmont, he was 711 W. Belmont. I spent a lot of time at his place, and he at mine.
Jason introduced me to Jeff Gandy this way: "you are both from Mississippi, you should be friends." And so we did, and we've worked together choreographing shows and things for years.
Jason and me with salt shaker, lipstick, and Dad's baseball cap.
Before I moved here, there was a documentary that was being made by some improvisors that was to follow around 4 improvisors in different stages of their careers. The people were Rachael Mason, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Chin, and myself. Jason recommended me to be the newcomer. I interviewed on the phone with one of the filmmakers, and we hit it off immediately, bonding over our love of Waiting for Guffman. That person was Steve Gadlin, the person I've worked the most with in the last 10 years. Crazy.
I used to accidentally double expose my film all the time. Here is Jason Chin over Jason Sudeikis.
The constant refrain last week when we found out the news was "Jason introduced us" or "Jason introduced me to____."
Jason essentially kickstarted my career.
Memaw Reid, me, Mom, Sara, Christopher and Jason, from a time that my whole family came up for a visit. Dad took the photo.
Jason was my emergency contact in Chicago for the longest time. He took me to the ER when my throat swelled shut. He took care of me after I had my surgery.
John Ostendorf reminded me the other night about his helping me move shortly after he moved to Chicago. Jason, John O and John Mulhern were a trio of college pals, and I hung with them a LOT back in the day. They helped Sara and I move from the studio to our 2 bedroom across from IO on Clark. When he said this, I remembered this awesome story: I have this singing chicken alarm clock that I love. My brother HATES it. I got it in high school or something and it broke once, but dad fixed it and added a lever so you could just turn it on and leave it singing its little song forever. So Jason and the Johns were helping me move. I rented a Uhaul--one that had the gate thing behind the drivers seats so you could load stuff safely without it spilling to the front. Jason had apparently found the chicken, flipped the switch, put it in a box and loaded it FIRST into the truck. And of course, boxes were quickly placed around it blocking it in. I noticed that it was playing and was like "WHO DID THIS?" Jason was giggling. So it played the ENTIRE move. RIGHT behind the drivers seat. First box in, last box out. FOREVER. Amazing.
I found a program of the Thriller Theater from 1999. I saw a rehearsal of it. Jason autographed my program. Guess who was in that show? Fuzzy Gerdes. Beautiful.
I did 3 Thriller Theaters with Jason, performing in the first 2 (or all 3?) and choreographing the last 2. I also choreographed 2 other Halloween shows after that--Free Candy (I think it was called) and Friday the Halloweenth. I choreographed the Stir Friday Night show he directed (Horry Cow, That's Lacist) and his Breakfast Club the musical--the last 3 of those with Jeff. Our friends Seth and Michele were the musicians for the Breakfast Club musical. I was in a REALLY bad place when we did that show, so I really bit it with my choreography. I phoned it in, fought with the cast, barely rehearsed them and never saw the show. A few years later, I was finally at a place where I could recognize that and properly confess it and apologize to Jason about it (at Salt & Pepper, where we went all the time back in the day). He was so great about it and essentially was like "that's ok, the show wasn't that good" or "no one came to see it." or something. But it took a huge weight off my shoulders.
Jason at Salt & Pepper. I have a lot of photos from the bleached hair days.
Our song was "When Doves Cry."
Jason and I sort of fell out of constant communication when I started dating Fuzzy. This is to be expected--it happens with any friends when one is in a new relationship, and especially considering Jason and Fuzzy were both men, there was potential for things to be weird. I always hung out with Jason's girlfriends when he had them, and he knew about the people that I was dating when I did (which was very rarely.) But things with Fuzzy were so perfect and so right from the get-go, that I think we both sensed that and started only seeing each other or talking every few months. Plus, I wasn't at IO all the time and my career was taking a different turn, and then of course all the dad health stuff. So our friendship sort of took a hit. He was supportive, but didn't come to our wedding (he rarely went to weddings) and wasn't around a whole lot but neither was I. In the last couple of years, we made an effort to connect periodically, and when we did, it was amazing. We could sit and talk for hours, just like old times.
Pics from the night we bleached his and Piero's hair, as referenced in his blog post above. We did it at the theatre. Note that Jason's drip apron is an old WCHS T-shirt of mine. Go Vikes.
He lived on Belmont, then above the L&L (he took headshots of me in my Belmont Apt and also on the balcony of the L&L apartment), then above Mia Francescas, then on Sheffield (I never saw that place), then last summer he moved near me at Bryn Mawr and Winthrop. I was excited to have him in the neighborhood and we met at a diner nearby and I told him about all the good shops and restaurants in the area. We reminisced about old shows and I laughed my ass off.
And then he just fucking died.
IO moved from the old Clark Street building to a new shiny place off North Avenue last summer. I am so grateful that I can't go into the old building ever again--that building WAS Jason.
He LOVED the new IO. He was so excited about it. On Friday evening, there was a gathering for Jason--a toast in his memory. I was so nervous going--there were going to be so many new improvisors there and I had never been there and I didn't know what to expect. At first, it was so crowded, people were spilling out the door. But it dispersed, and the people remaining were all our old friends. People I hadn't seen in 10 years. It was wonderful and amazing. We all just hugged and kissed and held each other and cried. And laughed. I was amazed at how many people remembered me, and I heard over and over "I haven't seen you in YEARS!" It was magical.
Saturday, I went over with a small group of close friends and helped clean out his apartment. More old friends, more tears.
So many tears.
I gathered a handful of things that I feel that I needed. On this upcoming Sunday, Piero and I are sorting through all of his old scripts, show posters and photos to divvy up and scan and mail to the people that would want them.
Seth, Jason & another Chicago Comics employee at C2E2 in 2013.
Monday night was a memorial roast in Jason's honor. I laughed a lot more than I cried, and I cried a lot. More old friends. So many happy and wonderful memories.
Yesterday I picked up a box of some of his old props from John O's house. In it were some old headshots (some of him and some of friends--there were 2 of me) and scripts and this red corduroy jacket from Halloween 2000. I think I will keep that for myself.
On Wednesday last week, I listened to this old CD of our friends (Seth and Michele--as mentioned before) punk band. It was SO nostalgic. Jason and I would see them frequently, including once at the Fireside Bowl and once at this bar that had free baskets of bacon. I thought about texting him. I didn't. I really wish I had.
I don't really know what else to say about it. I don't think it has completely sunk in, even with all the crying and not being able to do anything. I don't really know if it ever will.
Jason was so loved in the community, and this past week has been an outpouring of stories and photos and ways that Jason has touched people's lives. He was an amazing man, that I am SO blessed to have known. He meant more to me than I could ever really say.
Things will never be the same.
Here it is. Enjoy!
I am currently working a part time contract job for an event in May. The job is perfect for me--it is a task that is in my area of expertise for an organization that aligns with my personal interests and passions, I can make my own hours right now and work from home most of the time, and I am working with a few friends and former colleagues. It is perfect and it is going great so far.
The crazy thing is, I keep finding myself feeling the need to justify to myself and my colleagues how much work that I am doing and that I am really am working hard. I feel like I should report everything that I am researching, how many hours I am putting in, when I will next be in the office...etc etc.
No one is asking this of me. This is all coming from my own brain. This is a result of my previous job environments--jobs that I felt I was being judged in and had people breathing down my neck. This is also a result of the unhealthy pressure I put on myself to fill every moment in life with productivity.
In reality, I know what I am doing. I am super capable. And they hired me because I am an independent worker and can get things done without supervision. They are trusting me to literally get the job done. So why do I feel like I always needs to be working or feeling guilty for not working?
So I am trying to not. This year is all about new perspectives and ways of thinking. And slowing down. And not beating myself up. And not being negative.
I don't have space in my brain or time in my life to think that I am anything less than brillant.
I've enjoyed a little bit of free time over the holidays, and so in the last week, I have really dug into one of my favorite things: Documentaries. I love Netflix--I have access to so many documentaries, I'll never watch all the ones I am interested in. Every time I turn it on, I add about 10 docs to the queue. But! Since New Years Eve, I've watched the following:
1) Tiny: A Story About Living Small People who build super tiny little houses to live in. Interesting and inspiring and makes you think about how many things we actually need, etc.
2) 20 Feet From Stardom I knew this one won the 2014 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, and I knew it was about backup singers. I did NOT know that it was about a specific group fo background singers who apparently sang on EVERY SONG EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC AND ROCK & ROLL. Honestly, this one blew my mind.
3 & 4) Seven Up and 7 Plus Seven I can't WAIT to keep watching this series. A group of 7 year olds were interviewed in 1964 about a number of topic including what they wanted to do in life. Then, the filmmakers interviewed them again EVERY SEVEN YEARS! AHHHHH. I love this so much. 56 Up came out in 2012. They get longer and longer, so I will have to set aside time to watch them, but I am hooked.
5) The Institute This one just looked interesting to me from the description, and I got sucked in. It was about a altername reality game in San Fransisco that ran for 3 years 2008-2011. It looked fun, got creepy and ended questionably, but instead of this being a documentary about how they produced the game and why, it is more accurately in my opinion a virtual experience of what it was like to follow the story and play the game. There were 5 parts to the structure over the years, and my theory is that this documentary is actually the 6th segment. It creeped me out more than I like to admit, but it is fascinating to watch and it is inspiring to just go out and create something.
6) The Punk Singer I've been wanting to watch this one since it came out. It's a doc about Kathleen Hanna, her bands Bikini Kill & Le Tigre, & Kathleen's mysterious illness. OH MY GOD this woman is amazing and it was so inspiring and makes me want to just go out and BE and MAKE A DIFFERENCE and DELIVER A MESSAGE and be real and raw and create. Plus, the love story between her and Ad-Rock is just so sweet, and their wedding rings say each other's name. Adorable.
7) La Bare A doc about a male strip club in Dallas like the one in Magic Mike. This was interesting to me as a director/choreographer/former producer of burlesque. Male strip routines are closer to burlesque routines than anything, and it was just a neat look into this world.
I hope to keep cranking these out!
I don't usually do New Years Resolutions--in the past, I've written New Years Manifestos of the things that I planned to accomplish in the upcoming year. It's my way of visualizing success--a sort of vision board in list form. But this year, I am not really looking to conquer anything. I really more just want to be, and be the best I can be. So as it turns out, I have a list of resolutions. Some are harder than others, but I will try my best to work on the following:
1) To be more mindful and calm. I spend a good deal of my life stressed out. I'm in charge of many of my projects--either as director or producer or both or choreographer or whatever. On top of that, with mom's multitide of ailments, I always need to keep on top of her and her care. And that is tough, too. So I am trying to maintain a level of peace. I think pulling back on my projects will help this. I can control these things. I am going to try to stay on top of the things I have control of, so that I can better handle the things I cannot.
2) To lean more on others. I think I am going to try to set up an assistant director for some things. And this is ok. After the almost 11 years of parental illnesses, I always feel like I need an out of my work and projects. I hate feeling beholden to anything. I want my time to be my own. And the thing is, I am not so amazing that I am the only person who can do the things that I do. So it's ok to step back a bit and let others do their thing, too. Teamwork is Dreamwork, yo.
3) To keep the house maintained. Fuzzy and I are terrible at this. When we are never home, we exist out of tote bags and water bottles and things come in the house, get set somewhere and stacked upon and then it stays there for years. Case in point--I was just cleaning off the coffee table, and found programs from last February and candy from Halloween 2013. This isn't right. When we do laundry, often I let it pile up instead of putting it away. This clutter just adds stress, and it is always easier to tackle small projects than massive ones. So I've spent a good deal of the last week just cleaning, purging and organizing. Staying on top of the dishes and laundry. Dealing with the mail right away. It feels good and gives me a sense of calm. This will be my most challenging goal for the year.
4) To drink a glass of water every morning when I get up. This one is super attainable and seems less important, but I think it will make a big difference. I've had chronic morning sickness since I was a child. Eating is difficult for me in the morning. I used to throw up every morning (which we later discovered was due to lactose intolerance) and as an adult, I dry heave a lot (and sometimes, yes, throw up) in the morning. I think it is mostly stress, but it is also due to the fact that I can barely eat, but yet I have to have coffee. Therefore, most days, the first thing I put in my system is a lot of espresso, and that acid and content can't be good for nausea. If I drink a glass of water before coffee, it will not only help hydrate me, but it will put a good base in my stomach. Plus, more water is always good (note: I am a good water drinker anyways--with hyperhidrosis and kidney stones, I have to pound more water than most people.) So far so good on this one.
5) To be less accessible. I am not on Facebook, and I am barely on Twitter (I've lately just been tweeting, but not reading), but with the projects and mom, etc, I feel like I am always on call. With smart phones, we've trained ourselves to need an instant response, and if we don't get it, we are inconvenienced or people assume something is wrong. I am trying to step away from that and put some more distance there. Between emails, texts, and calls, I feel like my time is always belonging to others. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE my friends and family, and I LOVE the communication I have with them, but it can sometimes be overwhelming. Some emails don't need an immediate response. Sometimes it's ok to leave your phone on Do Not Disturb.
6) Quality Quality Quality. Quality people, quality projects, quality food, quality experiences, quality quality.
So there you have it. I want to be the best Erica I can be. For myself, and subsequently to everything and everyone else in my life. 2015 is going to be a big one--lots of happenings for Team Gerdes, and with these goals, I will be ready for them.
2014 was an interesting year. There were lots and lots of ups and lots and lots of downs. I took a lot of risks and learned a lot about myself. I got into, and then out of, a major depression coupled with a heaping dose of anxiety. I answered some hard questions and made lots of realizations. And now, in the final days of the year, I feel like I am able to look at things a lot clearer than ever. And I am so happy to say that things are great.
I tried to do everything in 2014, and I did an awful lot. I am so proud of everything, too! Here is a short list of projects and accomplishments:
*I started a dance company and produced our debut show.
*I directed and choreographed a burlesque show-play, and maintained it and trained all the understudies for months.
*I directed a new SNORF show each month.
*I became the DJ for She's Crafty.
*I was a character in the monthly variety show The Plucky Show.
*I did a number of one-off performance nights: Funny Ha Ha, Scene Missing, 20x2, The Gogo Show, the Ideas Potluck, etc etc etc.
*I guested on a couple of awesome podcasts.
*I choreographed my first kid's musical.
*We produced season 8 of Impress These Apes.
*We had a 10 year anniversary show for Don't Spit the Water.
*Steve Gadlin's Star Makers! A season in the can and season 2 airing in a couple days!
*I started dancing with a new company.
*We swam 2 miles in Lake Superior.
*I did another triathlon.
And a million and one other things.
In thinking ahead to 2015, I decided that I needed to try to do less and make it all mean more. So I've recently turned down 5 shows and pulled out of 2. It was hard--it is hard to turn down paid work, especially when I left my job to be full time creative. But I learned my limits and what I like and what isn't right. So for 2015, I am going to focus on 6 major projects:
*Modet Dance Collective--the dance company I started is going great! We are all working on pieces for our upcoming show, which is scheduled for June 12-14 with Shmib Dance. I love it so much. Everyone is great and dancing is making me so happy.
*Shmib Dance--Melissa Talleda's dance company! I am loving being a dancer in a company that I am not in charge of. All the dancers are so sweet, and Melissa's style is out of my comfort zone, and I love it. Dancing is going to be my main focus for the new year. Also, I feel like I am a whole new person--rediscovering this lost love in my life and feeling stronger and better than ever. Amazing.
*Steve Gadlin's Star Makers--Season 2 starts this week, and in a few weeks, Steve and I are going to NATPE in Miami to try to sell it to distributors. We are filming in a new studio, and the new episodes are so great. So much talent! So much humor! We've filmed 12 of 26 episodes--almost halfway there!
*SNORF--The Saturday Afternoon Monster and Piggie/ Comedy-Variety Show is going strong, and recently really hit it's stride. We are having more fun with the show, and the guests are great! Starting in March, we will be in a new home theatre--details to come soon!
*She's Crafty--Chicago's All-Female Beastie Boys Tribute is SO. MUCH. FUN. We've been doing a lot of shows lately, and have a weekend tour scheduled in Iowa in February. I love the women in the group, I get to rap (!!), and suddenly I am in this world of gigs and bands and it is so funny and surreal to me. Can't wait for more!
*Drunk Monkeys--Drunk Monkeys! Still going! It's not always easy to find times to film, but when we do, it is so fun. I love all our episodes, and I am going to try to get more donations in the new year so that we can keep cranking with the reviews. Plus, it's a fun excuse to hang with Jen.
So, there you have it! I am sure that I am going to do some one-offs here and there, but I am going to try to be smart about all of my decisions. Plus, I am working a part-time contract job that goes through May. And I have the inkling to do a full triathlon or a half marathon this year...we'll see what happens with that.
Happy New Year, everyone. I think 2015 is going to be a good one.