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Interview: Michael Sanow of ‘The Asylum’ Showcase in Chicago Through Feb. 23, 2017

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CHICAGO – Put in a dash of crazy, add a dash of funny and you are defining “The Asylum,” a catch-all name for a couple of show events in Chicago, playing at The Apollo Theater Studio through February 23rd, 2017. Behind the scenes of these showcases is producer Michael Sanow, a Chicago theater veteran. For “The Asylum” information regarding the “Atypical Musical Comedy Show” (Tuesdays) and “Access Comedy” (Thursdays), click here.

’The Asylum’ Presents ‘Atypical Musical Comedy Show’ and ‘Access Comedy’
Photo credit: SanowAsylum.com

HollywoodChicago.com caught up with “The Asylum” Producer, Michael Sanow, to talk to him regarding his unique brand of show. Sanow is an actor, musician, director and producer, and has been involved with theater and film in Chicago since 1990.

HollywoodChicago.com: What is the origin of ‘The Asylum’? And how did it evolve into your current shows at Apollo Theater Studio?

Michael Sanow: The origin of The Asylum programming evolved from a conversation between me, director/producer Aric Jackson and actor/producer Mickey O’Sullivan, regarding the fewer places in the city for artists to perform. We had done some previous work at The Apollo Theater, both in the main performance space as well as the studio theater, and thought why not launch programming in the studio theater? With all of the different theaters closing, and with the studio space was available – adding in the current political climate – we simply thought it would be great to provide this space for performers of all backgrounds to have a place to perform.

So, we launched the programming, and ‘The Asylum’ itself is just a brand. Each artist has their own show, and we’re producing under that name. For example, the show on Tuesdays is ‘Atypical Tuesday Musical Comedy’ with Ross Childs, and the show on Thursdays is ‘Access Comedy ‘with Sydney Davis, Jr Jr. – yes, two Jr.’s. As performers, we’re all a little crazy to get up in front of people and do an act, but the word asylum also is defined as a sanctuary as well, not just a place to house the mentally insane – the name just kind of fit.

HollywoodChicago.com: How can you describe your Tuesday and Thursday shows to the potential audience, that you know would make them want to experience them?

Sanow: Tuesday is musical standup comedy. Each performer or group of performers plays an instrument…be it a piano, guitar, harmonica, triangle, kazoo or more, and they’ve incorporated music into their comedy act. The Thursday show is strictly standup comedy. The common thread to both nights is comedy.

Many of the themes are the same, in that most of the comic acts deal with the comedian’s everyday life. Unique to each performer – and something that we all also somehow can relate to – is their personal trials and tribulations. All of the acts have incorporated the folly of the current political scene into their acts, specifically Donald Trump – you can’t deny that the situation translates into some epic comedy. Oddly enough, out of a sense of tragedy comes some of the best comedy, and all of the performers from ‘The Asylum’ have made a lot of people laugh, because if we’re not laughing, we’d be crying.

HollywoodChicago.com: You describe The Asylum as a ‘sanctuary’ for all kinds of acts. What is the main advantage of diversity in performance that adds more laughs our lives?

Producer Michael Sanow of ‘The Asylum’
Photo credit: SanowAsylum.com

Sanow: Yes, ‘The Asylum’ is a sanctuary. We welcome everyone and everybody, and it’s a safe place. The main advantage to diversity in performance is the opportunity to experience a different take on our lives, with different points of view and different styles of performance. We’ve had performers from the African American, Latino, Asian, Caucasian and LGBTQ communities involved, in all ages and genders.

Everyone has brought something unique to the stage, and the common thread here is that – as different as we all are in many ways – we’re very much still the same. Comedy binds us, and ‘The Asylum offers a blend. Even I had no idea what was looping until I sat in at some of these shows on a few occasions – very funny stuff.

HollywoodChicago.com: In your opinion, what is the state of performance art in Chicago for the type of entertainment packages you put together, and how can it get better?

Sanow: Chicago is and always will be a strong performance art community, and it tends to be a small, tight-knit group, but there are always caveats. My background is mostly in theater and film, I attended classes at The Second City Training Center for improv in the 1990s, and I’m learning about the stand-up comedy scene. I’m becoming aware that many of the performance artists cross fields, and essentially it’s different fruit from the same tree.

One of the main driving factors behind my decision to launch this programming was to give brilliantly talented and diverse artists a place to perform, because across the city we’re seeing performance spaces going away because of gentrification, in addition to many storefront theater groups and their spaces closing their doors. So, in essence, I’m simply trying to facilitate getting performers in front of audiences because I think what they have to offer as entertainers brings people together.

HollywoodChicago.com: Finally, in your opinion, how do you think comedy and performance is the best way to speak truth to power, especially in the age of Trump?

Sanow: I think we need comedy at this point in history, now more than ever. Not only does it take the sting of what had happened in the election – if you disagree with the results – but it helps to bring attention to the issues this current administration is offering. These are strange times, and can be quite scary. Everyone is feeling it, but particularly the diversity within the entertainment community.

Comedy is far reaching and lasting, if done well. The material that is being provided out of the situation in Washington is mind blowing. Although people are feeling angry, upset and helpless, it is a comedian’s dream, because performers are customizing their acts to bring attention to multiple issues. And this isn’t just about Trump, but I’ve observed that every artist has included something in their act that mentions Trump… because it’s funny, and also human. Performers, artists, comedians, improvisers and musicians observe what’s happening and they are acknowledging it. They are pointing out the absurdity of our lives in their acts, as they should – that is always what can bind us together.

”The Asylum” presents the “Atypical Musical Comedy Show” on Tuesdays and “Access Comedy” on Thursdays now through February 23rd, 2017, at The Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. To purchase tickets, click here.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2017 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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