You’re So Talented is the story of a twenty something making her way in- wait! I can feel you running from another millennial narrative. Come back here. I think you need to meet Samantha (“Sam”) Bailey.
Of course, you might have already seen her on the live-lit circuit at 2nd Story or Guts & Glory. You may know her from a show at Victory Gardens, Strawdog or ATC, or maybe from a Saturday afternoon at The Green Mill for The Paper Machete. The Logan Square native brings this wealth of work and heart to her current project, a smart web series about one actress in Chicago. To hear her tell it in the interview, it is a story that could not wait any longer to be told.
The series is filmed on location in Chicago, and released on their website every other Wednesday. Keeping each episode at 8 minutes or less may leave you wanting more, but it also means you can binge watch without losing a whole day of your life. The third chapter hits the web on April 8th, so you have plenty of time.
If you are worried about spoilers (or just can’t wait), click here and come back when you are caught up!
Bailey and the production crew at Artful Enough do fabulous work within the abbreviated episodes, editing tightly and telling the story with concise, clear writing. The easy chemistry between Bea (Bailey) and her friends Jesse (Gabe Franken) and Devin (Ashleigh Lathrop) is fun to watch, and I hope we get to know them more as the series goes on. Although he’s only on screen for a few moments so far, Dakota Loesch makes them count in his turn as Bea’s boyfriend Shawn.
We are two chapters in and already Bea has been jabbed with the sharp elbows of some bad news. Bailey is a nimble and strong performer, and not surprisingly, she inhabits the role with ease. Time constraints might limit how much we can learn about the other characters, but I think the audience will connect quickly with Bea and process right along with her.
In addition to the writing, I think that YST also makes really good use of silence, which can be a tough element to wrangle both on paper and in performance. Recovering at home after a hard day, Bea lets the quiet speak for itself for just long enough. And in a scene at the art gallery, actor Jaren Merrell plays Shea to perfection, navigating a couple of choice awkward silences.
You will leave the credits rolling just to listen to the gentle soundtrack from Whatever Spectrum (Samantha Lee and Alistair Slaughter), a name that contrasts a little with the thoughtful, almost meditative composition. Light and sweet vocals punctuated by piano and the occasional strings compliment a similar lightness in the show itself.
Where other stories in this genre tend to go for broke at the confessional, I really enjoyed YST’s restraint. The final moments of chapter two are a perfect example of the subtlety and suggestion they employ so well. It is raining outside, and Bea is taking refuge in a dive bar. With only the soundtrack playing, an arm slides a beer from the other side of the well. A boy slides over five bucks, to pick up the drink. And Bea coyly slides left out of the frame, into to chapter three. Read my interview with Samantha Bailey below:
When did you first have the idea for the series? From there, how did it come to the page?
I think a lot-not all, but a lot-of art comes from dark places. I was in a really crappy head space towards the end of 2013 where I was completely unsatisfied with myself and the art I was creating. I was jealous of my friends who were either creating their own work or acting out complex, full stories on stage. I wasn’t committed or very passionate about the plays I was cast in. At some point I realized it was because I was helping a bunch of awesome artists tell their own stories, while leaving mine on the back burner.
I kept finding myself complaining about the lack of stories about young women of color, particularly black women, particularly black women living in a big city, and it dawned on me that I was never going to be happy or feel especially challenged until I committed to telling the story my damn self. In the beginning of 2014, during that really shitty winter, I started rehearsals for a play and I started writing the first drafts of You’re So Talented. I told myself that would be my last play and I would focus completely on writing this thing.
What do you like about the web series format?
The web series format is really accessible. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of different stories on the web and if you can’t find something that speaks to you-you’re encouraged to go ahead and make it yourself. I really like that. I like that, as of yet, there are no rules to this medium that has the ability to reach so many people at any given time. I also have a real problem with authority figures so I like having control over the work I’m creating and the stories I’m telling.
Where are your favorite spots or parts of the city?
When we shot it this summer, I was literally running (or biking) around the city for 7 days with the Artful Enough (production company) guys and that made me fall in love with Chicago all over again. I also grew up in Logan Square and my favorite part of the city will always be that eagle statue in the heart of it. That just reminds me of growing up in the summer. I love the High-Hat Club in North Center and The Green Mill in Uptown. The Paper Machete takes place there and it’s still my favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
YST captures the contrast so well between making art and keeping your life up alongside it. What’s that like in Chicago?
So much of my life surrounds the art I’m creating-my friends are my collaborators or other artists I really admire and I’m mostly fine with it. The city is big enough to get away from that when needed. I think the creative community in Chicago is, for the most part, really supportive of their artists. I tapped into the theatre community big time in terms of casting and just getting the word out and they’ve been so helpful.
I think we all tend to root for Chicago artists because we believe in ourselves and we know that a lot of the work we do can only be done if we have each other’s backs. The entire first season of YST was done on favors, PBR and a lot of patience. I’m really aware of that and I don’t think it could have been done anywhere else.
Where do you think the creative community is at, in terms of support and opportunities?
As far as opportunities go, that’s a little bit of a different story. In order to do the work I want to do, I have to create those opportunities myself. I just have to. As much as I love our theatre community, we are not at a place where our stages are telling many different stories. A few extraordinary ones break through, but the majority of our stages are told through the eyes of straight, white, able-bodied men and that’s unfortunate. We’ve got the support thing figured out in spades, now we just have to follow through and make sure those opportunities match the support.
What are you watching, listening to, reading right now? Anyone or any work you come back to for inspiration?
I’m watching The Jinx right now, it’s captivating and infuriating all at once. I’m also watching Empire. That show is so fucking entertaining, I’m a fan. I’m listening to all of Samantha Lee’s music (she, along with Alistair Slaughter, did all the music for YST). I’m listening to it on repeat. I’m in the middle of writing the second season of You’re So Talented and listening to her music is like putting up a dirty mirror to my insides-it’s insane.
I’m reading Bad Feminist because Roxane Gay is a goddess among ants and this book is my new bible. I always, always, always go back to Samantha Irby’s Meaty. I remember seeing her perform at Paper Machete years ago and thinking: I wish I could do that.
I’m a huge fan of her blog and I just love her writing and everything she has to say. She did an interview with the Rumpus awhile back where she talked about writing without the pressure of having parents and it’s the first time I’ve heard someone articulate that before. Check it out. Samantha Irby is who I want to be when I grow up.