With live lit in full swing in Chicago, Scott Whitehair was inspired to revive his ambitious 2012 reading series, Do Not Submit, for a new audience. In this interview, Scott opens up about the trials and tribulations of reviving the series and what he hopes to accomplish with it in the future.
Tell our readers a little bit more about Do Not Submit.
Do Not Submit began as an open mic in Lakeview in 2012 when Shannon Cason and I decided over beers one afternoon that we needed a regular opportunity to practice our stories and really stink up the joint in the process. We recognized that standup comedians had dozens of places to hone their craft, take risks, and welcome newcomers to the fold. We wanted at least one of these for the storytelling world. After a decent two year run, our venue (Powell’s on Lincoln) closed, and Shannon moved to Detroit. I debated whether or not to bring it back for about six months before being struck by the thought that DNS had much more potential than we had first realized. In April, we returned as a series of 10 monthly open mics in neighborhoods across Chicago, where people from all walks of life or experience levels can come together to connect with their friends and neighbors through personal storytelling in an environment free from pressure, judgment, and cover charge. We are currently holding events in Englewood, Pilsen, Woodlawn, Rogers Park, Ukrainian Village, Hyde Park, Evanston, Lakeview, Old Town, and even the suburb or Brookfield.
From what I understand, this series is a very ambitious undertaking with multiple shows, multiple times at multiple locations, what goes into planning the series to make it so cohesive?
Producing an additional 10 events each month, in addition to my other ongoing projects, has definitely been a challenge. I often refer to it as putting together a jigsaw puzzle made out of pieces from other jigsaw puzzles. However, this whole thing has been made possible mostly through the work of the outstanding team of talented, passionate individuals who have committed to the effort. I can’t say enough about our group of 20+ open mic hosts who have been willing to donate their time and energy to spreading storytelling throughout the city of Chicago. These are some of the warmest, most open people I have ever met, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and they are the backbone of Do Not Submit. Also, we are fortunate to have found some wonderful partners in each neighborhood who understand the value of having these safe spaces for expression in their communities and have generously offered the venues and resources to make it happen.
What made you want to revive this series?
You hear a lot about the growing storytelling community in Chicago, and it’s true, to a degree. However, most of the existing events take place in a small pocket on the north side, and this new movement in personal narrative has yet to truly engage the overwhelming majority of our friends and neighbors all over the city. I’d like to see storytelling become more diverse, more accessible, and more representative of the people of Chicago as a whole. Do Not Submit is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.
In your mind, what makes Do Not Submit different than most reading series out there today?
Do Not Submit is 100% free, open, and accessible to anybody who walks through the door. If someone shows up when the list opens, he or she is almost guaranteed an opportunity to get up on stage. There is no submission process, no random drawing of names, no curation, and no theme. We don’t care if your story is any good or what you have done in the past. If you have something to share, we want to hear it. It’s the perfect place to try this out for the first time or to experiment with a piece that you know needs a little more work.
Using six words, describe Do Not Submit.
Show up, sign up, and share.
What can we look forward to in the future with this series?
I would be comfortable predicting that Do Not Submit will exist in 20 Chicago neighborhoods by the end of the year. Since we launched in April, there has been a steady outpouring of support for and interest in bringing the open mic to new communities. I am also hoping that the explosion in storytelling events we have witnessed on the north side over the past several years will happen in a similar fashion in other parts of the city as people become inspired to create their own events, realize it is possible, and are encouraged to do so. In fact, if you are reading this and have discovered that there is not yet a Do Not Submit in your neck of the woods, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can help make it happen.