Pictured above: Chicago Scratch branding/Logo design: Preston Choi
Editor’s Note: This is an expression by Zach Barr in response to Chicago Scratch’s clean, in the form of a list; it is followed by information about the work. The writer also wishes to disclose that they have written for a previous Chicago Scratch
Chicago Scratch is a collective that organizes a performance every couple of months, in which coproducers Margaret Howe and Alex Goodman select a word or theme, invite a group of young writers to craft short plays based on that word or theme, and then present the resulting work together in a simple but emotionally impactful performance. The event is a Chicago edition of socalled “scratch nights:” one-off performances that thrive in the United Kingdom, during which artists of all disciplines can try out new work in a lowstakes environment and before an understanding crowd.
The theme for the February 4 Chicago Scratch (rescheduled from January 30 due to the Polar Vortex) was “clean.” It featured five writers: Preston Choi, Hal Cosentino, Will Cruitt, Marisa Eason, and Juliet Roll.
A LIST OF THINGS THAT I MUST CLEAN UP
- My face
- My body
- My mind
- My preconceptions
- My tendency to compare myself to other artists
- My relationships with close friends
- My large assortment of rubber ducks
- My toxic impulses
- My detrimental selfassuredness
- My aboveground pool
- My family baggage, especially on the paternal side
- My computer folders
- My collection of home videos, 19962001
- My gender identity
- My Internet search history
- My love life
- My bed
- My dresser
- My clothes (on the floor)
- My clothes (on me)
- My fashion sense when going out for the evening
- My conversation starters when out for the evening
- My pants, after spilling beer on them while huddling in the corner because the conversation starters didn’t work (they never work)
- My Internet search history, a second time
- My front lawn
- My cluttered drawer of precollege memories
- The Spider Corner (a spot under my radiator where the spiders live and I don’t bother them)
- My use of language
- My act
- My outer image
- My pores
- My shower/sink drains (perhaps call a service?)
- My shameful history
- My list of enemies
- My fear of inconsequential things
- My distaste for roommates
- My Internet search history (just to be sure)
- My hair
- My own messes
It feels gauche to review Chicago Scratch in any sort of traditional format, the way that it would be inadvisable for a hardcore foodie to spend time rating a superstore’s free sample counter on the Michelin system. The work being done here is rough and impactful, and bite-size in scale. Every one of the performers in “Chicago Scratch presents: clean” is committing fully and bodily to the telling of their respective stories, ludicrous as they may often be. Some of the best plays I’ve seen from previous Chicago Scratch events are those that take a hard left into the deep absurd and spend their tenminute run times sinking further and further into the quicksand of the characters’ own misgivings.
Two of the characters given speaking roles in “clean” are a fake pool rock and a sentient humanoid collection of pus. Both begin by clarifying for the audience the identity of their Fathers (for the former, another fake rock; for the latter, the opposite actor, pushing her zits off her cheeks). Another play includes a woman washing down a man in a Sisyphean drive to wash him clean of any molecules that might contain his toxic masculinity. In another, the mother of a solo performer never finds out what, or who, her son actually did when he said he was going to the movies. The spectre of childhood—being a child, or feeling as helpless as one—glows bright through all of “clean.” Perhaps, with so many responsibilities for cleaning now falling to us, there’s a desire to return to a time when much of the grime of adulthood could still be papered over.
Chicago Scratch presents clean performed for one night only on February 4 at the Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee Avenue. More info on their upcoming performances can be found on their Facebook account here.
Zach Barr (he/him/his) is an arts writer and critic, as well as a director, playwright and stage manager. He wears, both figuratively and literally, many hats. He has contributed everything from season previews, to theater criticism, to angry rants, for Newcity Stage Chicago and Scene+Heard Magazine, as well as developing his own narrative-driven critical style via his blog The Hanslick Girls. Zach serves as Literary Associate at Sideshow Theatre Company and consistently advocates for more asexual/aromantic narratives in media. Learn more about him at zach-barr.com.