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The Great Fire: A Traveling Truck Show and What’s Next for Good Stuff House

Kayce Bayer and Chris Lin work together as a curatorial and production duo called Good Stuff House.  Kayce and Chris met in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in 2008 when Chris was playing ukulele at a show with his “folk-thrash band”, Hannis Pannis. Chris is from Taipei, Taiwan and Victoria, British Columbia and came to Chicago in 2006 to get his masters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Kayce moved to Chicago in 2005 from Memphis, where she received her Masters of Fine Arts from Memphis College of Art.  Chris’s main focus at the time was working on his cardboard sculptures and puppets. His work has often focused on creating replicas of real life objects with cardboard, an idea that still plays out in some of his more recent work.  Kayce started out painting, but began “veering away” from painting in favor of video, performance and “doing [things] in the public eye”.  She was looking for a way to combine all her artistic passions.  

In 2009, Kayce and Chris organized an art party and show called “Keep the C in Country”, an ode to their love for old-time country music.  They wrote a theme song for the show and “put together anyone who performed” for the party. It was their first time putting a group show together and they really enjoyed it so much that they created  their curatorial/production duo. Their most recent project was a vaudeville-esque traveling truck show called 

The Great Fire: A Traveling Truck Show, a project and idea born out of Kayce and Chris’s dedication to the idea that art should be about inclusion and accessibility. The Great Fire traveled to four different neighborhoods in Chicago for the month of October and last week, I had the chance to catch up with Kayce and Chris and talk a little about the show.

Brooke Herbert Hayes (BHH): Can you tell me about the inspiration for The Great Fire: A Traveling Truck Show?

Kayce Bayer (KB):  We were inspired by early American traveling shows, like medicine shows, dime museums, and early vaudeville.  A few things intrigued us about this early form of performing arts:  the variety of acts that performed in these shows, the idea of this fringe group of artists working and traveling together, and the unifying experience for the audience—people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and demographics laughing and crying and heckling together.  At the same time, we were exploring Chicago history, with all its mythology and characters, and thought it a rich topic for storytelling.

BHH: How has the truck show been received? Have you gotten any feedback?

KB:  Well…we had a pretty good turn-out at every show, despite the cold weather.  One adorable couple came to two shows!  Quite a few folks told us “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” and others ask “When’s the next one?”  So, I think that’s good.

BHH: Would you ever consider doing the truck show on a larger scale and traveling further with it?

KB:  We like the idea of exploring new territories and topics, but it can’t get any larger without hiring a crew.  We were thinking smaller, actually, more intimate, more focused.  We learned a lot from this go-round and would like to build on that, but we’re not sure what that will look like just yet.

BHH: So, what did you learn from putting on such an in-depth, multi-act show and why do you think you’d want it to be more intimate?

KB: I learned a great deal about community outreach and navigating city codes.  Unlike other projects in the past, I wanted to do this right, get permission, speak with authorities, and make connections with people around each site.  After much research and blind calling/emailing, I presented our idea to a City Park Advisory Council, alderman, community leaders, organizations, and just about anyone I could think of that might be interested in either being involved or hosting our show.  Once I got in, it was an easy pitch, but it was often hard to speak to the right people.  Other than that, this was a big undertaking, especially for such a small team of makers.  Chris and I literally spent every weekend for 6 months working on the many aspects of this show.  Luckily we had a lot of help, too!

I also learned that creative people are amazing!  All our help—makers, acting talent and guest performers—were volunteers.  Everyone came together for the sake of putting on this crazy thing.  I am really grateful for that.  I would want future endeavors to involve some pay for these folks.

Overall, I gained experience in organizing a large group of people (we were almost thirty), planning four somewhat customized events, and understanding the ins and outs of production equipment rental. The initial challenge for me was being a part of every step of the process—research, script-writing, music, visuals, promotion, and performance. I really enjoyed this creatively speaking, but I physically exhausted myself (and Chris, too!).

In the end, it was an adventure!  And I’m glad we pulled it off without any complete disasters.As I reflect about it now, almost two months in the distance, the desire to create something more intimate might just be for opposition’s sake.  I’m ready to withdraw and take on a small attainable goal.

But also, we’re interested in learning from the successes of the show and spinning that into a future venture.  Although the show’s variety was intentional, I sensed the need (from audience reaction and feedback) to narrow the scope. We had so many characters and storylines, I’d like to focus in for more cohesion.  Space-wise, the outdoor arena was a strategy for accessibility and inclusion, but I missed the audience interaction and sense of community closeness that is imbued in more intimate settings.

BHH:  You call yourselves Good Stuff House. Can you tell me a little about how that began? What are your backgrounds in art?

KB:  We were driving on Kedzie Ave, just north of Addison, and saw this neon sign for a Chinese restaurant called “Good Stuff House.” It just stuck in our minds, I guess, and when we were brainstorming names for a collective, it seemed perfect.

Chris Lin:  I’m a sculptor/crafter who also likes making video, music, and comic books.  I mostly work with cardboard and want my work to be accessible and interactive.  I graduated from Fiber and Material Studies from SAIC. After that, I became a teacher, which has further influenced the way I work.

KB:  I went to grad school, too, but have been making stuff and playing music my whole life.  I’m interested in making work that is inclusive and approachable.  Chris and I connected in that way.

In addition to collaborating with each other on projects (both art and music), we wanted to form a production experiment to highlight other people’s talents, quirks and idiosyncrasies—artists and non-artists alike—and explore what larger collaboration can accomplish.

Good Stuff House began with us simply combining our collection of small artist books and zines.  Our curatorial leanings lead us to organizing performance events.  We’ve also produced video projects with audience participants and environments that call for interaction.

BHH: How do you begin planning for the projects that you do together as Good Stuff House?

KB: It really depends.  A couple of our past projects have been really place specific, so the physical space or history of the site are starting points.  But in general, we talk about ideas non-stop—over breakfast, while we’re hanging around the house, on the bus on the way to someplace…

For the Truck Show specifically, we researched, as if we had some school assignment with no due date.  We watched videos, looked through photo archives, studied maps, read old newspaper articles, collected books, etc.  Then we called in some other creatives to join us, had a few regular planning meetings and went from there.  That’s not typical, though, each project so far has followed a completely distinct process.

BHH: What’s next for you guys? Any projects on the horizon?

KB:  We are actually going to North Carolina for a visiting artist project in April, to work with students at Appalachian State to produce a video re-enactment.  Besides that, we’ll be crafting individually for a change.  Chris has some comics in the works, and I’m drawing for a short animation.

For more information about Good Stuff House, check our their website here.

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