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Articles by Tyler Esselman

Grad Showcase Part 1: COMPLETE

Part one of graduate showcase is in the books! My class just returned from doing our showcase in New York City​ over the past several days. It was a very exciting, exhausting trip and I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to see the city in this new light.

Until now, I’ve never seriously considered living in New York. I really like the city itself but I’ve always thought that it wasn’t really a place in which I could see myself living. The bustle and cramped spaces always seem claustrophobia inducing and that was my over-riding image of the city. However, this time around I was able to get out of Manhattan ​a bit to see Brooklyn ​and Queens​, and see that New York is not only Manhattan. There are slower paced neighborhoods where people live their lives at a pace not all that dissimilar to Chicagoans. This pleasantly surprised me.

I never had any qualms about not being able to do the kind of work I really want to do if I moved to New York, but the alumni panel that we attended as part of our activities made it clear just how empowering the city is for artists. Almost universally across our panel, the individuals wore many different hats as actors, writers, producers, and directors or some combination therein. What I take from this is that if you make it be so, you don’t have to be put into a box as one type of artist in New York, and that people are really driven to make their own work which is also my main desire artistically as I move past graduation. How awesome is that?

Beyond the official aspects of our time there, I also enjoyed seeing some old friends, visiting some really cool bars and restaurants, and taking in an Upright Citizens Brigade​ comedy show. New York treated me really well. Now we have a few days back in Chicago for the hometown version of our showcase before leaving for LA where I lived for several years when I was younger. I can’t wait to continue to share our work! Let’s go get ‘em.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
Since we’re headed west soon, here’s a warm weather throwback for y’all.


What Is My DePaul Legacy?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my legacy will be at DePaul. I recently heard somewhere that the only reason humans do anything in their lives is so that they will be remembered when they’re gone. And it makes sense to a certain extent. We want to make our mark. And hopefully it will be a positive mark!

In a literal sense, I’m very proud of having been a part of The Theatre School (TTS)​ as we moved into our new building last year. It’s been a huge shift in identity for us as a community and it’s been exciting, frustrating, and rewarding to be at this school during this time of transition. I’ll always be able to say that I was among the first students to work in this building as it continues to support artists for many years to come.

I’m also very proud of the student organizations I’ve helped start while at this school. I was in the group of students that started TTS’s Musical Theatre Collaborative our first year. We started out doing a small-scale cabaret in a tiny room and we’ve grown to doing full musicals in the beautiful studio space in The Theatre School building. The Mildly Rehearsed Players is another organization of which I cannot express how proud I am. We had so much fun putting up Shakespeare’s plays​ in a way that we connect to in a deep way and sharing it with our community in a fun, engaging way. I also never thought I would be able to play Romeo in my life and mildly gave me that opportunity. I will always be grateful that we brought that together.

DePaul’s legacy in me is perhaps even more interesting. I did so many great things in school and out of school during my time here. I had major life events come and go; I fell in love for the first time, I discovered the kind of art I want to do, and I started down a path toward the kind of man I want to be. I like to think that the lives I encountered and the art I made while here will live on just as much as the experiences will live in me. That means I’m doing my job.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
It’s warm this week! Thank god!

Abroaden Your Horizons

You know what I think anyone who has the means to do should do during their time in college? Leave the country for a bit! Study abroad​! Go somewhere and study your craft outside of the familiar landscape of the US. Or don’t study your craft. Maybe study something completely different. The point is that you shake up your perspective and challenge yourself by being in a new environment with people you’ve never met before and absorb a new culture. Just do it.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study abroad in France after my second year because of a scholarship I received when I graduated from high school. I didn’t do it through DePaul because the program I had my sights set on was an independent voice training program at the Roy Hart Artistic Centre​ in the south of France. 

After making my way across the pond and spending a few days visiting family friends in Lyon, I arrived at Malerargues; the home of the Roy Hart Centre. Two of my friends from The Theatre School​ were already there and we did our weeklong program together. The chateau at Malerargues is gorgeous in its simplicity. Originally conceived as a commune where a group of British expats gathered to explore the human voice and make alternative theatre, the collection of buildings has been restored by hand over the years and now yearly hosts hundreds of people from all over the world who want to explore their connection to the voice and the myriad ways they can use it. And even though my friends and I are actors, the vast majority of the people in our program were not. They were psychologists, microbiologists, teachers, musicians, roofers, and explorers. They were all there for different reasons. Some were having trouble in their marriages and wanted to improve their communication, some felt like they had never truly been heard, and for others it was medicinal. 

It was an incredibly inspiring experience for me because it offered me a completely different perspective on the kind of artistic work I want to do and made me feel like a fuller human being. I think about it every day.

I cannot recommend studying abroad more highly. DePaul has wonderful programs available to its students that will get you out there in the world and trying things you never thought you were capable of.  Do it. You won’t regret it.
Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
This song makes me smile. That’s a valuable thing.

Spring in Chicago Can't Be Beat

For a very long time, winter was my favorite season. I loved the gray skies and the skeletal vegetation and dependability of the cold. What was I thinking?? All of those things I loved about winter before are pretty much always replaced by January with dreams of clear skies, light breezes, and trees and flowers bursting with life. Spring is a chance for new beginnings and the spring in Chicago is a unique, beautiful animal.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts or bio, you’ve probably gained an inkling as to my deep love for baseball. And to me, spring and baseball are inextricably connected. When the weather gets warm, I immediately start dreaming of bats cracking, the organ churning at Wrigley, and even just listening to a game on the radio on the porch back home in St. Louis. This year, thanks to the generosity of a good friend of mine who is a Cubs season ticket holder, I was able to attend Opening Night at Wrigley ​to see the Cardinals and Cubs play the very first baseball game of the regular season. It was a tremendous night. My boys played well and soundly defeated the Cubs. I can’t think of a better way to start my spring than with an evening at Wrigley.

Spring has an amazing effect on how Chicagoans interact in the city. During winter, everyone curls up into themselves. They zip their collars up to the tippy top and put their shoulders down into the wind to be able to make it down the street. But when the flowers bloom, many Chicagoans do too. The clear air and even smallest modicum of warmth causes people to actually look at each other on the street, smile and spread a bit of good cheer. It’s also liberating to know that you can actually walk places rather than having to figure out the best covered form of transportation. The possibilities exponentially increase when spring comes in Chicago.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
I’ve been busting my way through the first season of True Detective ​and this bit of music caught my attention. T Bone Burnett​ coordinated the music for the show and he’s one I can always count on to match music perfectly to a film or television show.


Homesickness II

A couple years ago, when I started DeBlogging, I wrote a post called Homesickness: A Manifesto. In my opinion, it’s one of the better posts I’ve written because it was more personal and revealing than many of my other posts. I really had it bad back then.  I just hadn’t found my rhythm and niche here in Chicago yet and it was really hard for me live with my yearning to be back home some days. Going into my final spring quarter of college, I can say that I’ve come a long way with my homesickness and have a much-changed perspective on it.

I definitely still miss St. Louis every day. I miss my family and friends and the special kind of familiarity that I will never be able to replicate anywhere else. I miss the way it smells in the middle of spring driving around with the windows down listening to Cake. I miss the open space and the sense of freedom. But what I’ve realized is what I miss is just that: the sense of what it was like before. I’m a nostalgic guy. To the point that I can get stuck there sometimes. But I’ve found that my homesickness has evolved into something that looks forward rather than backward. What I want now is to establish my own home. I want surround myself with a community of people that I love and care about in a place that feels right. This is one of the most exciting trains of thought I have had while mulling over post-graduate life. This is my chance to find my home for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, St. Louis will always be home to me but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to establish roots just as meaningful somewhere else.

So my advice to all of you out there who experience homesickness is that I don’t think it ever really goes away entirely. It’s like when you fall in love. In my opinion, all the love you have for someone never really goes away completely. It will just live in you in a different way. So all you can do is figure out how to find your niche and make a new home for yourself. It won’t be the same but that doesn’t mean it will be worse at all.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
My good buddy put this on his playlist for his trip to the Grand Canyon and it immediately grabbed me. I’ll have to put it on my playlist when I eventually make it to that big hole in the ground. 

The Finest Improv You'll Ever See

For those of you high schoolers who will be visiting DePaul​ on your respective spring breaks this year, I have one recommendation for something to do. It is, in my mind, so quintessentially Chicago that you simply must not miss the opportunity to experience it.

I have talked about TJ and Dave before but for those of you have not heard me sing their praises to this point, Tj Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi are two improvisers here in town who are the artistic directors of iO’s Mission Theatre in their new space on Kinhsbury. In addition to moderating the shows that play at The Mission, they have their own 90 minute show that they do every Wednesday night at 10:30pm eponymously titled TJ & Dave. They come on the stage, introduce each other, drop their trademark line of “Trust us, this is all made up”, the lights go down, the lights come up, and they tear into 90 minutes of improve right off the tops of their heads. They don’t take suggestions, they just look at each other and the scene grows from whatever behavior is happening in that moment. It is quite honestly the best theatre I have ever seen. These two men are such incredible quality actors that them just existing together creates some of the funniest, poignant, and thought-provoking theatre being done anywhere. Most people are familiar with the sketch-based improve that Chicago is known for thanks to Second City and iO, but this longform work is also a hallmark of the Chicago improve scene. The space is very intimate and the audience is always rapt because they know just how special the material unfolding before them can be. It’s only $10 but make sure you buy your tickets ahead of time because this show sells out every single week. If you’re interested, here’s a trailer for a documentary​ recently done about the guys that can whet your appetite. 

Improv and storefront theatre are what make Chicago’s theatre scene the beautiful cacophony that it is and nothing encapsulates that spirit more than TJ & Dave.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

This song is love, people. “I’d rather be working for a paycheck, than waiting to win the lottery”

So Much to Do, so Little Time

Winter is no longer coming, people. It’s here. Wow. It hit hard. It seems fitting that today, the first day of classes for my final winter quarter, would also be the first sub-zero day of the year. But, I must say, my spirits are high. I have a really good feeling about this quarter and what it could be. As such, I have been working on my pre-graduation to-do list. Pretty soon, I’ll be off in the big bad world and I intend to do some personally enriching stuff and some uniquely DePaul stuff before I get out of Dodge.

One, I plan to read all of Shakespeare’s canon, sonnets included, out loud by the end of winter quarter. My Bard craze is well-documented in this blog’s archive and I figure now is the time to really go whole-hog on devouring this rich text. I have my favorites, obviously, but I am excited to see what will strike me from the less-celebrated work in the canon. My dear friend and I hope to do at least two plays a week together. It’ll be a great thing to do when going out of doors is simply unconscionable.

Two, I plan on attending a Blue Demon basketball game. This is something I am ashamed to say I have neglected to do thus far in my time here at the university. Granted, it would have been difficult to fit it in before now, what with my schedule as packed to the gills as it has been these last three years. But, there’s still time! I want to make sure that I take in our school’s marquee sport at least once before I’m no longer a student. Whether it’s the women’s team or the men’s, I’ll do it!

And three, I want to perform at an open mic somewhere. Stepping up at an event like that has always seemed like a very prototypically college thing to do and it’s certainly something that interests me. I’m not entirely sure what I will perform. It might be poetry or an Irish drinking song something of that ilk. It will feel good to do a little bit of performance outside of The Theatre School and share my work with a different section of the DePaul community.

This list will keep growing and I’ll be sure to share if I add any particularly interesting bits. Stay warm, blogosphere!

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

I’m on another Andrew Bird kick lately and here’s a track of his that struck me the moment I heard it.

A mildly rehearsed Romeo & Juliet

As Shakespeare’s canon goes, it’s been my experience that some of the most divisive opinions about any one of his plays come when discussing Romeo & Juliet. This, I’m sure, is for a multitude of reasons - like the fact that it’s so widely read in high school and it being the prototypical romance. By and large, people either seem to love it or despise it. Full disclosure, I’m a part of the former group.

I’ll unpack exactly why I love it so much in just a sec but what’s got me thinking about the larger role of this particular play is the fact that I am actually going to have the distinct honor of playing Romeo in a production that DePaul’s Mildly Rehearsed Shakespeare Company is putting on in early January. This group is one that just recently came into existence here at The Theatre School. It was spearheaded by MFA Director Lavina Jadhwani and inspired by the Backroom Shakespeare Project, which I’ve written about before. Essentially, Lavina makes a 90-minute cut of a Shakespeare play, casts it, we do a read through on one rehearsal, do entrances, exits, fights, and dances on a second rehearsal and then we put that sucker up. No real scene work and just those two rehearsals. We have someone on book on the night for when we inevitably go up on a line but that’s part of the fun! The idea is to put on these plays in a style very similar to the way they would have been done in Shakespeare’s time. In those days, the concept of the director had not really been conceived and the players would often have less than a week to memorize and prepare the full-length plays. It makes for fast, loose, often hilarious theatre. In September, we did Henry IV Part 1 to get things started. Doing one of the histories was tough and rewarding and we’re excited to tackle one of the Bard’s most well-known plays now. As I prepare, I’m reminded of why I love this particular play so much. Someone recently told me that they believe that people become actors because they love to fall in love with people and be obsessed with them. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. I love being obsessed with things and people in particular. There’s no feeling quite like completely giving your passion to something and this play is the perfect thesis on that particular kind of love. It’s unexplainable and overwhelming and terrifying and makes life worth living. Love will never get old. I’m a hopeless romantic and proud of it.

If you’re in town on January 4th, we will be performing in The Theatre School’s lobby space at 7:00pm. You should join us! It’s going to be a tragically good time.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

Did everyone know about Elbow and just not tell me?? I really can’t believe I didn’t know about this band before this past week. Check ‘em out. They’re rad.

Friendly Fighting

​During my formative years, one could definitely say that my taste in movies, TV shows, and books leaned towards the epic. I was, and still am, a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction material with "Star Wars", "Lord of the Rings", and the like occupying a place in me especially close to my heart. I think it has to do with the scope of things and the romance of all of it. I just dig that stuff. But the battle sequences sure don’t hurt either.

As I have grown, I have maintained my love for the epic content on which I cut my teeth but have also developed that love into passion for other things. My appreciation for the large scale combat in so many of my favorite films and television shows has led me towards a keen interest in the art of stage combat. For those of you not familiar with the concept of stage combat, it is basically a blanket phrase that encompasses all violence that occurs on stage during a play that must be choreographed specifically so that all those participating will be completely safe. In my program at The Theatre School, all BFA Acting students are required to take the basic level of combat so they will be prepared for any combat that might be required of them during their shows at school. This class covers all of the basics of hand-to-hand combat and also fighting with a rapier and dagger. For those who have an interest in learning more, our Combat teacher Nick Sandys offers an advanced class every winter and spring quarter. In this class, we learn additional weapons such as quarterstaff, broadsword, and knife while also deepening our skills in hand to hand, rapier, and dagger. What I love about stage combat is how much it requires you to be fully present with your partner and really take care of each other. For stage combat to be successful, one must be absolutely specific about what he or she wants from the partner and act on it, so it is a great tool in acting. I also just really like fighting with swords and stuff! So the next time you watch a battle in a movie or a fight in a play, just remember that it should feel very real but it should also be completely safe if the fight choreographer is worth his salt. If you want to learn more about the community of stage combat enthusiasts, visit the Society of American Fight Directors’ website here

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

We listen to a TON of jazz in my Movement to Music class and this is one that always gets stuck in my head without fail. Robert Glasper is the real freakin’ deal.

The Moth: The Perfect Forum to Share Your Story

​Who wants a cool thing to do in Chicago? Anyone? Ok, here you go! 

Do you like stories? Listening to or telling them, either way, you’ll love The Moth. The Moth is a series of events that happens nationwide that is dedicated to celebrating the art of storytelling and intent on bringing people together to listen and share those stories. I went to The Moth a few months ago with a couple friends at the Haymarket Pub and Brewery in the West Loop. It was a StorySlam which meant several people went up throughout the evening to tell a five-minute story and were judged by randomly selected judges in the crowd. The person whose story got the highest score at the end of the night was the winner and qualified to go onto the Grand Slam where they would share their story with the winners of other Slams that had happened over the course of the year. Not every story was great but it was still great to see people going up there and taking a genuine risk. Each definitely shared a little bit about themselves in a very vulnerable way. And, as I’ve come to find out more and more over the course of my time at The Theatre School, art is all about vulnerability in one form or another. Anyway, it was a great event. The crowd was very supportive and attentive and I left the event on cloud nine, super inspired to share a story at a future event. I haven’t yet been back but I hope to go very soon. If this sounds like something that would interest you, their next Chicago event is on April 29th at Martyrs’ on Lincoln. Admission is $16 for the limited pre-sale tickets and $8 for the even more limited amount of tickets at the door. Oh, also, at this particular venue it will be only 21 and over. Sorry if that counts you out. But keep an eye out for future events if you can’t make this one. Here’s their website for more information about their mission and the events that they conduct all the time. 

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week: 

So, on a whim because I had a tech rehearsal cancelled this past Thursday, I was able to see The National on the second night of their three night stand at the Chicago Theatre with two of my good buddies. I have been obsessed with them lately and this concert only deepened that madness. It was an absolutely beautiful show. Honestly, it felt like it was their first time playing for a crowd. For one of the world’s biggest rick bands right now, to be able to give off that vibe is no mean feat. Cheers! 


Shakespeare as It Was Meant to Be Played Right Here in Chicago

Last night, I experienced an amazingly cool piece of theatre that was unlike anything I had ever seen. I attended the Backroom Shakespeare Project’s production of Julius Caesar. It was one of those moments that fill you with artistic vigor and makes you want to go out and grab the world by the horns.

The mission of the Backroom Shakespeare Project is to put Shakespeare’s plays into a context where they feel at home. As such, they perform the plays in the back of a bar without lights or sets. They encourage people to come and go as they need to and keep their phones on. And text if they need to! Waitresses move through the action bringing beer and burgers to the hungry groundlings and the actors adjust for them rather than the other way around. What’s more, the company rehearses in a style more similar to that of Shakespeare’s actors than is the standard today. There is no director, one rehearsal to figure out fights, entrances, and exits, and someone remains on book during the performance in case one of the actors forgets a line. But, worry not, they serve the text with as much gravitas as it deserves and the ultimate effect is a performance that sucks the audience in and includes them in the world of Shakespeare as much as he would have wanted. What really struck me was the community of people there. They were from all age groups and seemed to be of varied interests and professions. But they came for the unifying experience of theatre and the performers told the tragic story of Caesar and Brutus with absolute class. I felt at times like I was at The Globe in London because of the energy and humor and honesty that were constant throughout the play. That’s what theatre is all about: honesty, community, excitement, and acceptance. There was no judgment, only welcoming energy and that made it a truly memorable experience.

Their next production will be As You Like It on the 5th of May. I’m not quite sure where it will be held but check out their website to find out more about how you can experience this wonderful theatrical event. You will not regret it!

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

I’ve been feeling a little down lately with this persisting cold weather. I’m just SO ready for spring and the warmth and reinvigoration that come with it. But here’s one of the songs I like to drink deeply from when I’m feeling blue or just pining for the sunshine.

Dancing for a Darn Good Cause

Since I was raised Catholic, I tend to be pretty well versed in the intricacies of the church and the different sub-groups that comprise it. In particular, the orders of priests that make up the priesthood of the Catholic Church are particularly interesting. My family has always been affiliated with the Congregation of the Mission or, more simply, the Vincentians which, by no coincidence, is the order DePaul is intimately connected with. This order follows the tenets of Saint Vincent de Paul and the reason I get down with the Vincentians so much is their commitment to service to others. In my opinion, that is the most important characteristic and the one that sets them apart specifically from the other orders in the priesthood.

By that token, taking time to do community service has always been a great desire of mine and something I strive to do as often as possible. Since coming to school and my schedule becoming more and more jam-packed at The Theatre School, I have made sure to take advantage of some of the institutional opportunities for service at DePaul. One that I haven’t taken part in so far but hope to this year is DemonTHON. That is our twenty-four hour dance marathon that raises money for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. It’s a great event that brings the DePaul community together to raise funds for an incredibly worthy cause. If you have a chance check out the DemonTHON website and consider giving to the cause. Each and every cent that is raised is given to the Lurie Children’s Hospital so you can rest assured that your donation will be put to good use. And, if my TTS schedule permits, you’ll be able to see me there for those twenty-four hours, dancing like a fool.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

In the world of film music, few directors, in my opinion, know how to pick a soundtrack for a film quite like Wes Anderson. This weekend at the Music Box Theater, there was a celebration of Wes Anderson’s films in anticipation of his new film The Grand Budapest Hotel. As such, I finally got to see Rushmore, which I think has taken my heart as my favorite of Mr. Anderson’s films. Of course, I haven’t seen all of his films yet, but this song graced the last few beautiful moments of the film and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.