Jeremy Bloom is singing the body electric—(almost) literally. The Northwestern alum and Drama League Directing Fellow has gathered more than twenty intrepid performers to “rhythmically chant” Walt Whitman’s greatest hits in the buff this Friday onstage at Links Hall in the Chicago premiere of “Leaves of Grass.”
A fan since high school, Bloom was inspired to put the granddaddy of American free verse onstage when he realized that Whitman’s ultra-famous “Song of Myself” “is a series of instructions to the reader.” “He commands: ‘Undrape: you are not guilty to me,’ and ‘The man’s body is sacred, the woman’s body is sacred,’” and so, Bloom explains, “it became clear that some sort of scene in a play of these poems would have to be a celebratory naked celebration.”
While this is the fourth time Bloom’s put the text on stage, it’s hardly a restaging—Bloom takes a skeletal outline into rehearsal, he says, but turning the text into movement is “based completely on the group of performers and our time in the room.” For the Chicago production, Bloom has been collaborating with choreographer Nikki Zaleski to “fine-tune to movement,” which he describes as less “dancey” than “ceremonial and ritualistic.”
Surrounded by the beauty of the language and the vulnerability of the performers, Bloom hopes to give the audience—who likely haven’t encountered Whitman since eleventh-grade English—an experience of the poetry that’s both meditative and thrilling. “We are just sitting in a room together, composed of life, and we know that it is temporary, that we are mortal, and I find that moving,” he says. “It’s kind of a sacred text.” (Rachel Sugar)
Leaves of Grass, October 1, 7:30pm and 10pm at Links Hall 3435 North Sheffield. (773)281-0824, LinksHall.org. $10-$15.