On the cusp of turning 29, Eileen Tull has done more than artists twice her age. Performance artist, poet, storyteller, comedian, and feminist who has performed across the country, she will be performing her one woman show, “Bad Dates, Or What Killed That Monkey In Indiana Jones Only Makes Me Stronger” beginning May 20, doing seven performances over two weeks.
Despite a full resume and experience in a variety of settings and genres, Tull isn’t shooting for her own sitcom. Her goal is much bigger and arguably more important than that.The Chicago Ambassador caught up with Tull and discussed her show, her career, her obsession with Harrison Ford and her goals for the future.
Interviewed by Bob Chiarito for The Chicago Ambassador.
CA) You grew up in Cincinnati and then attended Loyola, right?
TULL) Yes. I majored in theater and I really wanted to be an actor, but that didn’t happen in college. I wasn’t cast very much. I was really only in one show. I didn’t consider myself a performer for a long time. I moved to California and on a whim I submitted a title to the Fringe Festival out there for a one-woman show. I didn’t have a script, I didn’t have an outline yet and then I got picked. So I had to write and create a one-woman show.
CA) How much time did you have?
TULL) About six months, so it was a good amount of time. That show ended up being about faith and religion, something that I wanted to express for a long time.
CA) Are you religious?
TULL) I was raised Catholic so I guess by default I’ve always been religious. The show (Jesus, Do You Like Me? Please Mark Yes or No) took on the question of what is religion and how religion plays a part in our lives and what I boiled it down to is that religion is love between yourself and a higher power, between yourself and others and between yourself and yourself.
CA) You’ve done a lot for someone early in their career. You also have a “regular” job?
TULL) I do. I work for the Chicago Park District. I’m also part of a playwriting company that teaches playwriting to elementary kids at an after-school program.
CA) You do a lot of story-telling and writing, as well as performing. Is there one thing that you like the most?
TULL) It ebbs and flows. Mostly I’m more interested in multi-disciplinary things. I run a monthly show that is multidisciplinary and brings in all different types of artists. We have songs, storytelling, solo performances.
CA) That’s the Sappho’s Salon show at the Women and Children’s First Bookstore?
TULL) Yes. We just had our one year anniversary last month.
CA) You also write poetry?
TULL) I do. I just had a poem published in a collection exploring sexual assault worldwide. But I write more performance poetry than written poetry. I get inspiration from Patti Smith and people who are more performers than they are writers.
CA) Often you hear about people who do stand-up and one-person shows and you think of Second City. Is going that route too stereotypical or is it something that you’ve thought about?
TULL) I took two sessions of writing classes there. I think Second City is great for the people who have the goal to work at Second City and for people who have never had any arts education before. They are great with introductions to things. For me, I’m very results based. I don’t know if everyone who puts something into that program gets something out of it. It’s definitely not for me because my goal is not to be on Saturday Night Live. I’d like to be on the Second City main stage but the way that they structure the program is that it’s much more about improv than it is about writing, even though by the time the actors get to the top tier, they are writing their own sketches. They have no advanced program for writers and I’m not very good at improv.
CA) You mentioned Patti Smith as an inspiration. Anyone else that you’d cite?
TULL) I don’t do a lot of stand-up but I pull from that world. Tig Notaro, who is a comedian right now. She’s so brave and personal with her work, and also very dark. She makes comedy gold out of that. Another is Steve Martin, all of the work he’s ever done. Gilda Radner. I watch her special every couple of weeks.
CA) Anyone from Chicago that currently inspires you?
TULL) Lily Be, who’s a storyteller.
CA) You’ve done such a variety of things, what do you call yourself?
TULL) I always say that I’m a performer, and then I say I’m a storyteller, a performance artist, a poet… I will do anything in front of a microphone that people will watch.
CA) Have you tried rapping?
TULL) [Laughter] I’ve written a couple of raps for people. I do have a fantasy that I’m a singer.
CA) Do you know Amy Sumpter? You should hook up with her.
TULL) Yep. I do.
CA) I wrote about ‘She’s Crafty’ awhile ago. And she’s done a one woman show.
TULL) Yes, I saw it at Fringe Fest. And those badass women who are in She’s Crafty. They are very supportive of other people. Everyone has their own side projects and is into multiple things, but they support others and are really lovely.
CA) Your show, “Bad Dates, Or What Killed That Monkey In Indiana Jones Only Makes Me Stronger” comes back May 20 for a limited engagement. Can you talk about that?
TULL) I wrote the title years ago when I was living in California. A few years after that, I decided to start writing it. It’s autobiographical and it’s about how the movies and television and all these things that we turn to in an effort to learn about the world can really warp our sense of how things should be. I think relationships are especially difficult to compare to relationships in movies. And I’m somebody who has a long obsession with Harrison Ford.
CA) That was my next question. What’s that about? Is it just a crush?
TULL) My dad is a 6’4 brown-haired white man. My mom is a shorter, dark-haired lady. So when I see Han Solo and Princess Lea, I see my parents. [Laughter], I grew up watching his movies. I have a big family and all of us went to see Star Wars when it came out last winter. It’s always been part of the fabric of my life. I think it’s also that he has made a career of playing people of integrity for the most part. His image onscreen is one of someone who you can trust, someone who loves his family, someone who is brave and strong and capable. He is always portraying my ideal man, my ideal person. I’ve had people ask me, ‘Are you in love with Han Solo or do you want to be Han Solo?’ and that blew my mind because I don’t really know.
I think my dad is the only Notre Dame football player who was part of the Glee Club. I am one of seven siblings (5 brothers and 1 sister). All of my brothers are big, giant athletes. But they are all sensitive and emotional. So when people hear I’m a feminist, sometimes they think I hate men. I just have a high standard for men because I have 6 examples of well, rounded, kind, compassionate, thoughtful men who are the epitome of Han Solo. A big part of the Bad Date show isn’t so much whining that ‘I can’t find a boyfriend,’ it’s that I can’t find anybody who meets the high standard that I’ve set for myself.
CA) Where will it be performed?
TULL) All over, at non-traditional venues like bookstores, bars, comic book shops. For more information, click here.
CA) Do you have an ultimate goal for what you want to do or accomplish?
TULL) I want to be part of a community here in Chicago. I’m looking to start a nonprofit within the next 5 to 6 years to help people who have suffered trauma through the arts. I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that I’m not going to become wildly famous, which is a silly thing to come to terms with but I think that a lot of performers dream about it. They think Lorne Michaels or someone else is going to find them on a tiny stage here in Chicago and take them to Hollywood, but that’s an unattainable goal. So I’m not going to become rich and famous. But for me, helping people with the tools that I have is my goal. I’m never going to make a law or save a child from a building building. But I can create art.