Author, theatrical inventor, performance artist, actor, singer... Jenny Magnus confounds categorization with the many different titles the world finds handy to describe her. Rather than present her as a poet in the traditional sense, this website prefers to include her performance and monologue among that of other writers for its resonant and artistic expression of language.
CANT performed at the LIP festival, 2004
Usually this intense verbal space is the reserve of poets. But Jenny Magnus does not leave such writing alone. She embodies personae in ways that deepen everything she says, a practice that many performance poets engage but rarely with her level of theatrical knowledge. Her net effect is a monologue that stands as the functional equal of a performance poem, but is executed with a dramaturg's acumen, and the trained but lucid repartee of an experienced actor. Adding her music, thoughts of Kurt Weill come to mind, except the bluesy and gutsy nature of the songs speak from broad Midwestern shoulders, and not necessarily of Berlin in the 1920s.
Magnus co-created the Curious Theatre Branch in 1988 with Beau O'Reilly, with whom she shares a legacy of musical performance through the band Maestro Subgum and the Whole. Maestro members themselves are the source of much playwrighting and cabaret performance going back years further, and set an early canonical note in the Chicago performance community as they responded to the city's tendency toward cabaret. This has aligned the Curious Theatre and its Rhino Festival not just with so-called "fringe theater, but also with experimental performance poetry. More recently, some Maestro members recombined into a new band, The Crooked Mouth, which includes Jenny Magnus; not coincidentally, all these band members also perform in theater.
Jenny Magnus has taught writing and theater at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Chicago, and Columbia College. In 2010-11, her residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art culminated in a stage-filling performance piece on backstage life called Still in Play, and brought the Curious Theatre and Crooked Mouth into the production. Albums to her personal credit include Whoopsadaisy (1997) and Songs From Shows (Dimwit Mandatory Observations of An Orchestrated Catastrophe) (2008). She is also present in numerous Maestro Subgum recordings. Critical recognition of her work is widespread and longstanding. She has performed at the Steppenwolf Theater and Gallery 37 Storefront Theater. The Chicago Tribune named her an Artist of the Year in 1998, and New City Chicago has featured her on its list of 50 most influential Chicago artists on multiple occasions. She is a recipient of an Illinois Arts Council artists fellowship
Her personal website is jennymagnus.com. Additional information on Magnus is available through Curious Theatre and UvuLittle Records.
- Kurt Heintz, 2012