GRAYSLAKE – Growing up, Grayslake native Angela Vela was often told she was funny and could tell a great story, but she didn’t imagine that one day she’d be a stand-up comedian, performing in Chicago’s booming storytelling and live lit scene.
After graduating from Grayslake Central High School in 2000, Vela attended the College of Lake County and Northeastern Illinois University to pursue a degree in sociology, a field of study she would later call upon to enhance her comedic craft.
“I love figuring out why we are the way we are,” Vela said.
By 2006, Vela was living in Chicago and working as a pharmaceutical technician. Comedy was not on her radar until friends encouraged her to join them for an open mic night at a local club.
Vela had never performed outside of participating in high school theater projects, but she felt confident enough to give it a try, and told a funny story about her cats.
“I’d never been at a microphone with all eyes on me," she said. "It lasted five minutes. As soon as it was over, all I could think about was getting back up there. I was immediately addicted.”
Before long, Vela was “working her material” by performing at open mic nights two to four nights a week, at venues all over Chicago, sometimes several in a single night.
Being on stage was like “free therapy,” she said. “The vulnerability feels good.”
Calling herself an “observational sociologist,” Vela finds inspiration in everyday life, turning the joyful, weird, funny, infuriating and sad situations that befall us all into relatable stage material.
Vela produces, hosts and performs in a variety of shows across Chicago and in the suburbs. She is also a senior member of Broad Shoulders Productions where she produces, directs, writes and acts in short films and theater productions throughout the year. Last year, she headlined Chicago Women’s Funny Festival.
Fillet of Solo
Currently, Vela is performing in the 18th annual Fillet of Solo festival presented by Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre and Live Bait Theater. The festival, which runs through Jan. 25, features 16 storytelling collectives and numerous solo performers.
“Live lit is booming,” said Dorothy Milne, Lifeline Theatre’s Artistic Director. ‘There have been ardent cult followings for storytelling and live lit all along, but now mainstream audiences are getting acquainted with the form and realizing that they can enjoy it live and locally all around Chicago.”
Lifeline Theatre is not the only company to present live lit, but its annual Fillet of Solo festival is thought to be the largest, Milne said. More than 1,500 people attended last year’s event, despite the sub-freezing temperatures, which the Chicago area is again experiencing.
“The weather was wretched, but Chicago fans just put their boots on and came out anyway,” Milne said, adding she hoped that same defiant attitude prevails for this year’s festival.
Vela is performing with the first group. She is also the group’s senior writer and co-producer, alongside boyfriend Danny Black. The shows are scheduled for 10 p.m. on Jan. 10, 17 and 24, at Heartland Studio Theatre. The God, Sex & Death Variety Hour is also presented at 8 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month at Schubas Tavern in Chicago.
Vela will also be hosting the Seven Deadly Sins show at 4 p.m. Jan. 25, at Heartland Studio Theatre, on the final day of Fillet of Solo.
This storytelling series, based on the seven deadly sins—envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath—was created by Vela four years ago, and invokes her sociology background.
“I’m obsessed with themes,” said Vela, on how she came up with the concept.
The “sinners” share a variety of stories that are often confessional, be it through reading an essay or short story, or performing a monologue.
The Seven Deadly Sins Storytelling Series is also presented at 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month at Café Mustache, in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
This spring, Vela plans to resurrect a comedy show called Chicago Comedy Transit, which was performed a couple years ago at the Golf Farm in Wauconda. She’d also like to bring a comedy showcase to the College of Lake County in Grayslake and Harper College in Palatine.
“I’m dying to get comedy out to Lake County,” Vela said.
If you go:
What: 18th Annual Fillet of Solo Festival
Where: Venues include the Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N Glenwood Ave., and Heartland Studio, 7016 N Glenwood Ave., in Chicago
When: Through Jan. 25
Info: Visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for pricing and more information.