Ryan Duke of the Pre-PostHumanists sits down with Chicago Literati

Inspired by Write Club, The Encyclopedia Show and The Neo-Futurists, Ryan Duke’s new short fiction reading series The Pre-PostHumanists offers a unique a twist on an old formula. With a show happening this Wednesday at the Strawdog Theater Company, I took the opportunity to sit down with Duke and discuss the trials and tribulations that come with this renegade series. Interview after the jump.

(Image courtesy Ryan Duke)

(Image courtesy Ryan Duke)

 Tell our readers about the Pre-PostHumanists.

 “Pre-PostHumanists Present:” is a short fiction reading series. We collect short stories from local authors and present them to a director. The director casts actors to deliver the short stories as a staged reading. Each show, we deliver two full-length stories, 2000-3500 words. These stories are delivered for the benefit of The Singular Consciousness. He’s a self-aware entity who was once contained solely within Melissa Maynard’s computer, but has since gone beyond those confines to become an omnipresent, nearly omnipotent piece of malware.

 What are some of the challenges you face with the series? 

 Our primary difficulty right now is getting submissions. We need more writers to send in their work. The understandable concern for many writers is that they don’t know what’s going to be done with their submissions. Are we going to turn them into a short play? How does this even work? Until a writer actually sees what we’re doing with their piece, it’s difficult for them to let go of their babies and trust us. We’re not going to manipulate the text in any way. This is not a short play. It’s a reading, but with staging. Every word of the piece will be delivered as the writer intended. We’re just getting creative with that delivery.

 How did the Pre-Post-Humanists come to be? / What inspired you to create this unique series?

 Four years ago I was part of a writer’s group that met at the Bookcellar on Sunday afternoons. Simon A. Smith, Greg Guiliano, James Teniya, Melanie Datz, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Jeremy Kniola and Armando Reyes were all members. We called ourselves the Pre-PostHumanists, kind of a play on Neo-Futurists, but darker. I remember conversations, mostly with Simon and Greg, about readings around town and how some could be hit or miss. Reading series perform a public service, they take the lonely act of writing and bring it to an audience giving the writer instant feedback. The problem is that there are wonderful writers that don’t know how to read their work or are simply too afraid to get onstage in front of a group of strangers with a bunch of scribbling about their feelings. Many writers are awesome at delivering their work, and they’re the reason these reading series survive and thrive, but what of those other voices? How can they take advantage of this storytelling renaissance and bring their work to a larger audience? That’s what we were trying to figure out, Simon, Greg and myself. The original idea was simple: we find the stories and deliver it to an actor to perform. We started recruiting actors, a host, finding a space, considering submission guidelines – when I up and moved away to LA for two years. The idea lost steam when I left.

Upon my return, I met with the same players and the idea got moving again. It was in discussions with Jason Polevoi (Associate Producer and Technical Director) and Brandon Eells (Singular Consciousness, Story Director) that the idea changed and got bigger. I loved the irreverent tone of Write Club and the alternate universe of Encyclopedia show – so we borrowed a bit. This is how the Singular Consciousness came to be. Picture what would happen if Ian Belknap (Writeclub Overlord) became a computer with unlimited power. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying. Then throw in the playful vignettes that make up the world of Encyclopedia Show. Suddenly we had a show, but with a lot more moving parts than we originally envisioned.


We needed editors to choose the stories: Enter Simon A. Smith, Grayson Daskawicz-Davis, and myself.

We needed a voice of the computer. Enter Voice Actor, Brandon Eells.

We needed a human being we can associate with on stage. Enter voice and stage actor, Eleni Pappageorge.

We needed a visual representation of the computer on stage. Enter programmer and videographer, Ralph Sledge.

We needed video production. Enter Jason Polevoi.

We needed directors. Enter Alex Huntsberger, Brandon Eells and Josh Sobel.

We needed lights and sound. Enter Jon Haverkamp

We needed props. Enter James Teniya.

We needed actors, and holy crap have we found some good ones: To date, Alphabetically: Caitlin Chuckta, Lisa Renee Duke, Sara Gorsky, Matt Kahler, John Leen, Julia Merchant, Kayla Pulley, Armando Reyes, Ben Vigeant, and Johnard Washington.

Of the original Pre-PostHumanists writer’s group that met at Bookcellar years ago, six of nine members are directly involved in the show.

 If you could have anyone perform at your show, who would you choose and why?

 An actor I’d love to see perform at my show is David Pasquesi. He’s my favorite Chicago actor and a family friend, but I’m too embarrassed to ask him directly because he’s… a big deal… so I’m hoping if I publicly flatter (read: harass) him by name dropping I can sidestep my own shame.

How about a writer whose work would we want to perform at the show? Sticking with Chicago folks, Megan Stielstra. I’ve seen her perform her work around town and read a fair amount while I was a student at Columbia College. Her writing demands to be read aloud. And while she can perform the shit out of anything she writes, I’d love to give our directors and actors a crack at it.

 What words would you use to describe the series? Why?

 Irreverent and tender. We’re having fun up there and we want you to have fun too. We know it’s hard to listen to 20 minutes straight of “short” fiction without a break, so we get silly in between and have an intermission where you can refill your drink at the bar. Everybody needs a chuckle. And certainly, everybody needs a drink. Tender, because we’re handling these stories with care and tact. All this business with the evil computer is just a framework for the main thrust of the show: the literature. Have a laugh. Have a drink. Get real with some local writers.


What do you hope to see happen with the series?


All of my plans are means to the same end. Global domination. Obviously.

After this first run, the plan is to collect our stories into an Anthology of Season One, and we’ll do the same for any subsequent season. I’d love to partner with more local zines to feature their work like we’re doing with KneeJerk Magazine in October. If there’s enough audience demand, we’ll look for a larger space to house our next run.

Filed under: Interviews

Leave a comment