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  • Writer's pictureSparling Designs

This business is always a game of "feast or famine". One day you're working in 4 different theaters on 4 different projects, and the next you're scanning the classifieds for dog walking gigs. My colleagues and I have MANY conversations about how to balance our work load, how many shows is too many shows, and how to pay the bills. Personally, I've had a big learning curve figuring this out now that I'm a full-time freelancer. Managing my time and finances is a constant uphill battle, and I'm still discovering new and better ways of working.

The last two months have been filled with rewarding, steady, well-paying work! Which is a refreshing change after 6 solid weeks of absolutely nothing. I started off the new year lighting a show for Devon De Mayo and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, one of my favorite storefront theater companies in Chicago. Tasters is a post-apocalyptic story of food testers being held against their will, the dangers of tyrannical rule by a select few, and the toxicity of the patriarchy at large. So, you know, right in my wheelhouse. This world premiere was such a treat to light, and I'm pretty proud of the work I did on that show.

After that I jumped right into assisting the one and only Heather Gilbert on Steppenwolf's production of Bug. I love assisting because it allows me to see how other designers work. Heather is not only a total pro (with a great name), but is a delight to work for. The whole cast and creative team of Bug made the process of making such a fucked up play, really enjoyable! If you have the chance to see this production before it closes March 15, I highly recommend it.

The day after that opened, I shifted into another tech process, assisting Greg Hoffman at the Paramount Theatre on the brand new musical, The Secret of My Success! We open this weekend, and the process of writing the show is STILL HAPPENING. We're getting new pages and new music every day, and Greg is handling it with significantly less panic than I would be! It's a blast to be working at the Paramount for the first time, and I hope I continue to work with this crew of highly professional theater makers.

I won't be in Aurora for opening though; I will be back at Steppenwolf to tech the SYA show, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Hopping back in the Designer seat, this production is an adaptation of the book of the same name. This will be my third SYA design, and I hope they keep calling me for these projects! I love designing shows geared specifically for high school students, it's a fun demographic to make theater for. Plus, I get to team up with one of my favorite set designers in town, Arnel Sancianco, to create several Chicago hotspots and neighborhoods.

I got lucky with these projects, in that they pay well, and dovetail into one another smoothly. That isn't always the case, so I'm enjoying it while it lasts! I'm sure I will double-book myself again (as in, April), and there will be dead times (as in, May). But for now, I'm enjoying working on one thing at a time.

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  • Writer's pictureSparling Designs


It’s been five years of Honey for me, and each year allows me to restock on the love, joy, and community that gets me through the other 10 months of the year. This space fills a void in my life, an open wound I can’t quite seem to heal any other way. We spend our daily lives on the grind, climbing up ladders and smashing glass ceilings, and our nights seeking comfort in the arms of our lovers and friends, those who understand how painful this hustle is. We take care of each other, take care of ourselves, and then suit up for battle. This show is an active front, a sexual “fuck you” to all the systems trying to cover up our bodies and mute our voices. Ain’t nobody got time for that, we have asses to shake and systems to break.

Swinging in a hammock at the closing party, a wise soul reminded me that documentation is vital to the preservation of memory. We need to see these stories being retold and remembered in public space. We need to hold space for this work. There is so much brilliant art being made in Chicago, and only the select few outside of Chicago know about it. So, in an effort to be the change I want to see in the world, I’m here, documenting this experience, and sharing it with you. There are so, so, SO many memorable moments from this anniversary year. The following is a deeper dive into some of my favorites, but certainly not all. There just isn’t enough time in the world to detail all of my favorite things about this project. If you want to know more, maybe buy a ticket?

Highlight Reel

Superknova hit us all hard with her inspired musical gifts. Performing an original song about the trans- and asian-american experience while shredding the guitar like her life depended on it, we were all visibly shook. Her gritty voice sings “every day is a fist fight”, smoothing over us like sexy sandpaper, and her guitar skills are unmatched. I’ve discovered a lot of my favorite local bands through The Fly Honey Show, and Superknova is the newest addition.

These gals are already on my list of local faves, and it was such a goddamn joy to have them back in the room. The rapping duo Glitter Moneyyy preaches sex-positivity and dirty bass, with thick beats and rhymes that clip. Their music is a thrill a minute, preaching “big hoe energy” and reminding us they’re “a hoe not a wifey, this pussy is pricey”. Glitter Moneyyy is the latest in a long lineage of femme rappers actively defying misogyny. Their feminism sits unapologetically on your face, and you want to celebrate femme sex with them.

Emily Gamble is an OG Fly Honey. It’s been 4 years since she’s performed with us, and she came back this year for a ONO slot, and her performance rocked me to my core. Moving to a spoken word piece vocalized by actor Joey Stone, Emily takes us on a journey through her coping mechanisms. From performance to sex to drug abuse, she finally findes peace in the steel and sweat of weightlifting. And there, onstage before 275 screaming fans and her Fly Honey fam, Emily dead-lifted 305 lbs; a new personal record for her. As I write this, chills run down my spine, small tears of wonder welling up in my eyes. Seeing such strength, surrounded by so much love and joy and support, is exactly what the Fly Honey Show means to me.

Raheim White transported an already magical room to a mystic plane where we were all one. Their words, a guided meditation on Queerness and the origin of energy and life. Their movements, masculine and feminine both, reflecting the duality within each of us. The combination enchanted us all to believe their every word. As we all chant “Om” together, I can feel my chakras align, my heart relaxing, and my energy melding with those around me. I am at peace, and that peace stays with me the rest of the night. Raheim gave us a gift with their performance, one I will not soon forget.

Dalton Rhodes is a legit star. This babe has won national awards for their pole performances, and we are so privileged to include them in our number. He did a ONO performance last year, and it simply wasn’t enough. We basked in the glory of his incredible prowess on that pole, and lord did we cheer. Seeing Dalton defy gravity on the Fly Honey stage was awe-inspiring, majestic, and downright royal.

We opened the Fly Honey Season with one of my favorite featured artists of the season, Mariachi Sirenas. Hailed as Chicago’s first and ONLY all-female mariachi band, their performance brought the house down every night. No one can argue with their skill and grace. As a lighting designer, I’m always tickled when artists ask to be lit in their favorite color for their solo. Of course you can! This is your big moment! Their music got everyone stomping and clapping, smiling from ear to ear.

Honey is Hard Work: The Process

For 5 weeks, our crew rolls into the Den theatre and perform our ritual of setting up for the show. It goes something like this:

- We show up at 6.

- Lighting and Audio staff power up the rig.

- We meet and tech the One Night Only performance for half an hour, from 6:30-7.

- Stage Management sweeps and mops the floor while Lighting checks stand lights and distributes LED run-lights throughout the space.

- We get dinner.

- We meet back up at 8:45 for the full company meeting.

- We change into our own costumes of black lace and leather, in which we run the show.

- We do the damn thing.

- We power down and pack up around 1:30am.

- We grab a beer to wind down after the three-hour adrenaline rush we all just experienced.

- We come back and do it again.

Saturdays are slightly different because we tech the Featured Artists for the upcoming weekend. On Saturdays, we shlep into the space around 10am, bleary-eyed and hungover, and we order breakfast sandwiches from Mitchell at the bar. We talk through the pieces before the artists arrive, and then we tech each one in an hour. After that we have a couple hours to ourselves before starting the above ritual. It’s a routine that exhausts us all, and yet somehow we can’t get enough of it. We come back every day with smiles and hugs, love in our hearts and glitter on our butts, ready to seize the night.

Wednesdays are similar to show days, except that’s our dress rehearsal. It’s our only chance to see that weekend’s show in its entirety with the new artists and dancers. We work until 11:30 and then have a production meeting. Following the production meeting the select few meet to discuss program order. They then send out the updated program order so Team Stage Management and Team Lighting can adjust their work accordingly before Opening.

Sunday through Tuesday, we rest. We recuperate. We hydrate. We go to our day jobs and do our laundry. By Weekend 5 we are exhausted, but we don’t care. This is what we love the most.

Our Hive

We call ourselves Worker Bees. We are the carpenters, electricians, and audio engineers. We are the stage managers, the front-of-house staff, and the design team. We’re the labor pool. It takes a special kind of crazy to be a Worker Bee; all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears, with very little of the public recognition. We aren’t in it for the fame; we’re in it for the honey. Every one of us is so committed to this project, we’ll do whatever it takes to see it succeed. We talk about the show year-round, planning and dreaming together about the future of the show.

Slick Jorgensen has been our Lighting Director for 4 years, but he’s so much more than that. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term, a Lighting Director is the captain of the ship for the lighting department. The specifics can vary depending on the size and scope of the company or project. For Fly Honey, it means keeping the Den’s shady power balanced, getting the lights working, hiring and managing labor, and supporting the artists with any additional lighting or electrical needs they may have. Slick joined the hive 4 years ago, when we were still in the Chopin basement, and his responsibilities included making sure drunk people didn’t kick out moving light power. He applies all of his experience and knowledge from working in Union houses and Corporate Events to our wild underworld. Beyond his duties as a Lighting Director, he makes sure we’re all getting enough food and water, that we’re taking care of ourselves through this process, that we’re getting enough sleep. From what I gather, Slick cares about each and every person in the room of Fly Honey; it shows in his dedication to the project. My appreciation for Slick and all that he does really deserves its own blog post, but for now, suffice to say he’s my ride or die, and I don’t know how I’d do this show without him.

The Cast are the Bees performing every night, every weekend. They are the heart of this beautiful beast, keeping the blood pumping for months of preparation, rehearsal, and performance. They perform the opening number for both acts, the Duets dance piece, the 11th hour number, Naked Girls Singing, and the small “commercial break” vignettes. They Host. They Write. They compose. They choreograph and perform in the big Ensemble Teases. They guide us through the sexual chaos. These badass babes are the reason we all get to show up the next year to learn new moves and find new grooves. They’re heroes.

One of the great perks of performing music in The Fly Honey Show, is the opportunity to collaborate with John “Cheetoh” Cicora and the Fly Honey Band. Featured artists can have their music played by a team of highly-trained professionals, or perform to a big-band jazz rendition of their favorite song. It’s one of the many facets of Fly Honey that sets this show apart from other burlesque or counter-culture shows. The live band keeps the dancers on their toes, while the hosts keep them guessing with playful rounds of musical Simon-Says.

Anyone who’s been within a mile of Fly Honey knows Missi Davis. If the Cast is the heart, Missi is the steroid shot to the chest that keeps this whole beast moving at break-neck speed. She dedicates her life, her off-season, her everything to this project. She keeps us safe, and keeps the houses completely packed. She literally keeps the lights on for us, and without her hard work and dedication we would never have grown to be the big fuckoff show we are today. You don’t fuck with Missi Davis, believe me, I’ve seen it tried, and it always fails. She’s a boss ass bitch, and I absolutely love her for it.

And, of course, Coach K. The Soul of the Beast. Erin Kilmurray. This is her “beautiful crazy brain baby”, the whole reason we’re here. Her leadership and vision have made Chicago a better place, a safer place, a more loving place in which to make art. The physicality of her performance raises the bar every year. The vocabulary of movement she has developed over the ten years of this project is so strong, it is its own contemporary style of dance. This project is a cornerstone of the Chicago dance community, and a turning point in our collective history. Only time will tell what other beautiful gifts Coach K will give us in her career, but I for one can’t wait to find out.


Folx often ask me why I became a lighting designer, and the answer is never easy to explain. Before Fly Honey, it mostly had to do with physics and color theory, with storytelling, and the fact that I discovered I was good at it at an early age. I grew up in a life of privilege; my family supported my artistic endeavors, and I had access to the resources needed to hone my craft. Once I hit college on the east coast, my reasons for sticking with it changed. It became less about art and more about revenge, anger, and proving the dickbags wrong that bullied me daily. I grew determined to be successful in spite of the boys I went to college with. And I continued to be fueled by that rage for a long time… until 5 years ago, when I joined this project. Now, after collaborating with this hive for 5 years, my determination to succeed in this industry isn’t about me anymore. It’s about elevating the stories that don’t come from places of privilege. It’s about raising each other up in any way we can, and for me that means making each piece as stunning as possible. It means taking all my privilege, experience, and rage, and turn it all into something thrilling, sexy, and positive. I don’t want to be angry anymore about my own past. I want to get angry about the bullying and injustice happening every day. I want to stay angry at the systems designed to keep us categorized as a “them”, and I want to use that anger to work toward something good. Something joyous. Something sexy. Something better.

At the end of this wild 7-week process, I walk away with a soul brimming full of light. I walk away from a theater, but not from a family that loves me. This band of crazy weirdos that just can’t stop growing in number are my chosen family. I don’t see them all that often in the off-season, but when I do, it’s a family reunion full of hugs and laughs, exchanging looks of, we’ve been through some wild shit together haven’t we. My heart is full, my wounds from the year’s societal beatings mostly healed, and I feel ready to tackle those ladders and ceilings again with a vengeance because I’m not just doing it for me anymore.

I’m doing it for us.

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  • Writer's pictureSparling Designs

Breon Arzell, Hive Choreographer and Cast member, in the Hive dance
Breon Arzell, Hive Choreographer and Cast member, in the Hive dance

Wowie wow wow wooooooow it's already Week 3 Honey Bees! You know time flies when you're having fun, because it's been a full MONTH since we started loading in this monster of a show, and it really feels like we've only just gotten started... Aside from, you know all the exhaustion and Glitter Lung*.

Allison Law, Fly Honey OG, Doctor in training, killing it in the Ensemble Wks 1 and 2
Allison Law, Fly Honey OG, Doctor in training, killing it in the Ensemble Wks 1 and 2

The Fly Honey Show has had some truly memorable moments thus far, from the all-female Mariachi Sirenas serenading us weekend 1, to Dalton Rhodes' AWARD-WINNING pole dance performance, to Emily Rogers' one-night only performance piece where she dead-lifted 305 lbs of hard cold steel, her new personal record. And that's just to name a few! The hits keep on coming, and they won't stop coming until we close. This weekend I'm particularly excited about Glitter Moneyyy, one of my alltime favorite hip hop groups, and all the fresh faces in the Ensemble! So get in line baby birds! We may be sold out but we like to get as many waitlist folx in as possible. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Mariachi Sirenas, Chicago's first and only all-female Mariachi band
Mariachi Sirenas, Chicago's first and only all-female Mariachi band

*Glitter Lung - the inevitable cold that we all get from making all this honey... it's hard work, you know.

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