Carolyn Defrin is a multidisciplined artist currently based in London, England. She is probably best known to Chicago audiences for her work with The House Theatre of Chicago, where she originated the roles of Wendy in The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan, Emily Book in their bicoastal hit The Sparrow, and is currently playing Bess in their critically-acclaimed Death and Harry Houdini. We’re talking to her today about her work with Chicago artists John Francisco and Kyle Bice on their website, The Monster Weekly, their upcoming gallery show, how monsters can show us at our most human, and What Scares Her.
Why monsters? In what ways are monsters uniquely accessible?
Monsters feel like a great and playful way for us to talk about human trials and tribulations without being wholly literal. It’s a kind of mask that lets us play with big ideas but from a new and exaggerated angle.  It’s also a particularly fun challenge to create what the monster version of human wonders and problems are. Also, lately we’ve been thinking a lot about why monsters are important–why things that scare us are important…what are we trying to teach kids about being afraid…is it preparation for the fact that there are actual scary times in life…and that it’s okay to be afraid and confront that?  Or  that maybe the thing that scares us also has the power to delight and care for us, or that the thing that scares us might be just as scared of us.
How did you and John get involved with Kyle Bice? What is the division of creativity? Do any of you ever trade hats? Do you ever feature guest collaborators?

Kyle was suggested to us by our dear friend, the very talented comic book illustrator, Chris Burnham. It was a lucky find and worked immediately. Typically John and I write the story and then send it to Kyle to draw, but on a few occasions Kyle has drawn something first and then we’ll write off of it.  We really enjoy this back and forth relationship. John and I are horrible at drawing, so we probably won’t switch hats anytime soon, but we’ve talked about getting guest writers and visual artists and are particularly interested in opening up to writing stories in other languages, inviting international artists to collaborate in order to make ourselves more accessible and dynamic.

The gallery showing is to renovate the website to make it more interactive for kids and families–can you explain what that means? Are there plans for a book, or to explore additional mediums, at some point?

Ultimately we want to build a site that is more interactive, a platform for kids and families to engage in our model of collaboration by writing and drawing their own monsters. We’ll start small with submissions and then eventually we want to develop a cross global and intergenerational collaboration, where a child from one country can draw a monster based on another child’s story from somewhere else. A platform where each and every story and drawing can become a catalyst for further collaboration and creativity. And yes, we want a book deal and a tv series and a movie! The dream is to get full time about this.

Do you and John use Monsters Weekly in current work with children? How? Are monsters ever a hard sell, or are kids pretty willing to jump in and play in this world? What are your favorite discoveries the monsters have allowed kids to make?

John and I have taught several children’s programs together, though we have yet to use the monsters for material, but we plan to! In fact to start this new website, we’ll be working with a small group of students to demonstrate the interactive collaboration model. The hope is that the content of monsters encourages kids to be just as unique as the monster they create. And that the art of collaboration is about one unique person getting together with another unique person to make something even more unique.  The kids that we’ve spoken to about The Monster Weekly are all really engaged in the material. We like to vary the materials so that there are all types of monster–scary monsters, silly monsters, girl monsters, boy monsters, etc.–something to appeal to everyone.
Monster Weekly is pretty all-ages friendly–was that always the plan? Have you gotten more of a following with adults than you had expected? If so, how has that steered the project differently?
Yes it was always the plan to appeal to all ages. It’s our goal with all of our work, but especially when we’re focused on children we feel it is absolutely essential not to talk down to kids and to appeal to their parents–because parents need entertaining and playful material just as much as kids. I actually think our following is more adult right now. We feel good about that. But it’s important to us that we reach all generations and work on how they can enjoy the material together. 
Do you have a favorite monster so far? Which one do you identify most with? Which monster scares you the most?
My favorite monster is a duo: “Extraordinary Pair” –it’s just so beautiful and was inspired by a picture of two deers that I saw in a National Geographic magazine– one deer had a big pile of hay on its head. But Kyle’s interpretation was just so much more beautiful from what I originally imagined as a silly pair,  and it made me think about how we love people who uniquely complement us.  John’s favorite is Crandall.  He likes the whimsy and weirdness of this “Thanksgiving Scrooge”. I fear that I am a bit like “Judgy Judy“–but “Gemini” is definitely me.

What scares you?

I fear my parents’ deaths. Always have. Working on being more eastern about it.  I’m also scared of having too much time on my hands and in those times not knowing what my purpose is.

Is there a monster that has helped you deal with those fears, or are there plans for one?

Yes, actually-John and I are just starting work on a play that strings some of our monsters together, but specifically explores the relationship between a young human girl and an older monster and how they both experience the delights and dilemmas they face in the world.

They mostly rock out at night. Mostly.
Carolyn and artist Kyle Bice will be in attendance at the opening of The Monster Weekly art exhibit this Tuesday evening at the Grind in Lincoln Square. There will be snacks, drinks and music, and artwork will be available for purchase, as well! This is a mini fundraiser for them to make some very exciting upgrades to their website. If you can’t make it Tuesday, the art will be on display for the next two months.