Department of English alumna Shannon Maney-Magnuson ’05 is the co- founder, host and curator of the up-and-coming Chicago production, “The Encyclopedia Show,” a themed monthly variety show filled with prose, poetry, music, art and comedy and on a variety of topics. Maney-Magnuson said, “We’re endeavoring to provide something more to our audience that makes our shows different from others.” After just under two years in production, it has received rave reviews, winning a 2009 Orgie Theater Award. Since then, “The Encyclopedia Show” has expanded rapidly with monthly shows running at Brown University, Austin, TX, Oklahoma City, OK and Seoul, South Korea.
In 2008, Illinois State University alumnus Robbie Q. Telfer ‘03, MA ‘06 and Maney-Magnuson partnered with nonprofit Young Chicago Authors to produce the first “Encyclopedia Show” and have since expanded how the show is performed. Each month, Telfer and Maney–Magnuson choose a topic from an encyclopedia and send assignments to approximately ten contributors (poets, writers, musicians, comics, artists) who then compose original work about their topic. After a month of preparation, creations are performed for the first time for a live audience in what Maney-Magnuson calls “a verbal encyclopedia entry”.
Sanctioned by the fictitious Institute of Human Knowledge and Hygiene, one of the show’s aims is to saturate each performance with factual information about the topic. For example, during a show on serial killers, Maney-Magnuson interviewed Dr. Helen Morrison, who has interviewed more than 100 serial killers and was the inspiration for the character of Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. Morrison brought parts of John Wayne Gacy’s brain in a Ziploc bag. Time Out Chicago journalist Jonathan Messinger calls the performance, “The most artful sideshow in the city.”
When Maney-Magnuson is not preparing for each month’s “Encyclopedia Show,” she is busy writing. Her poetry was most recently published in the 2010 book Learn Then Burn, a collection of poems written primarily by performance poets about subjects that are designed to be discussed in the classroom. “The entire volume is free of questionable language, but not at the expense of touching on important issues. “I’m really excited to be a part of it,” said Maney-Magnuson.
Maney-Magnuson currently resides in Bloomington, Illinois with her husband, Illinois State alumnus Roy Magnuson ’05. She returned to ISU in 2009 to complete the teacher certification process and co-hosts the Normal Poetry Slam: Ear Candy, at The Coffeehouse in Uptown Normal.