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an experiment in creative adventure and a platonic partnership on the rails, with an aim at paying forward

Updated March 2019:


The panel of Links staff and supporters reviewed the applications in January and we had the final contestant selection night (hosted by Tribble with guest judges Lally Gartel, Jackie Bousek, and Jesse Malmed) on Valentine’s Eve, February 13, at the Hungry Brain. The night was a huge success—extremely funny and entertaining. Each and every finalist was remarkably insightful and creative. Selecting the finalist felt ultimately quite absurd. In the end, the winner was Charlotte Long, a Chicago performer who works with Manual Cinema among other collaborations. The journey will be to the desert—specifically, Moab and the red rocks regions of Utah, accessible via a train trip on the California Zephyr to Grand Junction, CO, from where we will rent a car for the remaining hour or so to our destination. The trip is scheduled for the very end of April. We will report back afterwards. In the meantime, historic information about the process and premise of THE AMTRAKLOR is available below.

Also. Shoutout to the peeps on the Amtrak discussion boards who found this project somehow! Sending the love right back at ya and we aspire to your level of train lifestyle commitment!

Historic info from winter 2019


THE AMTRAKLOR is an opportunity to go on free roundtrip train journey, engaging your creative process and exploring the nature of partnership along the way.

Check out the places you could go by viewing the Amtrak route map here.

How did THE AMTRAKLOR come about?

Every year, as a perk for holding an Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card, Chicago performer Nora Sharp gets a “companion coupon”: a free roundtrip ticket for a friend, alongside purchase of Nora’s own.

This winter, Nora is offering this resource to a fellow artist and using the proceeds of the process to give back to Links Hall, one of Chicago’s homes for independent performance.

How does it work?

THE AMTRAKLOR invites you to submit a proposal for a journey you would like to take by train and in (platonic) partnership with Nora. Seven contestants will be chosen for a night of non-normative matchmaking on Valentine’s Eve, 2019, where a panel of judges will interview contestants and determine the best pairing for the journey. The winning contestant will receive

  • a free roundtrip coach train ticket to the destination described in their proposal

  • breakfast in the dining car for any mornings of their trip

  • general support in planning the journey, including sleeping, food, and other recommendations

  • broadly speaking, a pretty unusual and potentially wonderful experience

How do I apply?


The app includes the following parts:

  • The part about the Basics: Name, contact info, optional resume/CV, and optional 50-word bio & photo (purely for marketing purposes if you are chosen as a final contestant)

  • The part about You

  • The part about the Trip

  • The part about Creative Process

  • The part about Logistics

  • Space for your questions

Does it cost anything to apply?

Yes: $5. THE AMTRAKLOR has two goals: to create a compelling and nourishing experience, and to give back to Links Hall. A small application fee helps us ensure that goal #2 gets met (Links Hall will also receive all door funds from the live selection night) and that we can offer a small stipend to the performers who will serve as judges/interviewers for the selection night.

Links Hall has served artists in Chicago for decades and this year, their 40th anniversary, they have actually gifted an entire season of free venue rentals and production costs to performers, a cost of around $1500 per weekend all fall and winter. Pretty amazing! So we feel that $5 for the chance at a free roundtrip ticket is not too shabby, given where your money will be going. Additionally, if you apply and do not make it to the final contestant round, your application fee will serve as your ticket to the live selection night.

Are there any eligibility requirements or other restrictions?

For one thing, because of the way the Amtrak companion coupon works, you will be traveling with this person:

Photo credit: Lucas Brown

Photo credit: Lucas Brown

“You get to go for free, but you gotta go with me” - Nora Sharp, passionate extrovert

Then there’s the following:

  • Contestants must be available in person for the live selection night in Chicago on Valentine’s Eve (February 13), 2019.

  • Journeys must be able to take place between March 1 and June 30, 2019.

  • Proposals will be vetted in part based on logistical realism and alignment with Nora’s life. It is unlikely we will select proposals for overall trips of more than one week.

  • Journeys are not possible March 7-10, April 16-19, or May 23-June 2, with additional dates restricted pending changes in Nora’s life and availability.

  • Contestants are responsible for their own housing at the destination, as well as all other costs other than the ticket and any breakfasts during the trip.

  • Please note that coach tickets on Amtrak do not include sleeping accommodations, though Nora has a lot of experience making the best of the coach sleeping experience and will offer support around this if your trip is overnight.

What will my travel companion be like? I don’t know Nora personally.

Nora Sharp is a born-and-raised Chicagoan, avid winter cyclist, youngest child, Oberlin grad, Whitney Young Dolphin, storyteller, dancemaker, artist advocate, Amtrak devotee, canvassing enthusiast, Fly Honey fam fan, Amara Enyia supporter, FICA Chicago student, aspiring filmmaker, and recent Hamilton convert. Nora values open and honest communication and intersectional approaches to all of life.

What are you looking for in an AMTRAKLOR contestant and proposal?

We’re looking for people who are kind, mature, self-aware, and flexible, and who mean what they say. We’re looking to support a journey that’s going to serve your creative and personal purposes, that is logistically feasible, and that sounds fun.

Do I have to be an artist/performer to apply?

Not in any formalized sense! We are pitching this opportunity at artist/performer communities because of the organization we’re raising money for and the communities Nora is already invested in, and we are looking for folks who want to engage a creative process of some kind as part of the journey, but we have a pretty broad understanding of what that could look like.

How will I know if I’ve moved onto the final contestant round?

Final contestants will be notified by February 1. The winning contestant will be chosen live on February 13 at the Hungry Brain.

Are you just going to pick your friends? This process seems potentially pretty subjective.

The proposals will be reviewed by an independent panel of people who have experience considering and incorporating an array of strengths into their evaluation processes. Nora won’t be selecting the 7 final contestants. Nora is also a pretty socially open person who likes to get to know new people and won’t be set on signing on to travel with a familiar face.

I have other questions about this experience and/or process.

Feel free to contact Nora at or Brett Swinney, Links Hall Production Manager and AMTRAKLOR teammate, at

Photo credit: Nora Sharp. Minot, ND, Fall 2018

Photo credit: Nora Sharp. Minot, ND, Fall 2018