Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

What? The Fringe! Fifth Annual Fest Presents Fifty Shows At Five Venues

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Rob Lloyd: Who, Me.   Photographer: James Penlidis. Designer: Lliam Amor

Rob Lloyd: Who, Me./Photo: James Penlidis. Design: Lliam Amor

By Raymond Rehayem

Look, up on the Northwest Side, it’s the Fifth Annual ChicagoFringe Festival. What was once the very outskirt of the Blue Line is now an emergent theater hood per festival executive director Vinnie Lacey:  “Theater happens everywhere in Chicago.To call any place a theater district is laughable to me. We found a home in Jefferson Park that has really revitalized the festival.”

What follows is frayed and I ain’t about to weave it together seamlessly. Frankly that wouldn’t be very fringy. Forward, then, with a few featured fringe funambulists…

Fringe Won: Po’ Chop describes her long-form burlesque “Black as Eye Wanna Be” as an exploration of oppression and a celebration of black identity.  “I would say of black female Americans, but it’s not done in a way that’s isolating if you don’t identify as such.” The show, featuring “an all-queer cast” pulls its soundtrack from black women musicians through history. “We ask that the audience brings one item that represents oppression to them. My whole repertoire directly looks at race, sexuality, politics…  I don’t really do traditional burlesque. It’s more like neo-burlesque, with performance art. In traditional burlesque the woman is presented in a demure kind of non-aggressive role. They’re typically taking the audience out of reality and putting them into a fantasy world.  I am working toward presenting femininity in a powerful, aggressive manner. I’m not presenting myself necessarily in a glamorous way. I’m presented in something that’s a little bit more accessible, though I might be playing with gender a little bit. So I might have facial hair, or I might have a dick or something of that manner.  The sexy part, I don’t even consider that when I’m working on burlesque acts.”

Starting a thread to somewhat stitch this together, I posit if there’s a fringe there must be a mainstream as well—and if there’s anything that unifies mainstream art, it’s the desire to entertain. So, what percentage of Po’ Chop’s focus is on entertaining the audience?

“Zero percent. I’m not interested in entertainment. I want to communicate something that’s provocative and makes people think. We have iPhones for entertainment. But,” Po’ Chop adds, “they’re gonna have a good time!” Read the rest of this entry »

Three Days of Pieces &/or Music &/or Love: Questions, Answers, and the Twenty-Sixth Annual Abbie Fest

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Mary-Arrchie Artistic Director Richard Cotovsky as Abbie Hoffman

Mary-Arrchie artistic director Richard Cotovsky as Abbie Hoffman

By Raymond Rehayem

Nope, Mary-Arrchie artistic director Richard Cotovsky doesn’t spend three days non-stop in character as the late political prankster for whom his long-running theater festival is named. “I do the Abbie Hoffman for the opening and closing. That’s really it.”

Following a 2pm Friday gathering at Daley Plaza (“It’s just a lot of yelling and screaming,” says the founder) festival participants—and anyone else who’d care to join—march down to Mary-Arrchie for the opening. Two and a half days later, the closing ceremonies commence. In between, a seemingly countless number of performers present “anything they want. The only criteria is that it’s an hour or less.”

Now in its twenty-sixth year, “The Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Theatre Festival” was initiated to commemorate the anniversary of Woodstock, yet was named after Hoffman—whose most enduring contribution to Woodstock was getting booted off stage by Pete Townshend. In keeping with the festival’s jam-packed nature, I asked a slew of participants the following questions:

A) bbie was known as a radical. What is most radical about your piece?

W) oodstock’s known as Three Days of Peace, Music, and—depending on which movie poster you read—Love. Which of these three concepts does your piece most address? Read the rest of this entry »

Big Laughs: The Chicago Women’s Funny Festival Returns with Seventy Shows

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Liz MacArthur and Jill Valentine

Liz McArthur and Jill Valentine

Comedy has come a long way. In the old days, many male comedians believed with all of their hearts that women just weren’t funny. The comedy world was once filled with barriers for female comedians. Times have changed and while many of those barriers still exist, many women have taken their rightful place in every echelon of the comedic world. To celebrate this welcome change, the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival (CWFF) was created.

Festival founders Jill Valentine and Liz McArthur—both veterans of the Chicago comedy community who worked on the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, another of Chicago’s big comedy extravaganzas—saw an opportunity to create a festival that focused on women. By applying their experience and expertise, they created the CWFF in 2012.

Now for the third year in a row, the CWFF takes to the stage to celebrate women in comedy. Unlike many other comedy festivals that focus on a specific genre of comedy such as sketch or improv, the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival features every type of comedy, from stand-up to burlesque to musical comedy; if it’s funny, it has a place at CWFF. Read the rest of this entry »

Scores Galore: The New Chicago Musical Theatre Festival Features Eight World Premieres Over Two Weeks

Festivals, Profiles, Theater 3 Comments »

ANTHEM

By Aaron Hunt

“Many mumbling mice, Are making merry music in the moonlight, Mighty nice,” sing six fresh-faced, eager-eyed young performers in unison, up the scale and then back down. David Kornfeld, musical director of “Mr. Munch has a Murmur,” is leading vocal warm-ups from behind a portable keyboard, snuggled away in The Mountain Room of Bubbles Academy, a childhood learning center in Lincoln Park, the walls painted with deer drinking from pools of water, porcupines, a campfire and tents, and a gargantuan bumblebee in front of the frosty-grey mountains.

Cast members have gathered with guitars, a ukulele, an autoharp and a swarm of highlighted, marked and re-marked pages of music and lyrics to rehearse the story of a country-music singer and his might-be girlfriend on vacation in New York City. L.C. Bernadine, who adapted the book from a short story by Mark Sanders, passes out some new lyrics, and cast and crew have a relaxed chat about how the new words will fall on the audience’s ears, and the potential to enunciate them at the required speed. We learn a lot about this entry in Underscore Theatre Company’s Chicago Musical Theatre Festival listening to the cast sing the song in question, “Keep Walkin’.” Lyrics such as “If you want to live to talk about New York someday… speed it up… move along… keep walkin’,” suggest the collision of two unique worlds. Read the rest of this entry »

Play Time: How to Binge on Chicago Theatre Week

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DebClapp-colorprint-headshotBy Robert Eric Shoemaker

A relatively new phenomenon, Chicago Theatre Week is the opportunity for both the diehard fan and the average Joe to explore and enjoy the variety of theater that Chicago has on offer on the cheap with 100 productions all offering reduced ticket prices for the duration of the event. In its brief tenure, Chicago Theatre Week has joined the ranks of Restaurant Week on the list of “amazing activities with which to lust away an entire week in Chicago,” and rightly so—but what is it about Chicago theater that makes it special? And what better time than Chicago Theatre Week to find out?

We asked Deb Clapp, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres, which organizes Theatre Week, to share her insights with us.

What got you interested in theater in Chicago?
I moved to Chicago to work at the Goodman and I really wasn’t aware at the time that there was such an amazing theater scene happening here… At Goodman I was privileged to be able to work with such companies as Teatro Vista, Teatro Luna and Congo Square. Those companies and their high levels of artistic quality, craftsmanship and professionalism gave me my first glimpse of what was going on in Chicago and got me interested in what was happening in the rest of the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dickens in America/American Players Theatre

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Photo: Zane Williams

Photo: Zane Williams

Two sides of “Dickens in America” at American Players Theatre are very much at odds with one another. At one is an edutainment script fit for a literature-class trip. Although imparting undeniably interesting personal tidbits reflected in his writing, Charles Dickens’ segues between his novel readings have the robotic blurbiness of Disney’s Hall of Presidents. At the other end is a remarkably endearing performance by James Ridge that, while perhaps too uppity for a figure from a more constricted time, is living and fully transformative. He takes all of the Victorian drear out of the King of Victorian Drear.  Read the rest of this entry »

Unfiltered Honesty: Teatro Vista and Collaboraction Team Up for Yo Solo Festival

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Juan Francisco Villa

On a Friday night at Calles y Sueños in Pilsen, a small crowd gathers for the monthly Noche de Monólogos (Night of Monologues), a night of performances and open mic that on this night ranges from fiction reading to monologues in character to non-narrative movement-based performance. Organizers of the event speak in Spanish and English, as do the performers. People greet each other with hugs and kisses; throughout the night, audience members occasionally yell encouragement to performers and applaud with a level of enthusiasm you might get from a proud, affectionate family.

This month’s Noche de Monólogos was a preview of the upcoming festival of Latino solo shows, “Yo Solo,” a collaboration between Teatro Vista and Collaboraction. The festival will be a series of six solo performances by Latino artists arranged in three repeating programs, each of which is a pair of two of the shows. Read the rest of this entry »

Democracy in Acting: Voting for the Citizen’s Play Festival at the Fine Print Theatre Company

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Adam Stephenson, Derek Van Barham, Judy Schindler, Deanna K. Reed, Steve Evans, Michael Wexler, Taryn Wood, Chris Popio, Janna Sobel and Stephen Cefalu/Photo: Gretchen Kelley

The Citizen’s Play Festival began with more than twenty-five potential plays auditioning for a spot. Ten were chosen to be paired with teams of actors and directors. Weeks passed and tensions rose until six, then four, and soon, only one play remained standing and won the ultimate prize—the spring slot in The Fine Print Theatre Company’s next season.

This is the Citizen’s Play Festival, and it is a live reality show for theater. This quirky new event rounds out the end of the first season at Fine Print, managed by Artistic Director Patrick Kenney and Executive Director Heather Bodie.

“The hardest part is seeing people go,” says Bodie, before stepping on stage after intermission.“I fell in love with all ten groups.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sketchbook: Reincarnate/Collaboraction

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Honeybuns

RECOMMENDED
Collaboraction’s brazenly eclectic “Sketchbook” festival has been reincarnated. Back for its twelfth consecutive year, “Sketchbook: Reincarnate” certainly looks different presented in Collaboraction’s two funky new venues in the Flat Iron Arts building, and it feels wholly different, with an altered programming structure that blends much longer pieces with the usual seven-minute fare.

Boldly embracing these gutsy changes, “Sketchbook” has been handsomely rewarded in its new life. An exciting six-course tasting menu of diverse and stimulating world premieres—many of which smartly use Collaboraction’s unparalleled media-design sophistication—”Sketchbook: Reincarnate” is a supremely well-put-together festival whose eight-hour total length breezes by, despite the missteps of a few pieces. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Geopolis Theater Makes Fairy Tales For Insomniacs

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For those unfamiliar with twenty-four hour theater festivals, the idea may seem more than a little crazy: a set number of short new plays are written, directed, memorized, blocked, teched and performed in the space of a single day. For Geopolis Theater, the Just-A-Day Play Fest is the perfect way to kick off their new season and involve local talent in a low-commitment, high-stakes theatrical event.

For each season of shows, Geopolis chooses a particular area of the world to focus on when selecting their plays. Germany, Austria and Switzerland were selected this year, allowing Geopolis to draw on their rich tradition of folk tales. “We wanted to do something that would start the season off with Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” says Kristy Scheuer, Geopolis’ artistic director. Read the rest of this entry »