Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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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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 »

Playing in the Woods: A theatrical road trip to Spring Green Wisconsin’s American Players Theatre

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By Erin Kelsey

Every summer, something unusual happens in the forests of southern Wisconsin. On a hill just outside the tiny town of Spring Green, a classical theater opens its doors each June and begins a summer of Shakespeare (and other favorites) from a stage with the sky for a ceiling. For the intrepid, theater-loving Chicagoan, the three-hour drive to Spring Green is well worth the time. American Players Theatre—or APT, as it is affectionately known—has recently begun its thirty-second year of performances, and promises a season of classical plays performed against a backdrop of all the best that summer has to offer.

Matt Schwader’s is a familiar face in Chicago theater, but every summer he vanishes from our stages in favor of APT. “There’s a huge chunk of my heart that still belongs to Chicago,” he says, but he would have been “crazy” not to join APT’s Core Company, a group of actors committed to returning every season. His first trip up the hill was as an audience member in high school, and he credits that with his continued interest in classical theater. “I’ve always had a fondness for this place in my heart, and it’s because they do such great theater and it’s so rooted in being human,” he says. “They honor the language in a way that few theaters do, at least in this level. Everybody tries, but this place is devoted to doing extraordinary work with language. And I love it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Naked July: Art Stripped Down/National Pastime Theater

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"The Living Canvas: Rain"

For its third annual “Naked July: Art Stripped Down” festival, The National Pastime Theater has lined up three hour-long shows, a lobby full of art, a cinema series (including films like “Fritz the Cat,” “Caligula” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) and several themed parties. Compared to last year’s offerings, 2011’s Naked July feels a lot more like a complete festival, though surprisingly, there’s a little less nudity this time around. After admiring the eclectic artwork (a collection culled from 275 entries) I checked out all three shows, with mixed results.

“Beast Women” features a rotating cast of thirty women, with titles ranging from standup comedian to burlesque performer to songstress, and each of the ten shows included in the Naked July lineup includes a mixture of six or seven of these performers displaying their talents one after the other. It’s a great cabaret-style lineup and there’s definitely talent on show here, but aside from some brief nudity in a performance art piece and partial nudity in a burlesque, the nakedness in the show I saw was much more emotional than physical. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rhinoceros in the Room: Chicago’s festival of fringe embraces its past and future at 22

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Andy Somma and Leigh Jones of Lower Links/Photo: Antone

By Monica Westin

Chicago’s longest-running theater and multidisciplinary-arts fringe festival is known both for the compelling risk-taking of its participating artists as well as the age span of its participants. And while it’s been the best place to take in work by artists who have been making innovative work in Chicago for decades, this year’s festival has a particularly strong historical depth as well as serving as a forum for the most nascent of emerging artists.

Beau O’Reilly, who with Curious Theatre Branch has been curating the show for more than twenty years, is teaming up with Prop Thtr to bring back performances to this year’s festival that were seminal in Chicago experimental art, including “Deja Links,” a reunion cabaret show from legendary performance art/music venue Lower Links, which in the eighties and early nineties brought a sense of experimental optimism to the arts scene.

“A lot of the people who have been with the festival for a long time,” O’Reilly says, “played at Links all the time, so Lower Links was a very central place for us pre-Rhino. The list of names at Deja Links is an all-star list from that period.” O’Reilly sees this year’s Rhino Fest as coming full-circle, “a return to the beginning places for us—and also just the whole scene that’s been going on over the past twenty years now.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Don’t-Miss Dozen: 2011 Rhinoceros Festival Highlights

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4:48 Psychosis

By Neal Ryan Shaw

More than thirty performances are programmed as part of this year’s Rhinofest. Here are our top twelve picks. All performances take place at Prop Thtr, 3502 North Elston Avenue.

4:48 Psychosis
Curious Theatre Branch remounts their production of Sarah Kane’s highly autobiographical swan song to clinical depression, directed by Beau O’Reilly. The show only ran for two weekends last July, so those who didn’t get to last time now have a second chance to see it.
Fridays, January 14-February 11 and Saturday, February 12, 7pm.

The Aquatic Chronicles
Performance artist Julie Laffin’s career underwent a fundamental transformation a few years ago when she developed multiple chemical sensitivity, a condition that forced her into extreme isolation as well as ironically making much of her later work all the more collaborative. Here a video by Laffin pairs with a performance piece by Judith Harding, each of which echoes the other thematically, if not narratively, around depths explored and ignored.
February 11-February 13, 7pm. Read the rest of this entry »