Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Players 2016: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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“Out with the old, in with the new,” is one of the many well-intentioned platitudes you hear frequently this time of year. Personally, I find that type of sharp-turn resolution a bit difficult to manage. As I see it, change is fluid; the past informs the present and portends the future. Newness grows organically out of the well-tilled soil of history. This also happens to be the way I think about Chicago’s arts community. The open terrain currently being transformed by our promising young upstarts would not exist had the heavy lifters of previous years not worked to cultivate it. And so it is in this space that we honor both parties by highlighting the artists who have served as great beacons and those whose stars are just beginning to rise. What follows is the current crop of our city’s fifty most moving, most shaking, most dream-making Players in theater, dance, comedy and opera.  Make a resolution you actually want to keep: check them out! (Kevin Greene)

Players was written by Zach Freeman, Kevin Greene, Sharon Hoyer, Aaron Hunt and Loy Webb
Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux Read the rest of this entry »

Player of the Moment: The Era Footwork Crew

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The Era, from left to right, are Litebulb, P-Top, STeelo, Chief Manny and Dempsey/photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

The Era, from left to right, are Litebulb, P-Top, Steelo, Chief Manny and Dempsey/photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

By Sharon Hoyer

Born on the West and South Sides in the eighties, footwork is a dance style that evolved out of juke and moves to a breakneck tempo of Chicago house music. Like the name suggests, footwork is a blur of tight, precise, rapid-fire foot movements accented by slides, glides and skates across the floor that look like film alternating between fast forward and half-speed. Hungry for new and faster tracks, footwork dancers became DJs, pushing the tempo up to create a genre of music characterized by its adrenaline-pumping 160 beats per minute.

With the advent of YouTube, footwork gained a following in Europe and Japan—DJs and dancers toured internationally, although their culture was still unknown in large parts of their hometown, and dwindling in neighborhoods that were once a center of the scene. But in 2015, a freshly formed dance crew called The Era began pulling in attention with both hands: a VICE documentary, a grant from High Concept Labs, a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist grant, a grant from University of Chicago for an archival project on the history of footwork, and founding member Litebulb was named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 To Watch in 2016. In September, The Era is co-curating an installation about the history of footwork at Columbia College. With recognition pouring in from the academic and mainstream dance worlds, The Era is helping a style created and danced by young black men and women on Chicago’s South and West Sides gain citywide acknowledgement as a legitimate art form. And most importantly to the dancers, they’re preserving footwork for the next generation. The Era is currently working on a stage show entitled “Living at 160,” slated for summer of 2016. We talked with the crew—Litebulb, P-Top, Dempsey, Steelo and Manny—along with artist Wills Glasspiegel who has been documenting The Era, at their rehearsal space in High Concept Labs. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2015: Stage

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Top 5 Dramas of 2015
“Moby Dick,” Lookingglass Theatre Company
“Marjorie Prime,” Writers Theatre 
“Brilliant Adventures,” Steep Theatre Company
“How The World Began,” Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
“Love and Human Remains,” Cor Theatre
—Kevin Greene

Top 5 Comedies of 2015
“The Upstairs Concierge,” Goodman Theatre
“Lunacy!,” Jackalope Theatre
“Samsara,” Victory Gardens 
“With Love and a Major Organ,” Strawdog Theatre Company
“The Walk Across America For Mother Earth,” Red Tape Theatre 
—Kevin Greene Read the rest of this entry »

No Escaping the Logistics: “Room Escape” Theater Business Faces Challenges From the Start

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Melissa Schlesinger and Maren Rosenberg/Photo: Grace Pisula (gracepisula.com)

By Danielle Levsky

Maren Rosenberg has a puzzle for you. But she’s also got one of her own.

Rosenberg, Master of Mayhem/Principal Producer, has been working with a team of creative professionals to open Escape Artistry, featuring “immersive” room escapes: games in which participants use elements within one room to solve puzzles, find clues and escape the room within a set time limit.

While working with the City of Chicago’s Small Business Center to obtain a Public Place of Amusement license, a business consultant requested that she bring in her employment history for the past five years, something that is not easy to do for someone in the theater business.

Rosenberg, like other actors, has accumulated hundreds of short-term contracts over five years, some for companies that are no longer in operation. Upon seeing the thick stack of papers that included a little under 200 companies, the city’s consultant exclaimed, “Oh, you weren’t kidding!” Read the rest of this entry »

For the Child in the Adult and the Adult in the Child: At Sea with Mary Zimmerman and Lookingglass’ “Treasure Island”

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Mary Zimmerman

Mary Zimmerman

By Kevin Greene

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” is so ubiquitous in the sphere of popular culture that it’s possible to feel as though you’ve read it without ever having actually laid hands on it. The tale of pirates and buried treasure stands as one of the great foundational texts of the last 200 years. Since its publication in 1883, the novel has developed an archetypal reputation, one that has drawn attention from artists and thinkers of all disciplines. It has also proved a surprisingly malleable narrative, appearing in film, radio and theater versions.

With its exotic locations, full-blooded action and larger-than-life personalities, “Treasure Island” presents plenty of challenges for the stage. Yet it was these very challenges that first drew Mary Zimmerman to the story. After picking it up two summers ago, Zimmerman knew immediately that she wanted to adapt it. “I like to stage the impossible,” she tells me during a break in the production’s tech rehearsal. “Theater works by metaphor. You have to bring the world into this black box.”

In this case, the black box in question is Lookingglass, a theater company nationally renowned for their imaginative interpretation of both new and old works alike. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Your Song: Pegasus Flies Again with Nambi E. Kelley’s “For Her as a Piano”

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Toni Lynice Fountain, Toya Turner, Camille Robinson and Nadirah Bost/Photo: Emily Schwartz

By Loy Webb

Children have some of the most imaginative and exciting minds. Give them a cardboard box, they’ll create castles fit for any king and queen. Give them a blanket, and as it’s wrapped around their necks your world will be safer before bedtime. It is in watching these small, brilliant minds that we learn the secret to great ingenuity is really quite simple.

“When you don’t have much, you have to be imaginative and bold,” Ilesa Duncan, artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Chicago, says during our phone interview. Read the rest of this entry »

Festival Coverage: Chicago Fringe Festival (Part 4)

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Kit Yan/Photo: Sydney Angel

Chicago Fringe Festival: Part 4

Over the span of the Fringe Festival’s ten days, I regularly heard this argument from non-Fringe goers: the Chicago theater scene is already pretty “fringy.”

The insinuation is two-fold: clearly, some folks do not feel the need to venture as far out as Jefferson Park as they believe there is plenty of weird and/or thought-provoking work being done closer to home; there is also the insinuation that Fringe is redundant in a city where, as the expression goes, two people in a coffee shop constitutes a theater company.

For some of the performers, to be sure, Fringe is like the one bar in town that doesn’t card, but for the rest there seems to be something about the culture of the festival that appeals to their sensibilities. And yet, what my friends wanted to know was what exactly makes performing at midday in the basement of a church directly over an O’Hare flight path worth it? Read the rest of this entry »

Unconventional Women: Artemisia Fest Plays It Unsafe

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By Logan West

On the hottest day of the Chicago summer, Julie Proudfoot appeared perfectly cool and relaxed as I approached her outside an Argo Tea in Lakeview. The founding and executive artistic director of Artemisia, A Chicago Theatre kindly introduced herself and shared her thoughts on the upcoming fall festival. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Artemisia fest, which has a simple yet unique structure: six female-driven acts (out of hundreds of submissions) are selected for a reading in front of a live audience. Audience members who attend two or more of the pieces will receive a ballot where they vote on which act will serve as the company’s next production. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Theater & Opera Preview 2015

-News etc., Musicals, New Companies, Profiles, Theater 1 Comment »

HoneybunsYou know what they say: Every time a mime speaks a Dickensian orphan gets sucked into a jet turbine and blasted out the other side as just a scream. However, it is that cozy time of year when the hopes and dreams of summer die and we artists start making people go into weird rooms and watch us do and say things. Not every show can be the immersive interactive ever-changing theatrical wonderland tour de force that my show is. Newcity theater editor Zach Freeman has provided a fine fall stage preview. However, I feel I can offer a few tips—or rather “things”—to do to spice things up on a chilly fall evening at the theater (elaborate hand gesture).

If you don’t want to do my “things” I can understand. All you have to do is something that is even better. So long as you do something. Because, something must be done. Otherwise you would do nothing. Except maybe drink a box of wine, poke that old bag of mulch laying in bed next to you, and call it a night. (Honeybuns) Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Comedy Preview 2015

-News etc., Comedy, Improv/Sketch/Revues 1 Comment »

HoneybunsYou know what they say: Every time a mime speaks a Dickensian orphan gets sucked into a jet turbine and blasted out the other side as just a scream. However, it is that cozy time of year when the hopes and dreams of summer die and we artists start making people go into weird rooms and watch us do and say things. Not every show can be the immersive interactive ever-changing theatrical wonderland tour-de-force that my show is. Newcity theater editor Zach Freeman has provided a fine fall stage preview. However, I feel I can offer a few tips—or rather “things”—to do to spice things up on a chilly fall evening at the theater (elaborate hand gesture).

If you don’t want to do my “things” I can understand. All you have to do is something that is even better. So long as you do something. Because, something must be done. Otherwise you would do nothing. Except maybe drink a box of wine, poke that old bag of mulch laying in bed next to you, and call it a night. (Honeybuns) Read the rest of this entry »