Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival

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Charles Andrew Gardner and Jeff Parker in “Objects in the Mirror” by Charles Smith/Photo: Liz Lauren

By Kevin Greene

I’ll admit that there are still some parts of the theatrical creative process that I take for granted as a critic. Toward the top of that list is the anxiety a critic’s presence can invoke upon the artists and staff involved in a production. Perhaps I flatter myself but I’m certain there are a few names within our little community that lightly churn the stomach of even the most seasoned vet on opening night. Still, even I can detect a hint of hopeful distance whenever I mention that my tickets are probably filed under “Press.”

I mention this in order to acknowledge the privilege inherent in the role of the critic. Playwrights work on their plays for years in a steady stream of workshops, meetings, further workshops, casting and rehearsing that ultimately culminates in a live performance before an audience. It is at this last stage that we, the critics, enter the equation. Suffice it to say, even the most radiant reviews cannot fully acknowledge the sheer amount of time and effort that goes into producing even the most presentably basic play.

All of which makes the Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival such an eye-opening delight. A series of staged readings and developmental productions, New Stages offers a vision of the creative process that many of us make only the barest assumptions about. As a free event, it also offers unprecedented access to the artists involved. 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 »

Festival Coverage: Chicago Fringe Festival (Part 3)

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Scot Moore of "Men Will Be Boys". Photo by Heidi Garrido.

Scot Moore of “Men Will Be Boys”/Photo: Heidi Garrido

Chicago Fringe Festival: Part 3

The Chicago Fringe Festival philosophy is one of minimal interference. There is little that suggests a policy of enforcement beyond the occasional presence of a Fringe staffer making sure audiences and performers vacate in a timely manner. And while this mentality gives opportunities to artists for whom Fringe represents a kind of be-all-end-all, I began to wonder if this hands off approach is ultimately detrimental to the overall quality of the Fringe experience. You can make the argument—and plenty of people have—that there is charm in the Fringe way of doing things. But charm and pleasure are different things and during my third day of the festival I found myself wondering if a little guidance wouldn’t be beneficial. Occasionally I even had cause to wonder if the performances I was witnessing constituted theater at all. 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 »

Festival Coverage: Chicago Fringe Festival (Part 2)

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(L to R) T. Anthony Marotta and puppet Hue. Photo: Susan Paige Lane.

T. Anthony Marotta and puppet Hue/Photo: Susan Paige Lane


Note: I use “Fringe” to signify the Chicago Fringe Festival and “fringe” to signify the broad idea of fringe theater.

A fascinating and magical aspect of a theater festival is the possibility of thematic coherence created through a near-random selection of events. In 2015, this is a rare thing. In terms of festivals that focus on other art forms—music and film, for instance—it has never been easier to explore the participating artists’ work ahead of time. As a medium that prizes direct experience over unlimited replay value, and which, by its very nature, imposes various geographical, temporal and financial restraints, theater is a naturally ephemeral art form. That characteristic is further exaggerated within the context of a festival where, for even the most diligent attendee, it becomes nearly impossible to witness every piece being performed. While FOMO is pervasive within the festival mindset, it is possibly compensated by crafting personal, interlocking narratives from one show to the next. Thus little synchronicities emerge, some significant, others trivial. Yet each illuminates some previously hidden fold of the composite creature of the festival and offers insight into the desires of the participant. Read the rest of this entry »

Festival Coverage: Chicago Fringe Festival

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Man's Dom 7 x 4 300dpi Full CAST PHOTO

“Man’s Dominion”/Photo: Henning Fischer


The Chicago Fringe Festival is about as “off Loop” as theater gets around these parts. Fringe’s anti-establishment streak goes even deeper than its DIY spaces. It goes straight down into the politics of selecting performers. Half of the groups are based here in the city and the other half come from as far as London and as close as DeKalb. Three-quarters of the groups are selected using a lottery system, with special consideration given to “geographical and diversity concerns.” In short, unlike Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates, all of which were guaranteed to be cocoa-based sweets of one kind or another, you really don’t know what you’re gonna get at Fringe. Read the rest of this entry »

The Trial By Theater: Contemporary Playwrights Inspired by the Prague Master in Kafkapalooza Festival

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Hutch Pimentel, First Floor Theater Artistic Director and Festival Co-Curator

By Hugh Iglarsh

At a time when pop culture often seems like the only game in town, First Floor Theater’s annual literary festival is a refreshing reminder of drama’s richer possibilities. For the third year in a row, the Wicker Park-based troupe is commissioning local playwrights to create short works inspired by a literary master, which will be presented together for a short mid-August run. It was the Brothers Grimm in 2013; last year, it was Mark Twain’s turn.

This year, eight established and emerging Chicago dramatists—Marylin Campbell, Kristiana Colon, Amanda Fink, Skye Robinson Hillis, Ike Holter, Karen Kessler, Brett Neveu and Ariel Zetina—will be taking on the tormented Mittel-European Jewish writer Franz Kafka, who gave us not only his hauntingly enigmatic novels, tales and aphorisms, but also the adjective Kafkaesque, describing the individual’s experience of the opaque, alienated and labyrinthine reality that constitutes modernity. In such works as “The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial” and “The Castle,” Kafka used a deadpan and dreamlike writing style to capture the chronic, subtle strangeness of life within godlike systems and institutions, whose agendas can be neither comprehended nor resisted. He is the prophet of a propagandized and surveilled state, at least as relevant in the era of Gitmo and Snowden as he was in the nineteen-twenties, when the world was convalescing after one catastrophe and slouching toward a worse one.   Read the rest of this entry »

News: Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays Offers Local Playwrights a Chance to Develop Their Work

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Playwright Aline Lathrop with director Hutch Pimentel

Playwright Aline Lathrop with director Hutch Pimentel

Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s eighth Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays, featuring four plays written by local playwrights, began last night at the Greenhouse Theater Center.

Originated in 2006 by artistic director Richard Engling and Polarity’s co-founder Ann Keen, the annual Dionysos Cup highlights four plays from Chicago-area playwrights, which are performed twice over a two-week period.

This year’s Dionysos Cup plays, selected from a pool of around seventy submissions, are “widely divergent” in subject matter, according to Engling. On the program are “Leavings” by Gail Parrish, “…And Eat It Too” by Aline Lathrop, “Girl Found” by Barbara Lhota and “The Charisma of Flying Saucers” by Mary Beth Hoerner. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival/Underscore Theatre Company

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Molly Parchment, Ryan Semmelmayer, Paola Sanchez Abreu, Brian Healy, Rachael Smith and Mike Foster/Photo: Braden Nesin

How To Run For Mayor

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival provides an important birthing-space for Chicago-connected, nascent musical theater to access our city’s storefront-ethos, where new plays are frequently produced and honed. Despite the temptation to praise the sheer effort of the production team, adding music to words, vice-versa, or in combination, and of the performers to stretch themselves by quickly learning new material, and reworking it in a workshop situation, it is incumbent upon the reviewer to present a significant opinion of the offerings and their champions, in service to all involved. In the case of “How To Run For Mayor,” playwright Gilbert Tanner and composer/lyricist Aaron Aptaker (who also directs) enjoy this opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

Funny Future: Looking For the Next Kevin Hart at the Break Out Comedy Festival

Comedy, Festivals, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows, Stand-Up No Comments »


By Loy Webb

When I was younger, my two sisters and I shared a room. One of our many Saturday rituals was flipping through magazines to find pictures to decorate our walls. Most of the pictures consisted of our favorite members of an R&B boy band called B2K (pretty hot in the early 2000s).

But my younger sister, I kid you not, cut out a picture of Kevin Hart and put it on the wall. She was in elementary school at the time mind you, and nobody knew who he was. He hadn’t had a major movie, a comedy special, let alone the title he has today as one of the world’s top comedians.

And if you walk into our house today, on that wall, between the old pictures of Kanye West, Destiny’s Child, Usher and Jamie Foxx, is a picture of a young Kevin Hart with a blurb on the side that reads “up and coming comedian/actor.”

I remember asking my sister why she put that picture up. She shrugged and said she thought he was cute. But maybe, just maybe, she saw his star potential. I know that’s pretty deep for an elementary school kid, but hey, a child shall lead them right?

Watching the two-day “Break Out Comedy Festival” presented by NBC Universal and Second City this weekend, I felt like my younger sister. I was not just bearing witness to the next generation of comedic talent, but the next generation of comedic stars with futures filled with blinding brightness. Read the rest of this entry »

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