Chicago Elevated, run by effusive improv veteran Margaret Hicks, leads curious charges on eclectic group, private, and custom tours of the city. Jaunts lead natives and tourists alike through the city’s oft-overlooked nooks and crannies as Hicks’s jovial voice narrates every step, shedding light on secret areas and easily overlooked historic sites. Her pedway tour sojourns into Chicago’s tiled subterranean antecity, where retailers, restaurants, and mole people mingle. Tours explore sites of famous disasters, visit the ghostly red-light district that once stretched below what is now Printer’s Row, and gaze at downtown’s ornate architecture from the riverwalk.
Stationed in Wrigleyville after college, Hicks accrued the healthy sense of humor and comedic timing that pepper each tour at Second City, iO, and other theaters. Though she attempted a move to New York City, Hicks soon discovered she couldn’t stay away from Chicago’s majestic skyline or the skyscrapers’ subtly receding hairlines. A stint in the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s docent program, as well as acting as a tour guide for six years, arm her with insider’s knowledge that soon transfers to listeners’ brains.
Hailed as America's Company of Firsts, the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet has been blazing an artistic trail through media stereotypes since 1956 to redefine the global view of ballet. Through its maiden voyages as the first dance company to perform at the White House and on television, appear on the cover of Time, and commission a rock 'n' roll ballet, the Joffrey's artistically dynamic works have inspired a broad audience and a major motion picture. Its troupe of classically trained, world-class dancers oozes grace as they execute a diverse repertoire of classical masterpieces and cutting-edge performances. The company's annual Nutcracker performances have garnered global acclaim, and it attracts a wide audience in Chicago and around the world during national and international tours.
The Joffrey Ballet also bolsters the Windy City's arts education and dance training through the Joffrey Academy of Dance and community-engagement programs. The Chicago Philharmonic serves as the Joffrey’s official orchestra, bringing its diverse and innovative musical talent to the company's performances.
Originally founded in 1957, Old Town School of Folk Music teaches and facilitates performances of arts rooted in the traditions of diverse American and global communities. More than 700 accredited music, dance, theater, and visual-arts courses expand the cultural horizons of students of all ages and abilities, and more than 300 concerts and events reach more than 200,000 audience members every year.
Founder Frank Hamilton hoped that through his nonprofit academy "teacher and student would be partners in learning." Today, the school continues that tradition, fostering supportive learning environments that draw from an accessible education model. The school also presents performances by internationally known touring artists and Chicago's local artists—as well as its own staff and students—nearly every weekend, with free world-music concerts on Wednesday nights. Old Town School operates three facilities in Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square, including one 425-seat and two 150-seat concert halls, 64 classrooms, two music stores, a café, and a resource center.
Chicago Sinfonietta was already markedly different from its counterparts when it played its first notes in 1987. Its founder and conductor Paul Freeman wanted to create a symphony that actually reflected the community in which it existed. The ensemble he formed brought together musicians from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, who interpreted both classical pieces and forgotten compositions from composers of color. His concept proved successful—the symphony toured Europe, played the Kennedy Center twice, and produced 14 albums, all while tunefully demonstrating the universality of music.
Today, Chicago Sinfonietta continues to perform unique programs, and supports music education and professional development opportunities for members of underrepresented communities. Freeman retired from his post at the end of the 2011 season, passing the reins new music director Mei-Ann Chen, but his legacy lives on in the music of performers he helped get started, including classical-music legend Yo-Yo Ma.
Simply put, Players Sport & Social Group helps more than 50,000 people each year get together, meet new friends, and have fun. The two-decade-old company has more than doubled in size in the last five years, due in no small part to the wide variety of sports leagues and clinics that it offers at venues throughout the city. Teams or individuals can sign up for sports ranging from dodgeball to beach volleyball to games of "bags," otherwise known as cornhole. Players can check their weekly standings online and review each sport's rules, learning exactly what is considered a foul in kickball or how to dispose of a football opponent's captured flag by burning it in a respectful ceremony.
The company also hosts and sponsors social events such as happy hours, fundraisers, and the Luau: a 55,900-participant grass-volleyball tournament with DJ music, food, and beer. Similarly, The Big Dig volleyball tournament offers the same mix of munchies, brews, and live entertainment, but on the sands of North Avenue Beach.
At The ComedySportz Theatre, audience suggestions keep an all-ages, family-friendly and fast-paced vortex of scenes, games, and songs spinning in competitive shows that pit two improv teams against each other. Inside the intimate, 149-seat theater, spontaneity rules as a referee moderates the all-ages-appropriate hilarity pitched between the Chicago Bosses and The Evanston Express. At the end of each comedic duel, the points and audience votes are tallied to determine the winning team, sentencing the losers to feed the doves that live inside the winners' top hats.
The ComedySportz Training Center's seasoned instructors also teach six-week courses in the art of improvised hilarity and the essential virtues of spontaneity, risk taking, and engagement with the moment. Through scene work, ComedySportz games, and short- and long-form improv, students learn to keep audiences roaring in order to jump-start a career or become a more affable bank robber.