The Little Gym of Gurnee, a branch of the nationwide network of Little Gyms, fosters educational wonderment, physical development, and self-confidence in children aged four months to 12 years old through engaging, interactive classes. Trained instructors lead the classes and impart motor skills, language development, and leadership skills through karate and dance classes, as well as brain boost activities—all with the goal of encouraging age-appropriate development in a safe and enjoyable atmosphere.
Seasoned boat captains and crustacean prospectors Sig Hansen, Johnathan Hillstrand, and Andy Hillstrand gather to share with audience members their tales of struggle and survival during crab season on the high seas, as partly documented by the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. Fishing the Bering Sea in the middle of winter demands strong wills—which can come together in times of treacherous weather and 100-foot waves or come to blows about who performs better in the three-legged crabwalk race. Selected audience members will also have the chance to don the survival suits from the Time Bandit. Following the story-swapping and previously unreleased video footage, greenhorns and avid fans will have the opportunity to launch questions at the captains, wave giant foam claws, and learn how to communicate in claw-snap Morse code.
Tressa Thomas has a résumé most performers would envy. She launched her career on stage with dozens of performances throughout Chicago as both a solo singer and band member. She landed a role in Robert Townsend’s film about 1960s R&B music, The Five Heartbeats, which led to a duet with the legendary Patti LaBelle on the film’s soundtrack.
This was all before Thomas turned 13.
Since then, her momentum hasn’t slowed—it’s just swerved in a few new directions. The Columbia College grad was cast in other movies (including Flatliners and Message in a Bottle), produced three independent shorts, and worked on a fourth that came just short of an Academy Award nomination. In the midst of her cinematic endeavors, she also pursued plus-sized modeling, eventually appearing in Ebony, Jet, the LA Times, and other national publications.
Given that she first started singing publicly at age three, when most children can’t yet tell the difference between music and the sound the vacuum cleaner makes, Thomas has never had an issue with confidence. But she realized that as a successful African-American, plus-sized female performer, she was a rarity. And so she decided to share her confidence with other women. She founded ThYck Troupe, a group that started modestly as a “modeling interest club” and grew into a nonprofit organization that creates performance opportunities for other plus-sized women.
Today, ThYck Troupe has gained the support of Secretary of State Jesse White and Governor Pat Quinn in its mission to enrich the Chicago arts community. In addition to mentoring young women and promoting size acceptance, the troupe produces an original web series, organizes fashion shows, and showcases performers in theatrical and musical productions. The company members represent nearly every medium of the creative arts—there are singers and dancers, poets and songwriters, models and actresses, journalists and radio personalities. With the Thyck and Fit Initiative, they broadcast a message of health as well as confidence, giving full-figured women and men the tools they need to achieve good exercise and nutrition habits at any size.
Hundreds of LEGO pieces scatter across C&A Robot Factory’s worktables, where kids follow plans or their own imaginations to build everything from programmable robots to remote-controlled vehicles. During the center's projects and camps, children work through projects that explore science, math, and creativity. They might build a LEGO space station, program the movements of a solar-powered robot, or use salt water to power a LEGO car. The stop-motion-animation project—where kids assemble LEGO bricks into a movie set and then take hundreds of photographs that are edited together to become a short movie—stretches the potential applications of LEGOs even further.
Creative opportunities, however, aren't limited to structured projects. During open-play sessions kids can use C&A Robot Factory’s thousands of LEGO blocks to assemble buildings or the world’s most uncomfortable carpet. The LEGO Ville area lets toddlers play as well, surrounding them with Duplo blocks, cars, and trains.
Citadel Theatre Company traverses the peaks and valleys of human experience with a diverse repertoire of dramatic, comedic, contemporary, and classical works. In February, playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer hems theatergoers into the seams of a sputtering marriage during Sirens, which was showcased at the 2010 Humana Festival of New American Plays. After Sam and Rose build their entire relationship on the financial fortune of a chart-topping song, their ties begin to fray as Sam looks up an old flame by scouring social-media websites and visiting a retirement home for firefighters. Rose, in an attempt to yank Sam out of his rut, schedules a romantic cruise for the couple, where mythological temptation further illuminates Sam's predicament. Citadel Theatre's 150-seat tiered setup regales guests with optimal sight lines, and the venue's thrust stage allows actors to test the crowd's temperature with their big toe prior to cannonballing into each performance.