As the birthplace of modern improv, Chicago boasts a theater scene teeming with off-the-cuff comedy troupes. Laugh at the best of them with this weeklong itinerary of long-standing local improv shows. MONDAY | The Second City Improv All-Stars at UP Comedy Club It makes sense to start the week out at Second City, Chicago’s comedy mecca. Although most of Second City’s shows feature Saturday Night Live–style sketch comedy, Monday nights go off-script for 60 minutes of original goofs from the company’s top players. (230 W. North Ave.; Mondays at 8 p.m.; $17) TUESDAY | Tuesday Night Thing (TNT) at the Annoyance Theatre Venerable improv gurus TJ Jagodowski and Noah Gregoropoulos each lead their own long-form team during this late-night event at the Annoyance Theatre. Grab a drink from the bar and settle in for two 30-minute performances. (851 W, Belmont Ave.; Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.; $8) WEDNESDAY | TJ & Dave at iO Can’t get enough TJ? Catch him with with his comedic other half, Dave Pasquesi, in their critically acclaimed long-form show TJ & Dave. The duo will be christening their very own stage, The Mission Theater, at iO’s newly opened space starting August 13. (1501 N. Kingsbury St.; Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.; $10) THURSDAY | ComedySportz Although the team at ComedySportz Theatre keeps the jokes rated PG for their all-ages audience, there are still plenty of laughs to be had. The group keeps things moving with fast-paced improv games, enacting short scenes based on audience suggestions. (929 W. Belmont Ave.; Thursdays at 8 p.m.; $22) FRIDAY | Baby Wants Candy at the Apollo Theater To date, Baby Wants Candy has produced more than 1,700 original musicals. The players create a new show during each performance based on a title shouted out from the audience. In addition to shows at the Apollo Theater, the crew and their live band also perform at the Annoyance Theatre. (2540 N. Lincoln Ave.; Fridays at 10:30 p.m.; $20) SATURDAY | Comedy Showcase with Rainbow Deli at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy This Saturday showcase is three shows in one. Two of CIC’s house teams open for the Rainbow Deli crew, delivering long-form performances in three distinct improv styles at an intimate theater with a new full bar. (1422 W. Irving Park Rd.; Saturdays at 10:30 p.m.; $10) SUNDAY | Big Yellow Bus at The Playground Theater Big Yellow Bus has been a mainstay at The Playground Theater for 10 years, but the show is always fresh. The rotating cast of players meet only once before performing a long-form show. This ever-changing mix of personalities, combined with an audience chugging BYOB drinks, makes for an evening of unpredictable hilarity. (3209 N. Halsted St.; Sundays at 9:15 p.m.; tickets are pay-what-you-can) Check Groupon first for more Chicago theater, or take to the stage yourself with acting classes in Chicago. Second City Improv All-Stars photo by Clayton Hauck; TJ & Dave photo by Jerry Schulman; ComedySportz photo courtesy of ComedySportz; Playground Theater photo by Stephanie BassosRead More
Giordano Dance School
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Giordano Dance School
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Giordano Dance School
“Happy Ishtar,” said Eric Hoff as he sat down to talk about his production of Hit the Wall, now back in Chicago for a third electrifying run. “The festival of fertility and sex.” It’s a fitting way to begin a conversation about Hit the Wall—a raw, riveting piece of theater now back in Chicago for a third time since its world premiere at the Steppenwolf Garage in 2012. Written by Ike Holter and directed by Hoff, the play tells the story of the first night of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, considered by many to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Holter and Hoff’s visceral creation, complete with an onstage bar and a wall-rattling rock band, reveres that legacy. In anticipation of the Chicago Commercial Collective’s remount at the Greenhouse Theater, we spoke with Hoff about the importance of the riots (and of Pride Weekend), and what work still needs to be done. GROUPON: Has anyone who was involved with the riots seen the show? ERIC HOFF: In New York, Martin Boyce and Danny Garvin, both of whom are what I’d call Stonewall veterans…they both attended the opening night, and were also really helpful as consultants on the project. Danny worked with my movement coordinator in New York on specific dances they used to do [at Stonewall, including] The Spider, which looks not unlike the Electric Slide. G: Do you feel like the conversation around the play has changed since the original production? EH: I think the biggest change—or not “change,” but the evolution—in the conversation is primarily related to…trans folk. [The character of] Carson goes by “drag queen” in the play, because back in 1969 “transgender” or “trans woman” wasn’t a commonly used expression or phrase. So for biologically male people who identified as female, “drag queen” was really the term available to them. And [the character] Peg, who is the “Stone Butch”…that was an entire subculture within the queer community that doesn’t exist in the same way that it did back then. So I think it’s really important to note that Ike [Holter] has done a really amazing job of featuring people who live outside of gender norms [as] the torchbearers of this play. G: Is there a moment in the play that’s of particular personal resonance to you? EH: There’s a scene between sisters…[that] is full of content that a lot of us queer folk have heard from our family members. [A character] says things like, “Mom doesn’t want you anymore” and “If you could just hold it in…” For many people who grew up and had to come out, we’ve been there, and we’ve heard those things, and we’ve heard family members say things like, “If you could just not do what you do.” That’s an exact line from the play. “Don’t be you, just conform, just do what we want you to do and everything will be fine.” G: Do you think the play has changed the minds of people with that kind of viewpoint? EH: A lot of people leave and ask, “Are the Stonewall Riots a real thing? Was it really that bad, or was that just for dramatic purposes?” So I think one of the really big things that the play does is, from a historical perspective, [lift] the veil for a lot of people. Most people don’t know that Pride is celebrated on the fourth weekend of June because of the Stonewall Riots. What the riots did [was] galvanize and coalesce a group of people who, prior to that moment, weren’t really a group per se, in part because…The whole point was to not draw attention to yourself. G: Do you think people forget about the historical significance of Pride as they celebrate it? EH: Yes, absolutely. A lot of people think of Pride as a big drunken celebration, and it is, and there’s a good reason for that. I don’t want to disparage people who come to Chicago for Pride, who need an outlet, because that’s a crucial thing—especially if you have to return the next day to a place where you don’t feel like you can be yourself. [However,] it’s important that we remember why we celebrate. G: When you were growing up, did you have a safe space? EH: As a queer person? Not at all. I was a church kid. Then I went to a religious college. I was the only out gay person on my campus for four years. I had good friends on campus who were my people, but even those friends…it took some of [them] a long time to come to terms with me being gay. My family (now) is phenomenal, and everyone is a big ally, a big supporter. But it took awhile. G: Have they seen Hit the Wall? EH: They have. They were all there on opening night. It was kind of insane. At the end of the night, after the curtain call and everything, there’s my entire family. My sisters and my mother…were all in black heels, black tights, black skirts, black sweaters, and they looked like a coven. They were all bawling. And my dad couldn’t speak to me, he was so verklempt—he couldn’t get words out. So it was a pretty powerful thing. G: If people are moved to take action by Hit the Wall, what would you suggest they do? EH: Well, we’ve got a real issue in Chicago with providing safe spaces for our queer youth, primarily for those who don’t come from neighborhoods or homes where they feel comfortable expressing themselves or being who they are. Queerness extends to the poor, queerness extends to people of all different gender expressions and realities, and I think that if people are moved to take action, they should think about…what we as a community need to continue to build. We need to build centers for homeless queer youth in Chicago. We need to find ways to provide education and job resources. [laughs] I feel like I’m getting on my soapbox here, but there are thousands of ways to get involved. For ways to get involved in LGBTQ advocacy, particularly in serving the needs of at-risk and homeless youth, Hoff recommends these organizations: Broadway Youth Center and Center on Halsted (Chicago); Ali Forney Center (New York City); The Trevor Project (national). The remount of Hit the Wall runs at the Greenhouse Theater (2257 N. Lincoln Ave.) through June 29. Click here for tickets ($45–$55) and showtimes. Eric Hoff portrait: Andrew Nawrocki. Hit the Wall photos by Ryan Borque.Read More
Five Modern Topics Examined by Lookingglass Theatre’s Historical Drama "In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story"
Lookingglass Theatre’s new play about Charles Darwin’s marriage to Emma Wedgwood takes place in the 1800s, but the script’s collision of love, science, and faith applies to today’s world, too. Like many playwrights, Sara Gmitter believes that theater should teach the audience something. The lessons she likes to impart are often influenced by her background as a Quaker and her time at University for Peace in Costa Rica, where she earned a master’s degree from the United Nations–mandated institution. Her new play, In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story, starts previews on Wednesday, April 16, at Lookingglass Theatre, and, true to her own life experience, examines the collision of science and faith within the marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood, a devout Christian. But while the play focuses on two very specific—albeit real-life—characters in the 1800s, its lessons apply to modern living. “It struck me that the conversations they were having, we’re still having,” Gmitter said. Here are five topics examined by the play that relate to the lives of today’s audiences. 1. Creationism vs. Evolution Gmitter told us that at one point in the play, Emma explains her position to Charles: “It doesn’t matter how much proof you stack up. That’s not going to change people’s minds. What you’re talking about is that human beings are animals. That’s a really hard idea to let go of when we have all this proof around us that we’re better than animals.” Right now, students in public schools and private schools accepting tax-funded vouchers are taught alternatives to evolution. In Tennessee and Louisiana, for instance, biology classes teach that creationism is just as scientifically valid, fueling the ongoing debate. 2. Climate Change Gmitter compared Charles’s methods of convincing skeptics to those of modern-day climate scientists. She argued that, like Charles, they approach their arguments by saying, “Look, I’ve laid out the facts, boom boom boom. I am done persuading.” But when some people look outside and see a foot of snow on the ground, they have a hard time believing that the planet is warming. The recent polar vortex only stoked these feelings of doubt. Well-known political commentators responded with fury, asking whether we expected them to trust their eyes or our “science.” 3. Proof vs. Faith “You have a scientific mind, and the scientific way of being is to not believe anything until it’s proven,” Emma wrote in her real-life letters to Charles. “But how do you apply that scientific mind to things that can’t be proven? You might be cutting yourself off from this whole avenue of experience.” Gmitter said she hopes her play will cause people to “think about where their belief comes from, whether it comes from proof or faith, and whether having it come from faith makes it any less true than whether it comes from proof.” Even in science, theorists are taking ideas of faith and proof and commingling them in the highest levels of thought. For example, experts on quantum theory frequently point out how an observer can change an experiment and that anything is possible—even walking through walls—given enough time. 4. Flame Wars In the legendary evolution debate between Samuel Wilberforce and biologist T.H. Huxley, the Bishop of Oxford asked Huxley, “Is it on your grandfather's or grandmother's side that you claim descent from the apes?” Huxley responded: “I would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.” Reading about this debate reminded Gmitter about “flame wars on the Internet and people looking to score points on the cleverness of what they’re saying rather than the ideas.” With In the Garden, she hopes Charles and Emma’s discussions inspire people to debate less combatively and “in a loving and open and generous way. … It can’t be shouting across a chasm.” 5. Tolerance for All Beliefs In Dr. Seuss’s story “The Sneetches,” creatures with stars on their bellies shun those without such an insignia. But a “fix-it-up chappie” comes along who can help them remove or add stars for a fee. By the end of the story, no one can tell who is who and the Sneetches realize their prejudice was silly. As a Quaker—almost but not quite a Sneetch—Gmitter has sometimes felt excluded by those who think all religious people are narrow-minded. She wants her audience members who feel strongly about faith and those who feel strongly about science to get the same message from the play: that their opinions are valuable and worthy of respect. “I don’t think those people can’t hang out together,” she said. “I believe that evolution is how we’ve got to where we are. [But] I’m also a spiritual person and have not exploded.” In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story starts previews at Lookingglass Theatre (821 N. Michigan Ave., in the Water Tower Water Works building) on Wednesday, April 16, and runs through Sunday, June 15. Tickets are $25–$50 and can be purchased here. Production photo courtesy of Lookingglass Theatre. Portrait by Tim BurkhartRead More