jakub | June 26, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | Winds of Change in the Windy City


Each month, Chicago Editor Jerald Raymond Pierce will offer insight into regional coverage coming out of American Theatre’s Chicago branch and other goings on around the city.

It feels good to be back home, both in Chicago and at American Theatre, as its new Chicago Editor. You may be familiar with my work from my time at American Theatre from 2020 to 2022, from my coverage of Chicago theatre for the Chicago Tribune, or from my more recent stint reporting on theatre for The Seattle Times. As a Midwesterner born and raised, I’ve always had a passion for Chicago theatre, a community that gave me a place to grow after I graduated from college. So, as part of this new position, funded by the Skokie, Ill.-based Walder Foundation, I hope to use this space to give light to the regional coverage we’re working on here at the magazine as well as uplift the work of other journalists and critics covering the region.

As part of our coverage, we also recently welcomed associate editor Gabriela Furtado Coutinho to the Chicago team. Gabriela, a multi-hyphenate artist who recently graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in theatre and english creative writing, spearheaded a Chicago-focused edition of Role Call.

My return to Chicago has been just about all that I could ask for. For my first article back, I was able to spend some time (via Zoom) chatting with outgoing Chicago Shakespeare Theater artistic director and founder Barbara Gaines. I joked with a number of people that Gaines dropped so many gems during our conversation that I could have written an entire second article just based on the thoughts I wound up trimming. In particular, one quote in a question that didn’t make the cut, has stuck with me.

Barbara Gaines in the rehearsal room. (Photo by joe mazza – bravelux)

“Change is not necessarily bad,” Gaines said, speaking both on the shifting theatre scene in Chicago that has seen new leadership take over at Steppenwolf and the Goodman in recent years, as well as the turmoil happening at theatres all over the country, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “It’s often exhausting to go through. It’s often challenging in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Getting older now, I can see that I am changing, and the world is changing, and my place in it is—well, it’s shifting. That is not a bad thing. That is a wonderful thing.”

As someone who had just quickly picked up and left Seattle to scurry back to Chicago, feeling the weight of the sudden change, her words hit like a bus.

Kate Arrington. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In my first month back in the city, I was also able to sit down with Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble member Kate Arrington to chat about her playwriting debut, Another Marriage, in which Judy Greer is making her Steppenwolf debut. There is something so quintessentially Chicago about both of these stories, with both Steppenwolf and Chicago Shakespeare making the enviable journey from small ensemble scraping by to mainstay, prioritizing a collaborative, ensemble essence along the way.

Of course, my return to Chicago has been filled with much more theatre than I’ve been able to write about, and we’ll link to coverage from other publications below for you to check out. But I also want to tease that earlier this month I got a behind the scenes peek at Albany Park Theater Project’s upcoming Port of Entry, which has recreated a Chicago courtyard apartment building within a 1929 warehouse for a three-story immersive theatrical experience set to open next month. My first thought walking into one of the apartments was that they literally rebuilt an apartment I’ve lived in here in Chicago, down to the smallest details. You can keep an eye out for our future reporting on that and other regional theatre you should have on your radar in the coming weeks and months.

Before I sign off, one quick reminder that Theatre Communications Group will have its 2024 conference in Chicago next June. More information on the upcoming conference can be found here.

Now See This

Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon at Lookingglass Theatre (through July 16) is a world premiere from Matthew C. Yee that feels a little Bonnie and Clyde as it combines a country western feel with a complex take on identity for the titular Chinese American renegades. For the Chicago Reader, Jack Helbig dives into the creation of the musical. I’d also point you to Irene Hsiao’s review for the Reader, which gives some insight into a third character in the show, Bao, who I haven’t stopped thinking about. Despite not being one of the title characters, Bao is structurally crucial, with solo songs at the end of the first act, the climax of second act, and the end of the show. Anyway, check out the montage below and enjoy a glimpse of these first-generation Asian American renegades.

Around Town

Gabriela catches us up on a few items you may have missed!

Shall I compare thee to a Chicago summer’s day? Thou art as busy and as bustling! Brighter days bring a much-needed celebration of Pride, plus a theatre scene brimming with new work development. Amid a national company closure crisis, June in Chicago sprouts green with promise and belonging. Here’s this month’s catch-up.

  • The Chicago Tribune previews the “Broadway-bound” Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical, which kicked off performances on June 2 and chronicles the young artist’s creative rise and revolution, jukebox style.
  • Inaugurating new play incubator Inicios in early June, CLATA (most known for Destinos and the Chicago International Latino Festival) continued to bring abundance to the 2023-24 theatre season with the new festival featuring works by Nelson A. Rodriguez, Raul Dorantes, Emily Masó, and Claribel Gross.
  • In what the Reader’s Kerry Reid called “a more ambitious (and daunting) undertaking than recent Rhinos,” Rhino Fest rings in the fringe through July 1, presenting 40 shows across four venues and three neighborhoods as it gathers an intergenerational group of creatives and audiences alike.
  • A presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations incited further hope around the future of accessibility earlier this month. The Reader’s Bridgette M. Redman previewed A.B.L.E.’s take, which featured a modern-day sensibility tailored to brilliant artists with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
  • You still have plenty of time to catch Don’t Quit Your Daydream at Second City. Kerry Reid’s Reader review notes that they let “the fools run the show, and it makes for a mostly blissful outing, with no real duds in the bunch and a few heartfelt surprises.” The Tribune’s Chris Jones adds praise for Chicago’s Evan Mills, calling him “this generation’s Keegan-Michael Key, a standout comic who is as funny at the center of the scene as he is in reactive mode on its fringes.”
  • Commemorating the late Chicago star Hollis Resnik and uplifting her creative descendent Kayla Boye, this Q&A with Jack Helbig gives insight into Boye’s solo show and homage to Elizabeth Taylor, Call Me Elizabeth.
  • Teatro Vista’s surreal silent musical The Dream King, from the mind of Marvin Quijada, captivated audiences in Chicago. Sun-Times writer Jack Helbig shares that this “charming and playful, bittersweet and deeply moving” play, sidelined by pandemic shutdowns, was definitely “worth the wait.”
  • Even as we collect hope, we also lament several production cancellations nationwide. Within Chicago, Jackalope Theatre announced the cancellation of Pretty Shahid, a new romantic comedy from playwright Omer Abbas Salem, citing “multiple issues with production that brought it to a halt.” Look out for our upcoming coverage of storefront challenges and support your neighborhood companies.
  • Meanwhile, Chris Jones looks ahead for a promising Goodman-to-NY transfer of Swing State. Jones lauds this rural contemporary drama as “perhaps the first of the great American post-COVID plays” in a prescient 2022 article.
  • Kerry Reid recently sat with prolific artist, theatre journalist, and trans advocate Karen Topham. From creating care networks in the late ‘90s to supporting her son’s transition, Reid conjures Topham’s historically significant impact: “Sometimes, living your truth fully when there are no role models ahead of you lights the way for others to follow.”

Chicago Chisme

Every month, Jerald and Gabriela check in with Chicago/Midwest theatre artists about what’s getting them out of bed in the morning and keeping them up at night. This time around, we’re interested in rest and reflection. More below from trailblazer and 2023 Teatro Vista Legacy Award recipient Sandra Marquez and Lookingglass star Aurora Adachi-Winter—both of whom inspire us by creating with abandon and recharging with movement practice. 

Aurora Adachi-Winter and Sandra Marquez.

What are you reading right now?

Marquez: I am usually reading a few things at once. Currently, they are Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue and Dream Work by Mary Oliver.

Adachi-Winter: Other than my Lucy & Charlie script (gotta keep it fresh), I’m reading this YA novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, that was a favorite of my mom’s when she was a kid. Also Teen Vogue, they keep it real. 

What’s something you’ve seen recently that stuck with you or transformed your creative philosophy?

Marquez: Watching and working with the team and my friends Alice da Cunha and Marvin Quijada on The Dream King was in many ways transformative for me. Probably in ways that I won’t fully realize for a long time to come. It was a rich experience I will always cherish.

Adachi-Winter: The last piece of theatre I saw was Last Night and the Night Before at Steppenwolf. Beautiful story, with absolutely incredible performances. I’ve been thinking about those actors and all the heart they left on that stage. I also just saw Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse, which was so good that I was mad. I was so mad when it ended. When you see it, you’ll know why. 

How are you taking care of yourself/recharging as an artist this summer?

Marquez: Any sunshine I can get! Plus, time with close friends and family, a continued yoga practice along with daily walks and meditation. I also was fortunate to have been awarded a Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship this summer and am looking forward to that week of retreat and classes.

Adachi-Winter: Thankfully, Lookingglass is providing physical therapy and a chiropractor, which has been super helpful. I also get myself to the beach as often as I can. I love the sun and the water, especially Lake Michigan. She’s a beautiful body of water who heals me every summer.

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