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Celebrating Chicago Theatre Week—a year into the pandemic

As the numbers of the vaccinated grow and the icicles melt and crash, the twin angst-inducing events of pandemic shutdown and plain old everyday cabin fever seem to recede like the snow cover on the ground. (Memo to pet owners: please pick up after your furry friends!)

Normally this time of year, when we’re looking forward to breaking out of the down-and-fleece nests at home, is a great opportunity to take advantage of Chicago Theatre Week. Run annually every winter since 2012, this joint initiative of the League of Chicago Theatres and Choose Chicago encourages theater fans and theater-curious folks to get out and find new favorites among the 200-plus member theaters of the League. But with live performances still in mothballs for now, Chicago Theatre Week has pivoted (like many of the League members) to a digital festival of sorts. 

Some online offerings are brand-new, like Theater Oobleck cofounder Mickle Maher‘s 10-minute radio play, It Is Always Almost Upon Us, starring Guy Massey (vet of several Maher masterpieces, such as The Strangerer) and Deanna Dunagan (who won a Tony Award for originating the role of Violet Weston in Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County). That comes to us courtesy of Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater, which now houses the MC-10 Playwrights’ Ensemble.  

In addition to Maher, the collective, which was announced by 16th Street artistic director Ann Filmer in June of 2019, includes Lydia Diamond, Lisa Dillman, Rebecca Gilman, Brett Neveu, Marsha Estell, Carlos Murillo, Tanya Palmer, Julie Marie Myatt, and Laura Schellhardt. Inspired by New York’s 13P, the long-term goal is to produce one play per year by each of the writers over ten years, at which point the collective ends. 

That production schedule is on hold for now, but meantime 16th Street is producing digital work by the members. Maher’s piece runs free on March 4 through 16th Street’s website.

You can also check out shows created for online viewing that have been running for a while, such as About Face Theatre‘s Kickback and Connective Theatre Company‘s Play(s) at Home: A Green Theatre Festival. In keeping with the increased attention on social justice issues inside and outside American theater, there is also programming that examines how theatermakers and others can play a role in understanding the functions of white supremacy and work to dismantle racism, such as Collaboraction’s Becoming, which was featured on the CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell on February 1. New live episodes of this discussion series drop on the first Tuesday of every month at 6 PM CST, which means the episode on March 2 dovetails with Chicago Theatre Week. 

Awards and remembrances

While we await the announcements of Oscar nominations, local luminaries are getting their due. Felicia P. Fields has been named this year’s recipient of the Guy Adkins Award from Porchlight Music Theatre in recognition of “excellence in the advancement of musical theatre in Chicago.” Named in honor of the late beloved actor who died of cancer in 2010 at age 41, the award is presented each year at Porchlight’s Chicago Sings fundraising concert. This year’s edition, Chicago Sings Rock & Roll Broadway, is slated for March 20. Fields’s extensive list of credits features appearances at almost every major theater in town, including the Goodman, Marriott, Drury Lane, Chicago Shakespeare, Northlight, and Court. She also received a Tony nomination and several other honors for her performance as Sofia in the first Broadway production of The Color Purple.

The Auditorium Theatre announced the death at age 93 of Edward S. Weil Jr., a lifetime trustee of the Auditorium and great-grandson of Dankmar Adler, who along with Louis Sullivan designed the Chicago landmark. Weil, who died on February 11, helped shepherd the Auditorium through many evolutions, including a major restoration in 1999 of his great-grandfather’s crown jewel. Though live performances are still on hold, the Auditorium has resumed in-person tours of the building for a limited number of patrons; there’s also a short virtual tour, hosted by Auditorium CEO Rich Regan, available for free on the website.

On Friday, February 26, there will be a memorial for Sally Banes, the groundbreaking dance writer whose career began in Chicago. (She was a cofounder of the late legendary performance space, MoMing). Banes died on June 14; this free online tribute, presented by the dance division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, takes place from 1-5 PM CST. As multidisciplinary artist and scholar Asimina Chremos wrote in her appreciation of Banes for the Reader last year, “The kind of clear and finely-honed critique that Banes evidenced in her writing is born of empathy with the performers she writes about; the fresh and vivid arguments she makes about dance and performance reveal her own embodiment, artistic creativity, and unique way of seeing and understanding the world.”  v

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