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Chicago theaters, dance troupes offering ‘virtual’ programming amid pandemic

For now, online streaming is bringing theaters and audiences together in new ways.

McKinley Carter (from left), Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley in the 2017 Victory Gardens Theater production of “Fun Home.”
McKinley Carter (from left), Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley in the 2017 Victory Gardens Theater production of “Fun Home.”
Liz Lauren

As the Covid-19 crisis extends into the spring and possibly the summer, Chicago theaters and dance organizations are supplying a variety of online activities to stay connected to their audiences.

While some are saying “there’s no going back” — that the communal experience will never be the same — cultural arts organizations have faith that a new normal will emerge, one that’s perhaps not too unlike the live theater/dance experience we know.

“We so look forward to when we can open our doors and invite the public in to experience these projects as they were intended,” say Tara Mallen, artistic director at Rivendell Theatre, where the company continues to work on new plays.

So for now, online streaming is bringing theaters and audiences together in new ways. While many of the offerings listed below are free, please consider, if you can, a donation to your favorite company in this unprecedented time of extinguished footlights and darkened marquees.

THEATER

Victory Gardens Theater: Streaming its 2017 production of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s acclaimed musical “Fun Home.” Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, the family drama unravels the many mysteries of her childhood from her coming out to her journey to acceptance. From May 12-24; tickets are $20. Visit victorygardens.org.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater: A variety of free streaming videos are offered in the digital platform Shakes@Home site, including education initiatives for teachers; a Living Room Sonnet Series; a look at recipes from the Bard’s plays and much more from artists and staff. Check it out at chicagoshakes.com.

The Goodman Theatre: While a stream “School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play” recently concluded, the Goodman continues its free stream of Robert Falls and Seth Bockley’s adaptation of Roberto Bolano’s novel “2666.” It’s a compelling five-hour marathon perfect for home viewing from the comfort of your couch. The theater also offers videos, art and articles to keep theatergoers connected while stages are dark. Visit goodmantheatre.org.

Steppenwolf Theatre: The company replaces it’s annual gala with a free online event, Pants Optional: A Steppenwolf Soiree, at 6:30 p.m. May 9. Making appearances are ensemble members Joan Allen, Gary Cole, John Malkovich, Sandra Marquez and Laurie Metcalf as well as other celebrity guests. The event concludes with a dance party with Grammy Award-winning DJ Tracy Young. Also on the Steppenwolf website is a podcast featuring ensemble members and teen and educator workshops. Visit steppenwolf.org.

Paramount Theatre: The Connection Social Media Concert has a new theme each week and features singers and dancers performing original works created while sheltering in place. All ages and experience levels are welcome to submit songs. For more information, visit paramountaurora.com. Also at 5 p.m. Mondays, the Paramount School of the Arts has launched a free series of live, virtual Master Classes Mondays taught by the theater’s artists and staff and covering a variety of topics. Visit, facebook.cm/paramountschoolofthearts.

Porchlight Music Theatre: Artistic director Michael Weber celebrates a legendary icon’s birthday with the free online series Sondheim @ 90 Roundtable. Saturdays at 7 pm, Weber and a panel of guests discuss a work by Stephen Sondheim and his impact on the performing arts. Upcoming works featured (including performance clips) are “Sunday in the Park with George” (May 2) and “Follies” (May 9). Visit porchlightmusictheatre.org.

Verböten, the teen band, plays their grown-up gig at the Cubby Bear in a scene from the musical “Verböten.”
Verböten, the teen band, plays their grown-up gig at the Cubby Bear in a scene from the musical “Verböten.”
Michael Brosilow

The House Theatre of Chicago: Streaming its recent production of Jason Narducy and Brett Neveu’s musical “Verböten.” Based on Narducy’s own experiences, it’s the story of how punk rock saved the lives of four Evanston kids in 1983. Available through May 4; tickets are pay-what-you-can beginning at $15. On May 2, a special live streaming event features Tony Award-winning actor-musician Michael Cerveris joining artistic director Nathan Allen and the play’s creators to talk about blending rock ‘n’ roll and theatre. Tickets are $99 and include access to the “Verböten” stream. Visit thehousetheatre.com.

Chicago Children’s Theatre: Streaming a variety of classes designed to teach the art of theater while building new skills like creativity, resourcefulness, confidence and collaboration. Ongoing, prices vary. Visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org.

The Neo-Futurists: The company takes its signature show online with “The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral,” a blast of 30 plays in 60 minutes. There are five price points ranging from $3-$100; the higher you go the more you get culminating in an original play written about your subject of choice. Ongoing. Visit neofuturists.org.

The Second City: The comedy outlet has adapted its shows and classes to create online experiences. The free weekly shows include “Improv House Party,” “The Last Show Left on Earth” and the family-friendly “Really Awesome Improv Show.” Visit secondcity.com.

Lookingglass Theatre: New digital content includes a weekly podcast featuring conversations with company artists about the creative process and how it intersects with life today. Other content features a yoga class and exclusive performances. Ongoing, free. Visit lookingglasstheatre.org

Theater Wit: Streaming its staging of “Teenage Dick,” Mike Lew’s comedy about perception, disability and the lengths we’re willing to go to rise above our station in life. Through May 17, $25-$50 (a Wednesday matinee is pay-what-you-can). Visit theaterwit.org.

Northlight Theatre: The discussion series “At Home with BJ” features artistic director BJ Jones in conversation with artists from the company’s upcoming season. “Finish the Line,” play along and attempt to complete the lines from a selection of Northlight’s favorite productions. Visit northlight.org.

Collaboraction: The company has launched the Together Network a platform focused on bringing people together to explore important issues and stay connected. The ongoing weekly streams feature a variety of topics and special guests. Visit collaboraction.org.

Rivendell Theatre: Digital content features at the development process look at four new one-woman plays: “The Inside” by Lydia A. Diamond, “When Given the Choice, Bleed” by Kimberly Dixon-Mays, “Tidy” by Kristin Idaszak and “Aping Jane” by Aurora Real de Asua. Ongoing from April 29, free. Visit rivendelltheatre.org/solo-voices.

Theatre Y: “My Body’s Image, Delayed” is a retrospective of the work of Romanian playwright Andras Visky in 15 episodes streaming weekly. Ensemble members create a new video each week of a Visky excerpt focusing on introspection, self-interrogation and refracted identity. Visit theatre-y.com.

The Passage Theatre: A staged reading of “All-One! The Dr. Bronner’s Play,” a world premiere commission by Beth Hyland originally scheduled to open in April that tells the story of Dr. Emanuel Bronner, a man famous for his pure-castile liquid soap. From May 1-10, pay-what-you-can. Visit thepassagetheatre.com.

Philip Dawkins in Sideshow Theatre Company and Greenhouse Theater Center’s 2016 world premiere of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Photo by Michael Brosilow
Philip Dawkins in Sideshow Theatre Company and Greenhouse Theater Center’s 2016 world premiere of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
Michael Brosilow

Sideshow Theatre: Streaming its production of “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Philip Dawkins’ play that retraces and explores the story of the women in his family. Through May 31, pay-what-you-can. Visit sideshowtheatre.org.

Black Button Eyes Productions: Streaming the world premiere of Ed Rutherford’s “Masque of the Red Coronavirus,” inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death” and current newspaper stories. Ongoing, free. Visit blackbuttoneyes.com.

Hell in a Handbag Productions: Streaming its 2012 production of “Sexy Baby,” a docu-musical that goes behind the scenes of child beauty pageants. Ongoing, free. Visit https://bit.ly/2KCKdow

Prop Thtr: A free stream of its latest show, “…And I Am Not Afraid,” a work devised by the ensemble about resilience and tenacity in the face of violence. Ongoing. Visit propthtr.org.

Otherworld Theatre Company: The company focused on science fiction and fantasy streams a variety of shows including “Super Richard World III,” “Medusa Undone” and “Improvised Dungeons and Dragons.” Ongoing, free-$5. Visit otherworldtheatre.org.

Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez are photographed at the Driehaus Museum for the Joffrey Ballet’s production of “Anna Karenina.”
Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez are photographed at the Driehaus Museum for the Joffrey Ballet’s production of “Anna Karenina.”
Cheryl Mann

DANCE

The Joffrey Ballet presents weekly additions to its online presence (this week it’s all about the company’s 2019 production of Yuri Possokhov’s “Anna Karenina”) featuring interviews with dancers, performance excerpts and workouts that will make you appreciate a dancer’s training and ability. Visit www.youtube.com/thejoffreyballet. Also, every Thursday at 2 p.m., Joffrey rehearsal director Adam Blyde hosts “On Cue,” a weekly video chat (via @joffreyballet Instagram LIVE) with a Joffrey company member about fitness tips, what they’re doing to stay sane and favorite quarantine recipes.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: Fans can keep up with what the dancers are doing as they shelter at home (www.facebook.com/hubbardstreetdance), take a class and find educational resources for teachers. Plus coming soon, a resource for dance activities for families. Visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

Lucky Plush Productions: The organization has launched a Virtual Dance Lab in collaboration with the University of Chicago’s dance program for beginners to veteran dance artists. Included are all styles of dance, yoga, improvisation, kids’ classes, physical theater and a wake-up dance jam and more. Classes are free to students with a $5-$15 suggested donation for others. Visit luckyplush.com.

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater has launched Beyond Dance, a free online initiative with a variety of classes for children and adults, plus The Continuum Process, a series of discussions about creativity and the artistic process. Free. Visit deeplyrooteddancetheater.org.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Always a Chicago favorite during its winter run at the Auditorium Theatre, the New York-based company is offering free streams of its work: Ailey’s “Night Creature” (through April 30) and Jamar Roberts’ “Ode” (April 30-May 7). Visit alvinailey.org.

MUSIC

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: During this period, personal messages from musicians are being shared regularly on the CSO’s social media channels, with additional audio and video content available online at CSO Sounds & Stories and YouTube. Visit cso.org.

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.