Despite the fact that large public gatherings are prohibited by state COVID-19 mandates, theater companies facing this dire situation aren’t sitting idly by waiting for the pandemic to evaporate. Instead, many are trying to keep the let’s-put-on-a-show spirit alive via a variety of online, and even some live, events.
While Chicago theaters are always distinctly creative, they’ve really had to work outside the box during this COVID age. Thus the offerings for the fall season range from live performances in city parks to live streams from London and Italy to outdoor puppets, a drive-in movie, online discussions and a holiday classic.
All of the following are online productions unless otherwise indicated. And, while many are free, please consider a donation to help keep theater in Chicago alive. And have faith — live theater will be back.
“Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On it!”: The Goodman Theatre collaborates with the Chicago Park District for outdoor performances of Cheryl L. West’s play featuring E. Faye Butler as the civil and voting rights activist. This 40-minute abridged version is performed live in nine city parks. Directed by Henry Godinez. Sept. 17-Oct. 3, Free; goodmantheatre.org
“What Is Left, Burns”: Steppenwolf Theatre’s online venture Steppenwolf NOW features a series of monthly plays featuring work by popular playwrights beginning in November with James Ijames’ “What Is Left, Burns.” The drama stars ensemble members K. Todd Freeman and Jon Michael Hill as two poets separated by age and distance who reconnect via a video call after 15 years. Dates TBA, $75 for the 6 play series (no individual tickets sold; free to members); steppenwolf.org/now
“Romantics Anonymous”: Chicago Shakespeare Theater takes part in this live stream from the Bristol Old Vic in England. The musical is the story of a shy chocolate maker who takes a job in a struggling chocolate factory where a fragile love affair unfolds. Created by Emma Rice (book), Christopher Dimond (lyrics) and Michael Kooman (music); directed by Emma Rice. Sept. 22-26, tickets start at $21; chicagoshakes.com/romantics
“George Gershwin Alone”: Pianist/singer/actor Hershey Felder returns with another of his popular performances streamed live from the historic Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Italy. He tells the story of the great American composer and plays the composer’s best-known songs. The performance benefits theater and arts organizations across the U.S. and Europe including Chicago’s Porchlight Music Theatre. At 7 p.m. Sept. 13, $55; porchlightmusictheatre.org
“Beatrix Potter and Friends”: Chicago Children’s Theatre’s West Loop parking lot is turned into a drive in theater for an all-new film version of one of its most popular shows, based on the work of the British author who created beloved stories featuring Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck and Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. Oct. 1-18, $45 per car or per pod if families want to arrive on foot, advance reservations only; chicagochildrenstheatre.org
“Destinos al Aire”: The Chicago Latino Theater Latino highlights arts and culture with videos and live performances from Aguijon Theater, Repertorio Latino Theater Company, Teatro Vista and Urban Theater Company plus a performance by Cielito Lindo Family Folk Music and a screening of Gabylu Lara’s film “American Curious.” ChiTown Movies, 2343 S. Throop. At 6 p.m. Sept. 17, sold out but can be streamed for free; clata.org
“Theatre & Thought Series”: Court Theatre’s series features University of Chicago faculty discussing the historical context, themes and artistic possibilities surrounding classic works: “The World of August Wilson + The Black Creative Voice” (Mondays in Sept.) with English professor Kenneth Warren in conversation with resident artist Ron OJ Parson. Other playwrights include Euripides (Oct.), Caryl Churchill (Nov./Dec.). There’s also a deep dive into Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt” (Oct./Nov). $85 per series; $250 for Stoppard series; courttheatre.org
“45 Play for America’s First Ladies”: The Neo-Futurists production is a series of 1-5 minute plays that uses the honorary office of First Lady as a lens to examine the roles that women and other marginalized individuals have played in the development of America. Oct. 8-Nov. 2, $15; neofuturists.org
“Night Mother”: Invictus Theatre presents a new production of Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a woman suffering from depression who tells her mother she is on the verge of suicide. Stars Courtney Gardner and Keisha Yelton-Hunter; Diane Sintich directs. Oct. 22-Nov. 8, $20; invictustheatreco.com/onstage
“Rastus and Hattie”: 16th Street Theater transforms Lisa Langford’s comedy into an audio play directed by Lanise Antoine Shelley. Inspired by Westinghouse’s 1930-era brown-skinned robots, the playwright takes the automatons through a time-space continuum and places them at opposite ends of society in an alternate past. Sept. 24-Oct. 24, $10-$20; 16thstreettheater.org
“It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!”: Take the annual trip to Bedford Falls with American Blues Theater’s live radio-play production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the second longest running holiday play in Chicago and the perfect holiday fare. The show will be produced virtually from each cast member’s home. Nov. 12-Jan. 2, $25-$75; americanbluestheater.com
Peacebook 2020: Collaboraction’s annual event kicks off Oct. 17 with two free programs of 10 Chicago artists/activists premiering short new works about peace in the city, followed by a month of additional free screenings and online conversations leading up to the live Utopian Ball benefit gala on Nov 14th ($25-$250); collaboraction.org
“Pride and Prejudice”: Lifeline Theatre presents Christina Calvit’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” the classic story of a mother, her five daughters and the men in their lives. Samantha Newcomb portrays Elizabeth Bennet and Andres Enriquez is Mr. Darcy; Dorothy Milne directs. To Oct. 4, $20; lifelinetheatre.com
“Run the Beast Down”: Strawdog Theatre stages the U.S. premiere of Titas Halder’s drama, a rollercoaster ride through one man’s state of mind as he loses his job and his girlfriend and is haunted by a fox. Gage Wallace stars; Elly Green directs. Oct. 2-25, $15; strawdog.org
“Hit ‘Em on the Blackside”: No subject is off limits in the sketch comedy series presented by the Congo Square Theatre ensemble in bi-weekly episodes. Oct. 9-Dec. 18, Free; congosquaretheatre.org
TimeLine Theatre: Throughout the fall the company streams a series of programs inspired by the plays delayed to an upcoming season: Tyla Abercrumbie’s “Relentless” and Will Allan’s “Campaigns.” Sept. 24-Oct. 19, Free-$50; timelinetheatre.com
PrideArts: First up is “Closet Play” (Sept. 30), a look at the writings of James Baldwin and Tennessee Williams intertwined with original jazz music, followed by John Maddison Morton’s one-act romantic farce, “Box and Cox” (Oct. 22, 29) and W.R. Walkes’ “A Pair of Lunatics” (Nov. 19, Dec. 3), an 1898 comedy about a man and woman who meet in an asylum and mistake each other for an inmate. Directed by Donterrio Johnson. Free-$25; pridearts.org
“International Voices Project”: Silk Road Rising presents staged readings of Sameh Mahran’s “The Boatman” (Oct. 14), about an engaged Egyptian couple unable to marry due to financial concerns and Kareem Fahmy’s “A Distinct Society” (Oct. 21), about an Iranian family separated by the “Muslin ban.” Free-$5; silkroadrising.org
“Living Room Tour”: Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival presents its fall event outside at four venues with performances by puppeteers Jerrell Henderson and Tom Lee: at a private residence in Glencoe (Oct. 1); Rockwell on the River, 3057 N. Rockwell (Oct. 2) and at two organic farms near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. (Oct. 3-4). $150 includes wine, beer, supper; $250 includes all that and a goody bag; chicagopuppetfest.org
“The War of the Worlds”: Theatre in the Dark’s staging of Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds,” which updates the story to present day Illinois as Martians threaten Earth with destruction. Directed by Bradberry. Oct. 15-Nov. 21, $20, $25; theatreinthedark.com
“We’re Gonna Die”: Theatre Y’s filmed re-imagining for our times of Young Jean Lee’s “We’re Gonna Die,” a poignant and life-affirming play-cum-indie rock concert in which a singer alternates stories of the awfulness of life with sweet, peppy tunes. Directed by Hector Alvarez. Sept. 18-Oct. 4, Free; theatreinthedark.com
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.