by Tony Frankel on September 22, 2020

in Theater-Chicago,Virtual


Chicago Shakes’ 35th Anniversary Season offers an amazing array of options, both in‑person performances and virtual streaming. Look for plays written and inspired by Shakespeare, new musicals, a timely contemporary opera, and engaging digital content for audiences, students, and teachers.

Virtual programming and streamed productions will launch the season in September 2020. In‑person performances are currently slated to begin in early 2021. Production dates will be announced on a rolling basis, based on guidance from state and local authorities. There will be complete flexibility in ticket packages, ready to welcome audiences as soon as possible. Additionally, Navy Pier has committed to partnering with the Theater to ensure a seamless experience for all Chicago Shakespeare patrons during the Pier’s shutdown through the winter months.

Two of Shakespeare’s lesser-known characters step into the spotlight in I, Shakespeare, which features a pair of solo shows: I, Cinna (the poet) and I, Banquo, written by Tim Crouch. Audiences will have the choice to attend in‑person performances in an adapted, reduced-capacity performance space at Chicago Shakespeare or to stream live from home.

The North American Premiere production of I, Cinna (the poet) will be directed by Tyrone Phillips, who notably directed the world premiere production of Byhalia, Mississippi (see S&C’s review). In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the humble poet Cinna hardly says a word before being mistaken for someone else and torn to pieces by an angry mob. Searching for the subject of a new poem, Cinna invites the audience to write along live in an exploration of words and actions, protest, and power.

Combining classic theater and modern storytelling, I, Banquo reexamines Shakespeare’s Macbeth through the eyes of the title character’s murdered best friend. The betrayed Banquo considers how he might have responded to the prophesies of the Weird Sisters had he been in Macbeth’s position—questioning his own motives, desires, and temptations. The solo production is directed by Marti Lyons, one of the most sought-after directors in American theater, with extensive credits at DC’s Studio Theater, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Writers Theatre, and American Players Theatre.

Jeanine Tesori, the composer of Fun Home and Caroline, or Change, and librettist Tazewell Thompson have joined forces to create Blue, presented in collaboration with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Recently awarded “Best New Opera” by the Music Critics Association of North America, Blue brings audiences into the emotional epicenter as a Black police officer and his wife are faced with the killing of their son at the hands of the police—realizing their deepest fears in the devastating reality.

The new musical It Came from Outer Space will make its World Premiere directed by Laura Braza, artistic producer at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The project reignites an artistic partnership with creators Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, following the success of their 2015 musical, Murder for Two. In this adaptation of the cult classic ‘50s sci-fi film, It Came from Outer Space spins Ray Bradbury’s flying saucer tale with a clever musical score and creative physical humor—examining society’s fear of outsiders and embracing the wonder of what lies just beyond the stars.

There will be a pairing of Shakespeare plays performed in The Yard with a single ensemble of actors (harnessing the innovative flexibility and adaptability of The Yard, the stage and audience spaces will be configured for optimal safety). First is the searing exploration of sexual politics and social justice, Measure for Measure, adapted and directed by Henry Godinez. Next is Twelfth Night, with Artistic Director Barbara Gaines at the helm.

The Theater’s production of As You Like It, adapted and directed by Citadel Theatre’s Artistic Director Daryl Cloran—which was postponed from the 2019/20 Season—will conclude the season. This vibrant adaptation set in the ‘60s infuses Shakespeare’s romantic comedy with the hit songs of The Beatles—lifting the playwright’s timeless verse in beautiful harmony with the immortal music of the “Fab Four.” This exuberant celebration of love features nearly 20 songs, performed live, including “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Let It Be,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”

Digital programming reaches audiences, students, and teachers

The annual Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks program has gone “from the greens to the screens” in August 2020. Culminating this summer’s programming is a PBS television special about Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks, which is still available to view on PBS.

From September 22-26, 2020, Chicago Shakespeare presents a live-streamed event direct from the UK’s Bristol Old Vic: Romantics Anonymous, a whimsical new musical comedy written and directed by renowned theater provocateur Emma Rice, best known for her ground-breaking work as artistic director of Kneehigh Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe. Following rigorous safety measures, the company will form an enclosed “bubble” to be able to perform without social distancing. Based on the film Les Émotifs Anonymes, the new musical with book by Emma Rice, lyrics by Christopher Dimond, and music by Michael Kooman chronicles the sweet budding romance between two socially awkward chocolate makers as they break the mold and find the courage to be happy.

For the holidays, return to Neverland with a streamed 75-minute performance of the Theater’s wildly popular 2018 production of Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure, directed and choreographed by Amber Mak. Based on J.M. Barrie’s beloved tale about the boy who wouldn’t grow up, this heartwarming musical dazzles with a score written by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewe—the award-winning songwriting duo behind smash hit Mary Poppins.

In the fall of 2020, a new four-part digital series: Everybody’s Shakespeare, will delve into the enduring power of Shakespeare’s stories through in-depth conversations with artists and experts interwoven with extended performance footage, featuring highlights from the company’s thirty-five-year history. Released monthly beginning in October, each hour-long premiere event will feature opportunities for audience members to engage in a live, virtual Q&A with the artists.

Also, Chicago Shakespeare’s Team Shakespeare education program—one of the most comprehensive and highly respected in the country—moves online this season. When the school year was first impacted in Spring 2020, the Theater immediately responded with direct pedagogical support for educators. Chicago Shakespeare launched the free Stream & Study program, which provided classrooms with robust curriculum and teaching materials paired with the recording of the Theater’s 75-minute abridged production of Romeo and Juliet. Thousands of students from coast-to-coast participated in the program, expanding the reach and impact of the Theater’s educational outreach in never-before-seen ways.

Teachers across the nation can take advantage of resources for remote learning through the Team Shakespeare Digital portal, which pairs printable, ready-to-use activities with instructional guidance and explanatory videos. The award-winning Bard Core program transitions online for 2020. For the first time, students will work together to create their own virtual retelling of Hamlet, culminating in January 2021 with the debut of a community-wide, filmed version of the play woven together from scenes performed by the many school teams.

cover photo by James Steinkamp
Yard photo by Liz Lauren

for more info, visit Chicago Shakes or call the CST Box Office at 312.595.5600
single tickets will go on sale in the fall;
discounted tickets are available for groups of 10 or more.

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