Last Wednesday, a tall, wide-smiling usher opened the door, bringing me into the Chicago Art Department’s musky, glowing warmth. Nothing—the art, the lights, or the makeshift bar bustling with customers—was quite as compelling as the noise. It was loud. Not in an interruptive way, but I could hear laughter from across the room, and see and feel it bouncing from one group of people to the next. The tall ceiling, strung back and forth with yellow lights, only helped matters along, allowing notes of R&B music to fill the air. Couples’ heads were bent down, ears inches from mouths, while friends howled excited greetings at every new face that walked through the door. Hugs were given without discretion, and kisses planted in abundance.
In Blues for an Alabama Sky, the play produced this winter by Court Theatre, worlds collided: the Harlem Renaissance came to Hyde Park. According to Court’s executive director Stephen J. Albert “to explore and extend the African-American canon” is still Court’s long-term project. The theater’s appreciation of African-American art and culture are especially valuable to Court’s audience; he says Court’s audience “gets on its feet” to applaud “stories that speak to [its] own history.” Court sought to meet this demand this winter by producing Blues for an Alabama Sky, a story of the lives of five neighbors in Harlem during the 1920s—and to go beyond just meeting it, they added a two-month-long festival as accompaniment.
Inauguration Day mixed the city’s emotions into a veritable soup of angst. Protesters dissenting the new president gathered at Daley Plaza and near Trump Tower before migrating to briefly shut down parts of Lake Shore Drive. But at an effervescent brown-owned café in Pilsen, performance artist Ricardo Gamboa’s live news show, F*ck Trump the Hoodoisie is Here, gave a standing-room-only crowd the opportunity to protest status quo politics in the nation as well as in the city.
Rain fell in Chicago on January 19, Barack Obama’s last night in the White House. That night, a new administration descended upon D.C. for an inauguration “welcome celebration” featuring “traditionally American” musical acts.
Union Maids, one of the last films screened in South Side Projections’s “Alternative Histories of Labor” series, chronicles the lives of three female labor organizers in 1930s and 1940s in Chicago. At one point, one of the titular “maids,” Katherine Hyndman, recalls a funeral procession for three black men who were shot in the back by policemen as they carried furniture back into their homes following an eviction. The procession marched all the way from 31st Street down to the Englewood train station on 63rd. “State Street was crowded with thousands of people from wall to wall, from one end of State Street to the other,” Hyndman says. “It was just a mass of people….The streetcars would just barely crawl along through the crowds. And that was the first time in my life that I have seen white people sobbing, really sobbing, there was such a strong feeling.”
The creators of Midway Documentary, Ryan Brockmeier and Chad Sorenson, believe that behind the success of big names in Chicago hip-hop are many unheard stories of artists who built the genre.
The tree set in the middle of the eta stage is a riot of color. Its trunk, painted with streaks of neon, is strewn with vines and stamped with a variety of West African adinkra icons. Hanging from a branch is a lone, glittering red ornament—the apple in this retelling of the biblical origin story, and a nod to Christmas and the tradition of nativity plays, to which In De’ Beginnin’ pays slight homage with the timing of its current run. The prominent and idiosyncratic set piece, however, is the first clue that this retelling of the origin story will be anything but by The Book.
Chicago’s so small,” marvels fifteen-year-old Dontay, poring over a world map with Damonte, Demetrius (Dre), and D’Quan. “I don’t see my street.” So begins a distinctly large journey: four teenage bucket drummers from Englewood have left the South Side, boarded their first airplane, and emerged among the driving drumbeats and crowded beaches outside Dakar, Senegal.
If you ask Kemati Porter, the executive director of eta Creative Arts Foundation, about the future of her theater, she will first tell you about its past. It’s the only answer that makes sense. How could anyone understand what eta needs to be right now if they don’t know that Maya Angelou used to line-dance in its back room?
The flood is a story about community building, of community won and community lost.