Everything about the day was expertly choreographed. Dozens of large yellow school buses maneuvered their way through morning rush hour to the Private Bank Theater. Once there, Chicago Public School security staff clad in official blue jackets along with parents and teachers wearing identifiable orange vests assembled hundreds of high school students to their seats. Excitement buzzed in the air. The chatter and energy were palpable. Weeks of work and dedication culminated here at Chicago’s final Hamilton Education Program of the 2016–2017 school year.
The policy, the numbers game
One Earth Film Festival, Chicago’s premier environmental movie festival, put on its sixth run earlier this month, from March 3 to March 12. Aiming to raise awareness and facilitate dialogue about environmental issues and protections, One Earth screens films and hosts post-screening discussions for free. This year, they put on forty-seven showings of thirty films in thirty-nine locations throughout the Chicagoland area. The Weekly sent writers to three of these: Can You Dig This?, NaturePlay, and Chicago’s True Nature.
Solomon Dumas is nervous about dancing in Chicago.
Director, playwright, and teaching artist Carla Stillwell knows more than a few things about Chicago theater after twenty-one seasons with Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre (MPAACT). Stillwell, a South Shore native who began acting professionally at the age of ten, is bringing her craft back to the South Side this year; she will organize MPAACT group classes starting in April and will also launch her own private theater classes out of her Woodlawn home. Stillwell is directing MPAACT’s final show of the season, local playwright Shepsu Aakhu’s Never the Milk and Honey, opening April 14. The Weekly spoke with her about her new classes, her three decades of work, and the importance of theater by and for people of color.
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.”