(Guest post by Tiffany Keane)
Within the past decade, mainstream media has embraced science fiction and fantasy, with the genre arguably at its most popular levels in entertainment. This popularity has inspired the theatre community, which has started to embrace its inner geek. From long–standing theater companies with extensive sets and elaborate costumes to independent groups of performers working with shoestring budgets, Chicago nerds and geeks are creating works for the stage that explore humanity through the lens of the supernatural and unknown, and celebrate geekdom in all its artistic forms.
Chicago, known throughout the theatrical world to be an artistic incubator, has been cultivating science fiction and fantasy theater for some time. Classic examples worth mentioning are Edge Theatre’s MacSith, a Star Wars themed retelling of Shakespeare’s Scottish play. Halcyon’s Theatre Company’s recent hit In Love and Warcraft explored the outlet of gaming and how avatars can mirror personal desires. The House Theatre’s The Hammer Trilogy created an original play of high fantasy, delighting audiences with an amazing story and dragon battle spectacle (including spectacular puppetry), and The Steppenwolf’s critically–acclaimed production of She Kills Monsters used the world of Dungeons and Dragons to explore family relationships, the creation of found-family, and understanding sexual orientation.
I have been privileged enough to be the Artistic Director of Otherworld Theatre Company, established in 2012 and dedicated exclusively to the performance of SF/F. Below, I have listed ten exciting new adventures that await the Chicago patron. Whether you’re a fan of off–Broadway musicals, opera, plays, or performance artists, if you want a night of SF/F storytelling at the theater, these productions are for you.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Sept 25 – Nov 8
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Tempest has garnered critical acclaim for its unique presentation of this classic fantasy tale about vengeance, sorcery, and the mysteries of the human heart, using modern music as a backdrop. Shakespeare’s enchanted island is transformed in this inventive production from Aaron Posner and Teller (of the legendary duo Penn & Teller), utilizing the intimate setting of the Courtyard Theater. Larry Yando returns to Chicago Shakespeare to take on the role of the mysterious sorcerer Prospero, who conjures a storm shipwrecking his old enemies. Set to the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, with choreography by Pilobolus, this Shakespearean fantasy is truly full of “such stuff as dreams are made on.”
The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
Sept 17 – Nov 14
Madeline George (author of 2013’s hit Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England) spins a SF tale based on her 2014 Pulitzer Award finalist work exploring love, communication, and technology over the course of 150 years. Four constant companions—all named “Watson,” including Sherlock Holmes’s partner, the Mr. Watson often paged by Alexander Graham Bell in his famous (mis)quote “Come here Watson. I want to see you,” an AI, and a tech worker who may not be all he seems—provide the connecting thread through the 140–minute play. With three actors playing different versions of their characters across multiple time periods, the play makes for “a brilliantly witty, time–jumping, loving tribute (and cautionary tale) dedicated to the people—and machines—upon which we all depend.”
All Girl Dracula
Oct 10 – Nov 21
With the ALL GIRL PROJECT, the Chicago Mammals are committed to creating extreme and unique opportunities for Chicago actresses to play roles that are rarely if ever performed by women. In this exciting adaptation of the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, Artistic Director Bob Fisher has turned the classic vampire story on it’s head: “Mina Murray is caught between a Carnivorous Ancient Evil and an Uncompromising Sadistic Zealot. Both Dracula and Van Helsing yearn for violence, even if their appetites are spurned by opposing goals. As she tries to protect the people she loves, will she be forced to decide which of these powerful villains is the lesser of two evils?”
The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls
Trap Door Theatre
Oct 15 – Nov 21
Trap Door Theatre’s mission is to bring obscure and challenging works to life on stage. Now entering its 20th season, the off–Loop theater company brings a tale of rediscovering one’s roots in a foreign country—all while having to fight folktales and magic without a guaranteed happy ending: “When Annie is sent to Russia to be immersed into her native language and culture, she finds herself thrust into an enchanting post–Soviet world filled with new friends still fighting the witches, bears and evil stepmothers that haunted all of our childhoods. Set in a deceitfully glamorous post–Soviet Russia, Annie and her new friends must fight the villains of common folklore in a world where things might not end up happily ever after.”
Oct 21 – Nov 15
The Steppenwolf for Young Adult’s production of George Orwell’s dystopian classic follows the success of last year’s Animal Farm. With a long history of creating productions geared toward bringing young audiences, families, and teachers into the theater world, 1984 utilizes a multi-media production to bring Orwell’s world of suspicion, totalitarianism, and rebellion to life: “Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth located in the nation of Oceania, part of a vast empire in a constant, shifting war against other superstates. Dissent is not tolerated (not even in thought), and Winston and his fellow citizens are under perpetual electronic surveillance by their ever-watchful ruler Big Brother. When Winston falls in love with a co-worker, their illegal affair pushes them to rebel and face the darkest and most dangerous corners of the regime.”
Otherworld Theatre Company
Oct 31 – Nov 22
Playwright Stuart Bousel weaves a dark romantic tale in the gothic thriller “Gone Dark.” Within a society of vampire hunters, slayers are summoned from around the world to convene after the death of their leader: “Ned Dalton is tormented by his last hunt and haunted by foggy and untrustworthy memories. As events begin to unfold around him, he begins to realize the hunt may not be over yet and that the dead may indeed rise again.” Otherworld Theatre has tailored the production as a site-specific piece, incorporating the historic church serving as the play’s theater setting as the backdrop for the story. Audiences will follow a designated guide leading them through the narrative, allowing them to explore the vampire hunters’ society and watch the horror unfold, up close and personal.
Nov 12 & 19
Geek–themed circus and performance art shows have been growing in popularity in Chicago. As one of the first such Chicago–based performance groups, Raks Geek is bellydance, flow arts, and fire company established by geeks for any and all fans of geekdom. Performances have included everything from a bellydancing Wookie and stormtroopers to LED flow spinning and firespinning to the themes from Tron: Legacy, Transformers: The Movie and The Fifth Element. Using the backdrop of pop culture references, their performances have gone viral and made waves on MSN, The Daily Mail, and Cheezburger.com. The performers blend artistic and technical mastery with their favorite themes from nerd culture, resulting in performances that are mesmerizing to watch and a joy to behold. (Editor’s Note: Uncanny’s Managing Editor, Michi Trota, is a member of Raks Geek and will be performing in these upcoming shows.)
Improvised Star Trek
The iO Theater
Nov 6 – Dec. 11
What happens when you take a troupe of improv comedians and put them on the “set” of the USS Sispyhus, a lesser–known Starfleet vessel? You’ll have to attend a performance of Improvised Star Trek to find out! After a successful initial run from 2009–2010 at the iO Theater, the comedians behind Improvised Star Trek retooled the show as a podcast, releasing two episodes per month. Now for the first time in five years, they’re back with live at the iO Theater for a limited time, with six Friday performances at the iO theater, beginning November 6. This show is a must for Trekkies and fans of SFF comedy.
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience
Broadway in Chicago
Dec. 1 – Jan 3
Whether you camped outside a bookstore for three days awaiting the release of the Deathly Hallows or you don’t know the difference between a horcrux and a Hufflepuff, the comedy, magic and mayhem of Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff makes for an entertaining and hilarious visit to the theatre. The fast-paced show, which has made audiences aged six to Dumbledore (who is very old indeed) roar with laughter all over the world, is perfect for the entire family. Created by former BBC Television hosts Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, the play takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing, or “potting,” all seven Harry Potter books into 70 madcap minutes, aided only by multiple costume changes, brilliant songs, ridiculous props, and a generous helping of Hogwarts magic. The show also invites audiences to engage with a real life game of Quidditch, but according to Clarkson and Turner’s unique set of rules.
Dec 7 – Jan 17
Ann Patchett’s best–selling novel Bel Canto took the literary world by storm—now, in a new work curated by Lyric’s creative consultant, Renée Fleming, this riveting story of magical realism inspired by a real-life event becomes a powerful opera: “Superstar American diva Roxane Coss has flown to Peru to sing at the vice president’s home for a visiting Japanese mogul who is an opera buff. Dignitaries of every nationality are there—but an international crisis explodes when terrorists storm the mansion and take everyone hostage. Isolated for months, unlikely alliances form between captors and captives as fear and anger mingle uneasily with desire and even love. Music is the one universal language—but can it draw forth the humanity that exists in us all?”
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in series of blog posts highlighting SF/F theater productions in various cities.)