Chicago Theaters Face Closure Due To COVID-19 Shutdown

While I’m away, read more from social media intern, and smart, thoughtful woman, Jessica Mack

The beginning of 2020 looked promising. Theaters were promoting the newest shows, ice skating in Millennium Park was a must, and Chicago Restaurant Week promoted some of Chicago’s finest dining for tourists. January was a beautiful winter wonderland and Chicago planned to enjoy it to the fullest.

But all of that changed in February with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early March, the U.S. shut down – literally and figuratively. All businesses except for those labelled “essential” closed, leaving them with a big question: When would they be able to open back up for business?

In Mercury Theater and iO Theater Chicago’s cases, the answer is never. It was announced last week that both operations would be closing their doors permanently at the end of June, due to lack of funds.

What does this mean for other theaters in Chicago? Could they meet the same sad end?

Phase Four of Chicago’s post-lockdown reopening began Friday, June 26. According to the State of Illinois Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response page, this means “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed, restaurants and bars reopen, travel resumes, childcare and schools reopen under guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.”

But even with this announcement, it’s not looking up for live performances. Reading Chicago’s Performance Venue’s Reopening Guide, it stipulates that people must stand six feet away from one another – and only 25% of the venue can be filled at a time.

Only 50 individuals are allowed in the building, unless there’s balconies causing separation. But overall seating capacity is limited to 25%, which begs the question of how venues can generate enough revenue.

Financially, it may not be worth it for theaters to reopen under these circumstances. Costs have to be considered, like paying staff among other things. And given that the pandemic in America gives no current signs of being in control, theatergoers may be too concerned about public health to risk a night of entertainment. 

In the end, we don’t know what will happen to Chicago theater, but present trends are not encouraging. Mercury Theater’s demise could be the start of a domino effect. Our artistic venues need our help.

Please consider a donation to the Chicago Theater Workers Relief Fund, sponsored by Chicago Plays. Click here to give any amount.

Jessica Mack has been writing and editing for over two years. She is currently an intern for the Chicago Writers Association and Becky Sarwate/Cubsessions and writes about her daily life and current issues on her blog, Jess Because I Can. Recently she was Section Editor of Flash Fiction for Crook & Folly, DePaul University’s Literary & Arts Magazine and has experience as Co-Editor in Chief of the Joliet Junior College Blazer Newspaper.
Jessica is currently on track to graduate with her Bachelors degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at DePaul University in June of 2021. She spends her spare time reading, cuddling with her cats Theo and Nelly, playing video games and bicycling on the Chicago lakefront. 

Feminism: Empowerment or Anger?

My first guest post of 2020 comes from my current social media intern, and smart, thoughtful woman, Jessica Mack

When I was a child, I heard the word feminism. I was never told what it meant: it always had bad connotations attached to it. People in the news always referred to it as women who hated men and anything associated with the male race. Feminists were never happy with equality and always wanted more and more people said.

One day I was watching the news with my parents about a feminist rally when my father said, “I hope you never become one of those crazy feminists, Jess.”

This conversation made me look at him and ask “Why? What do you mean crazy?”

He just shrugged and focused on the TV again, not sure how to reply.

Because of this interaction and media presence, I’ve felt like I had to be passive about my beliefs my whole life, creating a docile version of myself. Whenever women are too “outspoken,” it becomes a critical hit to our image in the face of both men and women – “Why can’t she be normal?” or “Why can’t she keep her opinions to herself?” or “Why’s she so loud and noisy?”

But why is that? Why is it that most men can be themselves, and women can’t?

If women act confident, then they’re overconfident. If men act confident, they’re seen just as that – confident. If women are angry, it backfires and makes them less approachable. When men are angry, it could be seen as sexy or even give men more power over a group. It’s a sad but solid truth – that even if a woman expresses the same anger the same way a male would, a woman will face negative consequences while a man will receive praise.

But it’s not just men who are at fault. Women are to blame, too. Society as a whole has limited our thinking and constructs, making this the societal norm of sorts.

Maybe this is why feminists seem to be angry all the time. We can’t be ourselves, and to admit being a feminist makes us seem like we’re “crazy” like my father put it.

But how can we forget what feminism has done for women?

Because of feminism, women were able to finally have an education, obtain equal pay, possess rights over their own bodies, and even be involved in politics. Feminists in early America have changed women’s lives.

We should never forget that feminists are the reason America has changed for women for the better. But the fight isn’t over. Equality is still an issue even today, although less pronounced.

Where feminism is considered, we should think of empowerment, not anger or craziness. If you believe in women’s equal rights, you are a feminist in some regard. You just didn’t know it.

That doesn’t mean you’re angry. It just means you believe that women deserve equal rights, and there’s no fault in that.

Jessica Mack has been writing and editing for over two years. She is currently an intern for the Chicago Writers Association and Becky Sarwate/Cubsessions and writes about her daily life and current issues on her blog, Jess Because I Can. Recently she was Section Editor of Flash Fiction for Crook & Folly, DePaul University’s Literary & Arts Magazine and has experience as Co-Editor in Chief of the Joliet Junior College Blazer Newspaper.
Jessica is currently on track to graduate with her Bachelors degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at DePaul University in June of 2021. She spends her spare time reading, cuddling with her cats Theo and Nelly, playing video games and bicycling on the Chicago lakefront. 

Hedda Gabler

Lauren Demerath in ‘Hedda Gabler: A Play with Music.’ (Photo: Austin D. Oie)

“Originally staged in Germany in 1891, 12 years after the premiere of A Doll’s HouseHedda Gabler reinforced Ibsen’s growing reputation for realism and social provocativeness. The idea that a woman of privilege would mess with the lives and minds of others in her social and family circles — from a need for entertainment, spite, existential ennui, or all of the above — was quite subversive at the turn of the 20th century. In 2020, a time when women running for the nation’s highest office still have to worry about ‘likability,’ not much social edge has been shaved from Hedda’s unapologetic, mercenary approach to create an engaging existence for herself.

In a prosaic vacuum, the character remains easy to experience as a singular act of naked and arbitrary cruelty. However, the TUTA Theatre reimagining, as adapted and directed by artistic director Jacqueline Stone, takes away that audience privilege, with the inventive addition of an angry rock opera device that lets us deeper inside the mind of a living, breathing borderline personality disorder.

Giving theatergoers hints of Alanis Morrisette’s seminal 1995 feminist scream, Jagged Little Pill (recently adapted into a Broadway musical), with a dash of Trent Reznor’s disaffected nihilism, this take on Hedda leverages strategically deployed musical numbers to help audience members get at the “why?” that drives the title character to depraved indifference. From the mournful, wistful ballad that opens the first act, through the strobe light-flashing, bass-pulsing growls that predict Hedda’s ultimate downfall, the TUTA production team takes an interesting, if not always transparent approach, to filling in the character blanks left by Ibsen.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

A Doll’s House

(l to r) )Amira Danan and Gage Wallace in Raven Theatre’s ‘A Doll’s House.’ (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

“The play’s denouement still has the power to produce audible gasps in the 21st century. The audience, privy only to the superficial thoughts and actions of both Nora and Torval, becomes trained to take both spouses at face value. Director Lauren Shouse and her talented cast prove that a well-known conclusion can still offer genuine surprise, dropping subtle breadcrumbs throughout the play that suggest Nora’s ‘Aha!’ moment is subconscious work years in the making.

Torval — shallow, unimaginative and condescending — is a man who enjoys telling anyone who will listen about his hard work and moral rectitude. He is at his most interesting when interacting with longtime family friend and secret Nora acolyte, Dr. Rank (Terry Gallagher). Rank, physically aggrieved and cynical, is all-too-aware that life’s pleasures are ephemeral and meant to be enjoyed. While his bond with the hedonist-lite and beautiful Nora makes perfect sense, it’s hard to understand the character’s amusement with kill-joy Torval.

Yet Wallace allows his character to display endearing flashes of heroine worship toward his wife that hint at greater, if repressed, emotional depth. His clear, superficially besotted yearning must have weakened the knees of a young Nora, as undoubtedly as it does the audience. It is easy to love someone who routinely espouses one’s perfection.

But thanks to Danan’s commanding performance, we sense that Nora never fully trusted her husband’s placement of her on that pedestal. It’s evident that she sees herself as window dressing, albeit fluent in niceties. Danan infuses Nora’s Act I trifling dialogue with a sort of omniscient dread that makes a familiar journey feel novel. This character sees it all coming – even if she doesn’t know it until the moment she picks up her small bag and walks out the front door.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Roe

Kate Middleton in ‘Roe’ at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

“Middleton creates a fully realized portrait of Norma as sexually and ideologically conflicted, the product of a broken home, and an uneducated addict with a shifting moral code. The multi-dimensional portrayal is engaging. The real Norma was no saint. Neither was she a villain. Instead, like so many impoverished women trapped by society’s legal control of female reproduction, she needed options, support and validation. Middleton’s interpretation of these dramatic tensions gives the audience a Norma McCorvey who is desperate for acceptance, aware of her limitations, and always in search of her personal truth.

That said, some of the play’s other characters are difficult to endure, and in the quest of fair and balanced dogma, the playwright performs too many narrative contortions to make them work. For example, there’s Flip (Ryan Kitley), the “minister of the Free Methodist Church and future head of Operation Rescue.” Norma meets Flip and his family while volunteering, post-Roe v. Wade decision, at an abortion clinic. Audiences can see Flip for the manipulative, flim-flam spiritual practitioner that he is, just as easily as we understand why Norma is seduced by the ideas of forgiveness, salvation and community.

So why for God’s sake (pun intended), does Loomer bother with Flip’s reformed, dissipated youth backstory? It’s frustrating, inauthentic, and seems to imply, however unintentionally, that Flip now walks the right moral path and is a fit judge of Norma’s spiritual journey. Egads.  Hasn’t she endured enough without the extra heavy helping of mansplaining?”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.