Commuters, residents, and visitors carry on in crisis mode

 

By Daniel Patton

 

Two weeks after President Trump declared a national health emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago appeared rather desolate on a foggy Friday afternoon. But some people were out and about, carrying on almost as if everything were normal. Almost.

New Eastside News hit the pavement to see how commuters, residents, and visitors are getting by during the crisis.

 

Lynn and Elizabeth (Lizzy) Brahin, New Eastside

New Eastside residents Lynn and her daughter Elizabeth (Lizzy) were enjoying an outdoor lunch in Streeterville when they graciously paused to explain how the pandemic has affected their lives.

Lynn, a Corcoran Urban Real Estate broker, is mostly showing houses through virtual tours to accommodate the stay-at-home order, a process that she believes may ultimately prove to be beneficial for the industry. “Buyers will become much more informed,” she explained. “Back in the day, it would take a long time to visit several properties.”

When the order is lifted, she looks forward to enjoying the intimacy of companionship once again. “That in-person, eye-to-eye, human contact is so much different than anything else,” she said. “It’s priceless.”

Lizzy is a junior high school student at Walter Payton College Prep who has been studying at home due to the statewide school closure. But the thing is, she really doesn’t have to study at all. “You can do the assigments to improve your grade,” she explained. “But not doing them will not make your grade worse.”

Walter Payton also cancelled a school trip to San Francisco, where Lizzy was scheduled to participate in the Knowledge at Wharton High School Investment Competition with the economics and investment team. “We submitted a 14-page report tailored to the needs of a particular client,” Lizzy said. “She’s a mother, a businesswoman, and the CEO of a multi-million dollar venture capital company who graduated from Wharton.” After graduation from Walter Payton, Lizzy plans to attend college and study economics, of course.

 

David and Jill Newton, Streeterville

The Newtons wore their optimism well as they prepared to make an unplanned exit from Chicago, where they have spent the past year residing in Streeterville. Since the native Englanders lived as Windy City residents during a previous two-year stint, they have found many things to love about the city.

David, who has been working at home since Kraft Heinz closed its offices in the AON Building three weeks ago, rearranged his retirement so that he and his wife could spend time with their children back near Liverpool. “I had a month of celebrations for me retiring all planned, but none of that’s happening now,” he said. “We want to get back and see our kids and be close to them at this time.” But he will miss “getting on the lakefront” as well as “Kingston Mines and the Green Mill and the jazz clubs and Andy’s and all the different things.”

Jill will miss the theatres, museums, opera, and symphony. “It’s just a great place to live and I hope that things will return to normal before too long and it will be the great city that it is,” she said.

 

Erin Matsumura, East Lakeview

Personal trainer and dog-walker Erin was strolling near the Columbus Avenue Bridge with a six-month old boxer named Mia when she explained how the stay-at-home era has helped her realize that, “simplicity is maybe the way to go.”

“Everything I thought I needed, I don’t,” she said. “I’m actually pretty much a minimalist anyways, but I mean, you know, buying day-to-day things you think you need or things you think you need to do, you really don’t.”

With so many businesses closed for the same reason, some of her clients have reached the same conclusion. “People are home, so a lot of them don’t need their dogs walked,” she continued. “It’s not like it used to be.” Since gyms are also closed, fitness has taken on a do-it-yourself necessity as well. But Erin offered suggestions for exercising at home. “Go easy and get dialed in with the basic movements,” she said. “Just move — walking, stretching, you know, your basics. If you want to dance, dance. Whatever. Anything to move.”

 

Susan (last name withheld), downtown

A retiree who is “very involved with the performing arts,” Susan was accustomed to going out “every night” until the health crisis came along. Now she spends her days with a new friend.

“I have this dog to take care of as long as we’re sheltering in place,” she explained. “His name is Oreo, which makes no sense because he’s not black and white at all.”

Susan decided to foster Oreo after Mayor Lightfoot closed all the bars and restaurants in Chicago. “I realized that if I was going to be home all the time, I could get a dog,” she recalled. When she’s not walking the dog, Susan checks out the free concerts that The Metropolitan Opera streams every day. It’s not the same as the live performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle that she intended to attend before it got cancelled, but she said, “it’s really generous of them.”

Oreo has been adopted by a Missouri family, but that’s on hold “because of what we’re dealing with right now.” Same goes for his favorite places to walk — the Riverwalk and the lakefront — but he and Susan still manage to get out about four times every day.

 

Thoa Le, Viet Nam

Vietnamese medical student Thoa Le came to Chicago for a cardiology conference but ended up sightseeing when it got cancelled. She was disappointed to learn that Millennium Park was closed, but understood the reason. “Every store and market in Viet Nam had to close at least 14 days,” she said. “The pandemic is dangerous and it can cross borders without a visa.”

One Earth Film Festival connects people to the planet

by Elisa Shoenberger

The One Earth Film Festival hopes to change hearts and minds about the environment, sustainability, and climate change through the power of film. The festival will be presenting 48 films throughout Chicago from March 6-15.

“I think film presents us with stories,” said festival president Ana Garcia Doyle. “These are mostly documentaries. They put people into a place where they can connect with someone’s story or a story of a group of people.” 

But the festival screenings include more than just the movies. Each show has action partners related to the documentary. Action partners include the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defence Council who provide additional information and help people who want to get more involved, said Cassandra West, publicist for the festival. 

“We want them to take something from the film and inspire them to look around their community to see how they can make the environment they live in more sustainable,” West said.

Each year’s festival presents a broad spectrum of films covering areas of conservation, climate change and sustainable agriculture. Several films highlight issues in Chicago and Illinois. “It personalizes the issues in a way that few other things can,” Doyle said.

Director Ines Sommer will be showing her film “Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm” at Patagonia, 48 E. Walton, from 5:30-9 p.m. on March 12. The film is about Illinois organic farmer Henry and Brockman who takes a fallow year. His former apprentices take over the farm but end up facing unexpected consequences—notably flooding.

“I think as the climate is changing, our food production will absolutely be impacted, farmers are already struggling now. Ultimately it will impact what we see on food shelves,” Sommers said.

Many films take the story of climate change and conservation and add the human element to them. “When people find out we are doing environmental work, they think we are talking about lightbulbs, not driving… we are, but it’s so much deeper than that. I do hope people will think it’s a human issue,” Doyle said.

The festival started when a group of people met after an event with community organization Green Community Connections in 2012, West said. Now in its ninth year, the festival has expanded from Oak Park to Chicago and other suburbs. There’s also a youth filmmaking contest with entries from all over the US.

For more information, visit oneearthfilmfest.org

“The Times Are Racing” an innovative art piece

by Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Times Are Racing” is a modern repertory ballet, with five works from contemporary choreographers. The performance, taking place at the Auditorium Theatre from Feb. 12-23, displays innovation, while still maintaining artistry.

The production begins with “Commodia,” which harkens back to classical ballet, as it’s set to the music of Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella.” Although the performance has the commedia dell’arte style, the movements are decidedly modern. New patterns are made, as the shapes on the harlequin costumes fit together in different shapes as the dancers work in pairs or groups.  

“Mono Lisa” features two dancers under an array of light. Set to the sounds of a clicking typewriter, the pas de deux elicits gasps of awe from the crowd, as the couple completes acrobatics in a seemingly casual fashion. With hints of a competitive spirit, the pair provoke each other to new heights. 

“Bliss!” was created by Chicago choreographer Stephanie Martinez for the Joffrey and originally premiered in 2019. The piece flows from quiet to joyfully enigmatic throughout. There are instances of simplicity, as the male dancers’ don neutral-toned sweatpants, juxtaposed with moments of opulence featuring the female dancers’ bejeweled tutus and tiaras. That mode is reflected in the movements, as some are quiet and close, while others are fierce and bold.

“The Sofa,” with music by Tom Waits, presents a love triangle between two men and a woman, with fighting and desire, accompanied by a large yellow sofa as a prop. The lovers fight and come together with a comedic, but truthful, energy. 

The eponymous “The Times Are Racing” is a sneaker ballet, with costumes designed by Opening Ceremony. T-shirts and jackets are adorned with words such as “resist, “shout” and “defy.” The dancing is frenetic and full of vibrancy, featuring moments that resemble breakdancing and tap alongside ballet. 
“The Times Are Racing” is at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., through Feb. 23. Tickets start at $25 and are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office, at (312) 386-8905 or at joffrey.org.

No winter break for the marine unit in Chicago

by Doug Rapp

In the summertime, you see police boats and helicopters cruising the shoreline. But during the winter, although the lakefront is desolate—save for a few hardy joggers—it doesn’t mean the marine unit isn’t working.

“During the winter, we still see a fair amount of activity on the lake as the marine unit is still responsible for various Homeland Security checks, lakefront and river patrols and emergency rescues of individuals that may fall in or be discovered in the lake,” said Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer with the Chicago Police Department.

“It’s also when the officers within the unit complete much of their mandated departmental training,” he said.

Sgt. Eddie Beltran, training and dive coordinator for the marine unit, said winter can be just as busy as summer. 

People end up in the water “all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t change because of the weather.”

Beltran cited a recent incident when a park district salt truck slid into the lake near Oak Street beach. The two employees escaped the truck before it submerged, according to ABC7 Chicago, and the marine unit helped recover the vehicle.

Beltran said the group also does ice training in the winter to simulate rescues when the lake and river are frozen. 

“It’s different with the ice.” he said. “We always tell people there’s no such thing as safe ice. People walk out on the ice and it’s possible they could fall through and get themselves in trouble.”

A 12-year veteran of the marine unit, Beltran said all officers are certified divers and their equipment is able to handle the brutal Chicago winters. They wear “drysuits,” which are completely waterproof, along with full face masks. 

“It protects us from contaminants but also protects us from exposure,” Beltran said. “It’s pretty good in the winter…we’re completely encapsulated.” 

Mean Girls musical teaches important life lessons

By Elisa Shoenberger

While many people will be snapping their fingers to the music while leaving Mean Girls, they will also be taking away some life lessons.

“It’s very clear that (though) it is a comedy that there are dire repercussions to being mean—to being a bad person,”  said Danielle Wade, principal actor playing the lead role of Cady Heron. 

Wade appreciates that Cady Heron “starts out one way and goes through all these emotions that we have felt and dealt with in high school or post high school. She faces repercussions for actions too and I think that’s really important.”

The Mean Girls musical is based on the 2004 movie by Tina Fey. It’s the story of  Cady Heron who grew up in Africa and finds herself in the world of high school cliques in the suburbs. She becomes part of the Plastics, a popular trio of girls led by Regina George, and faces some tough challenges arising from her decisions.

The musical has something to offer for everybody.

“There is a character within the show that everyone can relate to—or parts of each character that everyone can relate to,” Wade said. She’s met many people at the stage door that have told her that they saw themselves in various characters.

When Wade was on Broadway, a woman told her she realized that she was Regina in high school and needed to go make an apology phone call to her high school friend.

“On the inside, I was like ‘Regina is very scary, that’s scary to me.’ That was  cool that she recognized that and felt she needed to say something,” Wade said.

 Mean Girls helps people better under- stand issues of cliques and bullying. 

“I think it’s given people language to talk about this problem. When 12 to 13 year old girls refer to ‘Mean Girls,’ we know what they are talking about,” child  therapist and president of Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute Erika Schmidt said. 

Wade hopes that people will take something away from the show.

“The show is goofy and it’s rooted in humor, but it’s really truthful. As much as we joke and are dressed head to toe in pink outfits, it’s an important message for people to hear,” she said.

Mean Girls runs through Jan. 26 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, and will tour across the U.S. throughout 2020.  

Tiny Tim lives here: New Eastside resident shines in Goodman Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

by Stephanie Racine

Being cast as the alternate for Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol,” was the result of tenacity by 7-year-old Vikram Konkimalla, a resident in New Eastside.

“‘Resilience always  pays off’ is our family motto,” Vikram’s mother Reema Konkimalla said.

This year was Vikram’s third time auditioning for Tiny Tim, and this time he won the part. Being the alternate for Tiny Tim means he is in the production on  the weekdays, while Vikram’s counter- part, 12-year-old Paris Strickland, plays  the part on the weekends.

Vikram prepared for the role by watching the show several times, reading the Charles Dickens classic and studying a biography about Dickens, according to his mother.

“He was very well prepared this year and very confident,” Konkimalla said.

The Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is in its 42nd year. Many families have made it an annual tradition, according to Publicity Director for Goodman Theatre Denise Schneider. The theater wants to make its yearly production special for all patrons.  If it’s someone’s first time at “A Christmas Carol,” that theater-goer receives a  certificate and a button.

Going to the production was special for  Vikram, even before he was cast. Vikram had his first viewing certificate signed by  Scrooge, played by Larry Yando. He presented it during show-and-tell at school. 

Being in the production has been a special experience for Vikram. He enjoys hanging out with the other kids in the production and going to special events to promote the play.

But his favorite part of being in “A Christmas Carol” involves being on stage.

Vikram’s favorite moment?

“When I get to say, ‘God bless us, everyone!’ at the end,” he said. 

Vikram and his mother agree that if he can do it, so can other kids if they give it their all.

“When I found out he got the part, I was so happy and emotional because my son was resilient in getting the role,” Konkimalla said.

“I was really happy. I have lots of fun,” Vikram said. 

See “A Christmas Carol” at the Good- man Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Ave.,  through December 29. Tickets start at  $25 and are available at GoodmanTheatre.org, (312) 443-3800 or the box office.  

Here Comes SantaCon or Here Comes Santa Claus (and another and another)

by Doug Rapp

 If you see dozens of Santas gathered around the Bean sometime on Dec. 7, don’t worry, he hasn’t been cloned—it’s all part of SantaCon.

The annual holiday convention of Santas occurs nationwide around the holidays when groups of Santa-clad revelers gather, often for a pub crawl. For Chicago, SantaCon will commence the first Saturday in December at noon at the Tavern Tap Pub at the Congress Plaza Hotel, 520 S. Michigan Ave.

“I believe this event to be an outlet for people that like to dress up, drink and spread the holiday spirit,” said one of the co-organizers, who asked to be identified only as Santa Joe. “I personally love the flash mob aspect of SantaCon. The look on kid’s and people’s faces as we stroll down Michigan Avenue in Santa Suits is priceless.” 

When pressed for more information, Santa Joe replied, “Ambiguity is the key.  We are all just Santa.”

Santa Joe said they usually have from 200-500 Santas attend throughout the day. This year, after starting at the Tavern Tap, they plan to stop by the Art Institute for some caroling, surround the Bean from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m., while hitting other bars such as 2twenty2, The Joy District, Clover Sports and Leisure, and the Sleigh Baby Winter pop-up bar.

SantaCon began in the 1990s in San Franciso and, as of 2017, was in nearly 400 cities worldwide, according to their official website, Santacon.info.

“Santa Tom started the [Chicago] event in 2005, which he had participated in while he lived in New York  years previous,” Santa Joe said. “In 2006, I heard about the event on the radio station Q101. Starting attending, never missing a year. After a few years, myself and my buddy Ryan took over and we’ve been running it ever since.”

The aforementioned buddy, Santa Ryan, identified himself as Ryan Laswell, a Chicago native who commutes downtown for work.

“It’s become a tradition between me and my friends,” Laswell said. “We’re able to go out and have a good time while bringing smiles to children and adults faces. For me it has become part of Christmas. Similar to opening up gifts on Christmas day as a child. Now as an adult I get to go out and celebrate in the city drinking, spreading cheer and creating memories.”Anyone over 21 wishing to join in the fun needs a Santa- or Christmas-themed suit—a Santa hat alone won’t cut it. Register online at https://www.originalchicagosantacon.com/. Donations are accepted as well.

“Drink sir, is a great provoker” Drunk Shakespeare delivers unpredictable laughs

by Doug Rapp

Behind an unmarked door on Wabash Street on a narrow stage, actor Courtney Rikki Green downs four shots of whiskey.

She isn’t fighting stage fright—this is part of the show.

Welcome to Drunk Shakespeare, a self-proclaimed drinking club with a Shakespeare problem. The small troupe performs one of his plays with a twist: one actor is drinking. A lot. 

The chosen actor takes four shots before the show, then two more during the performance in a space modeled to look like a hidden library speakeasy. 

“It’s taking a fresh look at Shakespeare and playing with it and letting people know that it’s approachable,” resident director Kathleen Coombs said.

At two recent performances of Macbeth, Courtney Rikki Green imbibed 12 shots of whiskey throughout the night while playing Macduff, Macbeth’s nemesis.

Drunk Shakespeare mainly sticks to the plot but allows plenty of room for improvisation. The actors, including Elizabeth Rentfro and Chelsea David, faithfully recite monologues while breaking into contemporary songs (Radiohead’s “Creep”), pulling audience members on stage or bringing out a birthday cake for actor Jordan Golding, who played Macbeth.  

Thomas Toles is the host, or “designated plot driver” as he calls it.

“I’m there to keep the story somewhat on track and also enable [the actors] at any moment to be their worst selves,” he said.

Green, for her part, held up remarkably well. She did drink hot sauce on stage, made a puppet do inappropriate things and poke Golding in sensitive areas with props, but returned to form to deliver her lines when needed.

“The alcohol helps so much,” Green said. “I’m into it.”

Before joining Drunk Shakespeare, she said the idea of drinking before a performance was unthinkable.

“Now, I’m like ‘Yes!’ That is how I unlock and unfurl and uncover the best parts of my acting ability,” Green said.

Coombs said alcohol helps the actors’ improv, allowing surprises and discoveries for a unique show each time. It all dovetails with Chicago’s reputation as the mecca of improv.

“I think it’s a really great fit for Chicago,” Coombs said. “We’re a theater town, an improv town and a town that loves drinking and having fun.”

Toles said drinking makes Shakespeare more relatable. High school English teachers have told him they wish they could bring classes to see what makes Shakespeare “so special and interesting and fun.” The show is 21 and over.

The diverse audiences at the frequently sold-out shows are approaching Shakespeare from various angles, Toles said.

“That’s a nice feeling when you get the nerdy Shakespeare fan and the jock from the frat house and they both are invested,” he said. “That’s so cool.”

“It’s a unique beast of a show that is truly unlike anything in Chicago,” Green added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, binge drinking (having 4 or more drinks within 2 hours) has serious health risks such as strokes, liver disease, various cancers plus memory and learning problems (like forgetting lines from MacBeth).

Drunk Shakespeare performs Wednesday through Sunday at 182 N. Wabash Ave. Visit drunkshakespeare.com for showtimes and tickets.

Run, Naruto, Run: Cosplay event planned around Trump Tower

By Doug Rapp

If you see a group of people wearing shiny headbands and running around Trump Tower, know it was planned.

Called the “Naruto Run Around Every Trump Tower,” the Sunday, Nov. 3 event is hosted by a comedy podcast, Thought Cops, which takes a weekly look at “outrage culture.”

The plan is for attendees to gather at 4 p.m. in cosplay (costume play) as Naruto, the young ninja star of a Japanese manga series, said Kevin Podas, one of the organizers and co-host of Thought Cops. Naruto runs leaning forward, with his arms sticking straight behind him. Participants will then run Naruto-style around Trump Tower at 4:20 p.m.

“This is apolitical,” Podas said. “It’s about coming together. It’s for a good cause.”

People in the cosplay community are at both ends of the political spectrum, he said.

If people see it as a Trump protest, “that’s up for interpretation,” Podas said.

“Most people just want to dress up and run around like cartoons,” he said.

Podas is hoping for a couple hundred participants, using word of mouth and plugging the run on the podcast, co-hosted by Grant Mooney, to boost attendance. Up to 75 people have expressed interest so far, he said.

“I’m grateful that people have taken an interest in anything we do and the fact that people are sharing this is pretty cool,” Podas said.

Another Naruto Run around Trump Tower was organized in 2017. Even though Podas and Mooney didn’t organize it, they filmed a short video of it for their YouTube Channel.

Podas said there was “quite a police presence” near Trump Tower at that event. The run barely started before one participant ran into the street, prompting the police to arrest him and shut down the event.

Podas said, like the 2017 event, they’re hoping to attract college students from DePaul and Columbia who are into Naruto.

“It’s supposed to be fun and funny,” he said. “If anyone can enjoy [Naruto] the way we do, I’m thankful for that.”

Jane Eyre ballet adaptation brings literature to life

by Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet’s performance of Jane Eyre brings the Victorian Bildungsroman to life. 

The ballet opened its 2019/2020 season Oct. 16 with the Chicago premiere of Cathy Marston’s adaptation of the novel. There will be just 10 performances at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., running through Oct. 27.  

Jane Eyre’s difficult journey is highlighted by the presence of the “D Men,” which stands for “death” or “demon.” Constantly looming, Jane struggles with her own demons and insecurities throughout the production. She repeats arguments with the D Men, fights them off and loves them, mirroring her actions throughout the story.

Jane’s tortured upbringing is fractured by violence. Her aunt, cousins and headmaster all cruelly shun her with forceful motions. These movements are later juxtaposed with the languid, loving and passionate pas de deux Jane has with Rochester. 

Jane moves to Rochester’s home, Thornfield, as the governess for his ward Adele—who may be his daughter. Adele is flighty in her pink dress, constantly moving and prodding at those around her. 

Jane becomes a fixture at Thornfield, feeling at home despite an ominous feeling of mystery. Jane does not notice Bertha, the woman in the ragged red dress lurking and watching her interactions with Rochester, as they grow fond of each other. Bertha, the mentally ill wife of Rochester, is kept away from the public. Once Rochester and Jane are blissfully engaged and in the process of getting married, Bertha reveals herself in a frenetic and rough display. 

Jane leaves Rochester, but cannot stay away for long. She returns to find Thornfield in flames—a stunningly realistic set display—as Rochester fights to save Bertha from the fire and her own mind. He is blinded by the flames, falling into Jane’s arms upon her return. 

Tickets for Jane Eyre, starting at $35, are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office, at (312) 386-8905, or at joffrey.org.

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