Tuesday, February 23, 2021

REVIEW: Court Theatre's Latest Breaks The Zoom Barrier With Free Interactive One On One Microplays



Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Adithi Chandrashekar, Sydney Charles, Melissa DuPrey, Xavier Edward King, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Deanna Reed-Foster, TayLar


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Sunday I had an utterly unique experience at opening night for the Chicago premiere of Theatre for One: Here We Are. In what I can best describe as the theatre equivalent of a tapas bar, I was treated to a random assortment of four new microplays, all written and directed by Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color. Like tapas, these bite sized theatrical offerings were filling, flavorful, multilayered, and far more impressive than your typical snack.

Theatre For One: Here We Are not only breaks down the 4th wall, but several dimensions as well. These short shows transcend distance, isolation, and the impersonal medium of a flat computer screen, to create a highly engaging, personal show, that truly feels face to face. The experience from the audience end feels a lot like being on stage in an improv scene, figuring out "who am I, where am I, what am I doing", as clues to your identity and relationship to the scene unfold around you. If this sounds intimidating, know that all that's required of you is listening. As each actor's story unfolds, you can nod, laugh, commiserate, and interject in a natural way, yet the pressure's off. I promise, you will not be asked to monologue. Questions can be responded to or rhetorical. The show will go on whether you join in verbally or just soak it all in. 

Since Covid reared it's ugly head a year ago, and darkened theaters nationwide, the community has struggled to find new, effective modes of storytelling that don't require the life threatening intimacy of a packed house. Many companies have streamed past productions to stay afloat, which has had the positive effect of reaching far flung fans, by eliminating geographic constraints. Others have mounted new Zoom style streaming shows, prerecorded or in real time, but all of these options have lost the give and take of live shows, and the connection between the audience and actors' energies mingling in the moment. Theatre For One: Here We Are brings action and reaction roaring back to real time theatre in an in your face way that's a joy to see. 

Deeply rooted in the belief that intimacy and human connection is possible at any moment, at any time, and with any person. Theatre For One: Here We Are is a live digital theatrical experience that brings together one actor and one audience member featuring eight new microplays. A laugh shared with a stranger, a world created by imagination, a soul nourished through storytelling: these are things only theater can accomplish.

Even the "waiting room" was an experiment in interconnectedness and individuality. Names and faces are obscured, but audience members can chat with each other, asking and answering questions in black and white text, in a small group until the solo shows begin. You are exactly where you need to be indeed!

Once the performance starts, you will briefly see your own face, then just the actor on screen and talking directly to you. Each play I saw was quite different, and all were thought provoking and engaging. The first show I caught was Before America Was America By DeLanna Studi, Directed by Chris Anthony, Performed by Elizabeth Laidlaw. This fabulous piece highlights the gender equality in leadership of Native Americans, particularly The Cherokee Nation. It was fascinating to hear how advanced this culture was in valuing women and elders, stewardship of the land, and so many issues America is still struggling with as a society today. I loved this deeply personal account, and it gave me hope that our country can be reclaimed from the bigots, bullies, colonizers, and suit n tie savages that have been running it into the ground for the past 200 years. 


The second production I was paired with was whiterly negotiations 
By Lydia R. Diamond, Directed by Monet Felton, Performed by Deanna Reed-Foster. Wow. Just wow. The eye contact and energy were electric, and this play packed a punch. It's the one that got under my skin the most in an unforgettable way and I admired it for that. The subject matter was confrontational and tough but oh so necessary. I found myself nodding and tearing up a bit and interjecting "I hear you" and "truth". It's what wasn't said though that also made a lasting impression on me. I had to fight with my inner defensive "not all white women" voice, and do some deep listening. This relationship setup is not only collegues and writer/editor, but also a long term friendship deep enough to survive some intense real talk. It's an opportunity to be part of an invaluable conversation on who gets their stories through the gatekeepers intact, and the courage it takes to voice your truth at the risk of alienating others. Being a real ally is as much about shutting up as it is about speaking out. The era of white fragility being expected and accepted is done. 

Deanna Reed-Foster

The next micro play was out of this world... literally. I laughed the most at Here We Are By Nikkole Salter, Directed by Monet Felton, Performed by Xavier Edward King.  King's enthusiasm is contagious, as he embarks on a mission to start a whole new civilization. Yet, there's inescapable baggage, new rules to create, and a vast expanse of ethical questions to navigate like how to deal with any preexisting residents. There's a lovely bit of homesickness at the sight of a distant earth, some scary forays into thought policing, and the dilemma of how to get the same people to make different choices. Overall, this piece touches on layers of crucial questions about creating a fair and sustainable new world, while avoiding the problems that made you have to flee the last one. I adored the galumphing energy, like puppies and children at play, or new countries ready to be better. 


My evening concluded with What Are The Things I Need To Remember By Lynn Nottage, Directed by Chris Anthony, Performed by TayLar. This one was most like a conversation with a friend for me. I felt a genuine rapport and was eager to hear the tale of teen risks and new friendships. The storyline is compelling, with unexpected twists, and a trajectory that goes from a lighthearted tale of questionable fun and youthful bad decisions, to downright harrowing. It's one of those life experiences that makes you grow up faster, question peer pressure, realize your own mortality, and expose the glaring difference between close friends you're responsible for and virtual strangers you happen to be hanging out with. There's nothing like a crisis to show you glimpses of your true self. This story is also ultimately a cliffhanger, much like real life. We don't always get closure and some incidents are just destined to leave you wondering.  


These 8 microplays are just the tonic for pandemic weary, touch starved souls. Whether you catch one or more, we are all stories in the end, and these collaborative nuggets are pure gold. The whole experience is highly recommended. 

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: ChiILLiveShows.com (adult) & ChiILMama.com (family friendly). 



Creator and Artistic Director: Christine Jones

Co-Artistic Director for Here We Are: Jenny Koons

Platform Programing & Design by Open Ended Group—Marc Downie & Paul Kaiser

Originally produced by Octopus Theatricals—Mara Isaacs, Executive/Creative Producer

Preview Performances: February 18 and 19, 2021
Press Opening: Matinee on February 20, 2021
Regular Run: February 21, 2021 - March 14, 2021

Performance Schedule:
Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm and 7:30pm

Tickets will be free and open to the public beginning Thursday, February 11, at 10am. For reservations, visit CourtTheatre.org.




Thank You For Coming. Take Care. 
By Stacey Rose, Directed by Miranda Gonzalez

What Are The Things I Need To Remember

By Lynn Nottage, Directed by Chris Anthony

Pandemic Fight 

By Carmelita Tropicana, Directed by Miranda Gonzalez

Here We Are

By Nikkole Salter, Directed by Monet Felton

Thank You Letter 
By Jaclyn Backhaus, Directed by Lavina Jadhwani 

Before America Was America 

By DeLanna Studi, Directed by Chris Anthony

whiterly negotiations 
By Lydia R. Diamond, Directed by Monet Felton

Vote! (the black album) 
Written and Directed by Regina Taylor


Court Theatre, under the continuing leadership of Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director, and Executive Director Angel Ysaguirre, announces the Chicago premiere of Theatre for One: Here We Are.  Following its critically acclaimed run in New York, Court Theatre brings these eight stories to life with Chicago actors to offer audiences a deeply personal theatrical experience that breaks the boundaries of digital theatre. 

“Court is thrilled to present the Chicago premiere of this intimate, digital experience as part of our 2020/21 season,” says Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director. “Written and directed by an impressive array of BIPOC artists, each of these plays is an astonishing, boundary-pushing experience, perfectly tailored to the current moment.”

“We’re excited to provide access to Theatre for One: Here We Are free-of-charge,” shares Angel Ysaguirre, Executive Director of Court Theatre. “As a form of public art, these microplays offer a unique opportunity for one-on-one connection at a time when the need for new stories is more urgent than ever to make sense of ourselves and the world around us.”

While Theatre for One: Here We Are is inspired by the pandemic; the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment; and the Black Lives Matter, We See You WAT, and other movements fighting racism, the Here We Are writers have contributed works that span a spectrum of ideas and points of view. Theatre For One elevates a vibrant chorus of voices creating deeply personal works that resonate in this shared moment. 

Here We Are was commissioned by Arts Brookfield with additional support from Thomas M. Neff, and the Chicago premiere is supported by the University of Chicago Women's Board, Allstate, and De and Paul Gray.  

Artist Profiles

Chris Anthony (director, What Are The Things I Need To Remember and Before American was America) is a director, teacher, actor, and producer working at the intersection of art and community empowerment. Now Assistant Professor of Acting at The Theatre School at DePaul University, she has worked in educational, professional, and community spaces. Professional directing credits include the original Off the Rails for Native Voices at the Autry, Lunch Lady Courage at Cornerstone Theater, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo & Juliet, and Othello at the St. Louis Black Rep, and Romeo & Juliet at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. As Associate Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, she oversaw the development of the company’s Youth & Education programs, including Will Power to Youth,

Jaclyn Backhaus (playwright, Thank You Letter) is a playwright, cofounder of Fresh Ground Pepper, and new member of The Kilroys. Her plays include Men On Boats (New York Times Critics’ Pick, Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons, published by Dramatists Play Service), India Pale Ale (Manhattan Theatre Club, recipient of the 2018 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play), You Across From Me (co-written with three other writers for the Humana Festival), Folk Wandering (book writer and co-lyricist with 11 composers, Pipeline Theatre Company), and You On the Moors Now (Theater Reconstruction Ensemble), among others. She was the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb and she is currently in residence at Lincoln Center. Backhaus holds a BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch, where she now teaches. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, and currently resides in Ridgewood, Queens with her husband, director Andrew Scoville and their son Ernie.

Lydia R. Diamond (playwright, whiterly negotiations) is a nationally recognized playwright and an assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Theatre. Her award-winning plays—including Harriet Jacobs, The Bluest Eye, and Voyeurs de Venus—have been produced across the country. Most recently, Diamond’s play Stick Fly was produced on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, where it enjoyed a three-month run. Diamond’s work has won the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago Black Excellence Award, an American Alliance for Theatre and Education Award, a Back Stage Garland Award, a Black Theatre Alliance's Negro Ensemble Company Award for Best Play and Lorraine Hansberry Award for Best Writing, an Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award, an LA Weekly Theater Award, and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award. She received an Illinois Arts Council Grant and has been in residence at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago through the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights. Diamond has been a W.E.B. DuBois Institute Fellow and a Huntington Playwrighting Fellow and is currently a member of the Theatre Communications Group board and the Huntington Theatre Company’s Council of Overseers. She graduated from Northwestern University.  

Monet Felton (director, Here We Are and whiterly negotiations) is a Director, Producer, Writer, Teaching Artist, and Company Member at Jackalope Theatre. Monet earned their BFA in Acting at The University of Illinois at Chicago. They are currently studying on a scholarship to be certified in Alexander Technique. They have had the opportunity of working at theatres such as Jackalope Theatre, Writers Theatre, Steppenwolf for Young Adults, and Bluebird Arts. 

Miranda Gonzalez (director, Pandemic Fight and Thank You For Coming. Take Care) is currently a Producing Artistic Director at UrbanTheater Company (UTC) in Humboldt Park and is a part of The Nova Collective, a diversity equity and inclusion consulting firm. She was a founding ensemble member of Chicago’s All Latina Theater company Teatro Luna and has devised and developed plays since 2000. She is a 2 time 3Arts and ALTA nominee and a recipient of the International Centre for Women Playwrights 50/50 Award. Her most recent play Back In The Day: An 80’s House Music Dancesical, world premiered as a part of Destinos, the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, at UTC in the fall of 2019. Previous directing, writing, and script development credits include Ashes of Light by Marco Antonio Rodriguez; La Gringa by Carmen Rivera; Of Princes and Princesas by Paola Izquierdo at the 2010 Goodman Latino Theatre Festival; Lullaby by Diane Herrera; Crossed; GL 2010; The North/South Plays, a workshop at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs; F.O.P and Crime Scene Chicago with Collaboraction; and Melissa DuPrey’s Sushi-Frito at Free Street Theater. She is also an Executive Producer for the web series 50 Blind Dates with Melissa DuPrey and has written for web series Ruby's World Yo created by Marilyn Camacho (Season 1, episode 3 and Season 2, episodes 1-4).

Lavina Jadhwani (director, Thank You Letter) is a theatre director, adaptor, and activist. Recent directing credits include As You Like It at the Guthrie Theater, Peter and the Starcatcher at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Roe and The Cake at Asolo Repertory Theatre. Her adaptations include The Sitayana (a solo piece based on The Ramayana), Shakuntala, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and A Christmas Carol. Lavina lives in Chicago, where she was recently named "One of the Top Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago" by NewCity; in 2013 she was TimeOut Chicago's "Best Next Generation Stage Director." BFA/MA, Carnegie Mellon University; MFA, The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Lynn Nottage (playwright, What Are The Things I Need To Remember) is a playwright and a screenwriter. She is the only woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. Her plays have been produced widely in the United States and throughout the world. Her plays include Sweat (Pulitzer Prize, Obie Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Tony Nomination, Drama Desk Nomination), This is Reading, Floyd’s, Mlima’s Tale, By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (Lilly Award, Drama Desk Nomination), Ruined (Pulitzer Prize, OBIE, Lucille Lortel, New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Audelco, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award); Intimate Apparel (American Theatre Critics and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Play); Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine (OBIE Award); Crumbs from the Table of Joy; Las Meninas; Mud, River, Stone; Por’knockers; and POOF! Nottage wrote the book for the world premiere musical adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees and is currently writing the book to the upcoming musical MJ, featuring the music of Michael Jackson, premiering on Broadway in summer 2020. She is the co-founder of the production company, Market Road Films, whose most recent projects include The Notorious Mr. Bout directed by Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin (Premiere/Sundance 2014), First to Fall directed by Rachel Beth Anderson (Premiere/ IDFA, 2013) and Remote Control (Premiere/Busan 2013- New Currents Award). She has developed original projects for HBO, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Showtime, This is That and Harpo. She was a writer and producer on the Netflix series She's Gotta Have It, directed by Spike Lee. Nottage has received various fellowships, grants, and playwright awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship. She is a board member for BRIC Arts Media Bklyn, Donor Direct Action, Dramatist Play Service, Second Stage and the Dramatists Guild. She recently completed a three-year term as an Artist Trustee on the Board of the Sundance Institute. She is a member of the The Dramatists Guild, WGAE, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the Park Avenue Armory and an Associate Professor in the Theater Department at Columbia School of the Arts.

Stacey Rose (playwright, Thank You For Coming. Take Care.) hails from Elizabeth, NJ and Charlotte, NC respectively. She is a proud mom, daughter, and sibling. Stacey is a 2019- 20 McKnight Fellow, 2020-22 Playwrights’ Center Core Writer, 2018-19 Goodman Theatre’s Playwrights Unit writer, and member of The Civilians R&D Group. She was a 2018 Sundance Theatre Lab Fellow, 2017-18 Playwrights’ Center Many Voices Fellow, and 2015-16 Dramatist Guild Fellow. Her play America v. 2.1 was awarded the inaugural Burman New Play Prize and received its world premiere production at Barrington Stage Company in June 2019. Her play Legacy Land, developed at The Playwrights’ Center, will world premiere at Kansas City Rep in February 2020.  America v. 2.1 and her play AS IS are featured on the 2019 Kilroys list. Legacy Land also made The List as an Honorable Mention. Stacey is a recipient of a 2019 Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation Women Commissioning Grant in partnership with Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. Her work has been presented at UNC Charlotte, On Q Productions, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, The Fire This Time Festival, The Brooklyn Generator, The Bushwick Starr Reading Series, Mosaic Theatre, The Amoralists Theatre Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, National Black Theatre, and Pillsbury House Theater. She served as Writers Assistant and Script Coordinator for season one of the series “She’s Gotta Have It.” She holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and a BA in Theatre from UNC Charlotte. While at Tisch, she was the recipient of an AAUW Career Development Grant, Future Screenwriting Fellowship, and The Goldberg Prize for her play The Danger: A Homage to Strange Fruit. Stacey’s work celebrates and explores Blackness, Black identity, Black history, body politics, and the dilemma of life as the “other.”

Nikkole Salter (playwright, Here We Are) arrived onto the professional scene with her co-authorship and co-performance (with Danai Gurira) of the Pulitzer Prize nominated play, In the Continuum (ITC). For its Off-Broadway run at Primary Stages and the Perry Street Theatre and for its US State Department and Bloomberg sponsored international tour, Ms. Salter received an OBIE Award, and the NY Outer Critics Circle's John Gassner Award for Best New American Play, the Seldes-Kanin fellowship from the Theatre Hall of Fame, and the Global Tolerance Award from the Friends of the United Nations to name a few. Ms. Salter also received Helen Hayes and Black Theatre Alliance nominations for Best Actress for her performance. ITC, published by Samuel French, was pronounced by The New York Times, Newsday, and New York Magazine as one of the best plays of 2005 and was featured in numerous esteemed media outlets including Essence Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and NPR’s Leonard Lopate Show. ITC has received over 20 productions across the world to date. As a dramatist, Ms. Salter has written 8 full-length plays, been commissioned for full-length work by 6 institutions, been produced on 3 continents in 5 countries, and been published in 12 international publications. Her work has appeared in over 20 Off-Broadway, regional and international theatres, and the Crossroads Theatre production of her play Repairing a Nation (directed by Marshall Jones, III) was regionally aired during the second season of the WNET program "Theatre Close-Up" on NYC's channel THIRTEEN, WLIC, NJTV. The National Black Theatre production of her play Carnaval was nominated for 7 AUDELCO awards including Best Playwright and Best Production, and won for Best Ensemble Performance. Ms. Salter is a 2014 MAP Fund Grant recipient, a Eugene O'Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist, USA Fellowship nominee, a two time Playwright's of New York (PoNY) Fellowship nominee, and is currently working on a commission from Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Ms. Salter is an active member of the Actors Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Actors Center; and sits on the Council of the Dramatists Guild and serves as Chair of the Board of the Theatre Communications Group. She received her BFA in theatre from Howard University under the instruction of Al Freeman, Jr. and Sybil Roberts; and her MFA from New York University's Graduate Acting Program under the tutelage of Zelda Fichandler and Ron Van Lieu.

DeLanna Studi (playwright, Before America Was America) most recently starred in Astoria: Part One at Portland Center Stage and Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Finding Home: Indiana at 200. DeLanna’s Off-Broadway Debut in Informed Consent at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, which described her performance as “moving gravity.” She was a company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for two seasons, where she was one of only ten Native people (onstage and off) to have done so! She performed in the first national Broadway tour of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County. She has won awards for her performances in Hallmark/ABC’s Dreamkeeper and Chris Eyre’s Edge of America. DeLanna also tours in the Encompass Compassion Play Kick, a one-person show written by Peter Howard which explores the power of images, stereotypes, and Native American mascots. She recently starred in the short film Blessed and can be seen in ABC’s General Hospital, Showtime’s Shameless, and SyFy’s Z Nation. She is the current chair of the SAG-AFTRA Native Americans Committee. Her next project, in addition to And So We Walked, will be Portland Center Stage’s Astoria: Part Two. This spring, she will begin writing the memoir counterpart to And So We Walked.

Regina Taylor (playwright and director, Vote! (the black album) is best known to television audiences as Lilly Harper in the series I'll Fly Away and as Molly Blane in CBS's hit drama The Unit. Her credits as a playwright include Oo-Bla-Dee (Recipient of the American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award), Drowning Crow (Manhattan Theatre Club), The Trinity River Plays (Dallas Theater Center and the Goodman Theatre; Recipient of the 2010 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award), Magnolia, The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove, A Night in Tunisia, Escape from Paradise, Watermelon Rinds, and Inside the Belly of the Beast. Taylor's critically acclaimed Crowns continues to be one of the most-performed musicals in the country, and is the winner of four Washington, D.C. Helen Hayes awards. Taylor also wrote and directed Post Black for New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre. Taylor is a member and Artistic Associate of the Goodman Theatre and a resident playwright at New York's Signature Theatre Company. She received the Hope Abelson Artist-in-Residence Award from Northwestern in 2010. She has received honorary doctorates from Columbia College, DePaul University and Lake Forest College. Most recently, Taylor both wrote and directed stop. reset. at Signature Theatre Company. She will direct stop. reset. again at the Goodman Theatre in 2015. Taylor has also received a Golden Globe, an NAACP Image Award, two Emmy Award nominations, and the Oscar Micheaux Award from the Chicago Film Critics Association. Visit ReginaTaylor.com for more information.

Carmelita Tropicana (playwright, Pandemic Fight) has been performing in New York’s downtown arts scene since the 1980s, straddling the worlds of performance art and theater in the US, Latin America, and Europe with her irreverent humor, subversive fantasy, and bilingual puns. She received an Obie for Sustained Excellence in Performance (1999) and is a recipient of the Performance and Activism Award from the Women in Theater Program / American Theater in Higher Education (2015). Notable and recent works include: Schwanze-Beast (2015), a performance commissioned by Vermont Performance Lab; Recycling Atlantis (2014), a performance installation at 80WSE Gallery; Post Plastica (2012), an installation/video and performance presented at El Museo del Barrio; and the highly anthologized Milk of Amnesia (1994). Her publications include the book, co-edited with Holly Hughes, Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café (University of Michigan Press, 2015). Tropicana has taught at numerous universities and sits on the Board of Directors at Performance Space 122 and NYFA.

The creative team for the production includes Erica Friesen (costume designer), Emily Brown (lighting designer), Lara Musard (properties designer & chatroom curator),  Jennifer Gadda (production supervisor), Bryan Hunt (Theatre For One production supervisor), Joshua McCammon (technical supervisor), Cherie B. Tay (tech consultant), Srđa Vasiljević (artistic consultant), and Erin Albrecht (production stage manager). 

Court Theatre is the professional theatre of the University of Chicago, dedicated to innovation, inquiry, intellectual engagement, and community service. Court endeavors to make a lasting contribution to classic American theatre by expanding the canon of translations, adaptations, and classic texts. The theatre revives lost masterpieces; illuminates familiar texts; explores the African American theatrical canon; and discovers fresh, modern classics. Court engages and inspires its audience by providing artistically distinguished productions, audience enrichment activities, and student educational experiences. In all of this work, we are committed to recognizing, addressing, and eradicating racism, as we strive to better serve our South Side community. 

Theatre for One was originally conceived as a mobile state-of-the-art performance space for one actor and one audience member. Conceived by Artistic Director Christine Jones and designed by LOT-EK architects, Theatre for One commissions new work created specifically for each venue's one-to-one relationship. Embracing serendipity, Theatre for One is presented in public spaces in which audience members are invited to enter into an intimate theatrical exchange in which actor and audience member encounter each other as strangers and are equally dependent on each other. Theatre for One is produced by Octopus Theatricals and was originally produced by True Love Productions.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Review: Make Staring at the Walls Fun Again with the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago

Now Extended By Popular Demand Through May 30th, 2022

All photos by Bonnie Kenaz-Mara


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Tired of staring at the walls during this endless pandemic? Maybe you just need new walls. There's a bright spot in the dearth of cultural outings and offerings in Chicago. In fact it's not just a bright spot, but a whole bright ballroom with multiple vintage rooms just dripping, pulsing and vibrating with masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh. A panoply of iconic art plays across the floors and walls of Chicago's landmark Germania Club Building, accompanied by a soaring soundtrack, including pieces with apropos names like "Pictures at an Exhibition". Check out the Spotify Playlist HERE. (Musical concept and composition by Luca Longobardi.)

Circles of light ensure that everyone has socially distanced space to enjoy the spectacle and strategically placed towers of mirrors ensure there's not a bad spot in the space. We loved that people were sitting, standing, lounging and even lying down in their spots of light, to take in the production. Fades to black and minimalist moments, as the artworks seep, spin and melt, keep this exhibit from feeling like a rave or an overwhelming assault on the senses. Instead, the combination of music and art in motion, is meditative, healing and exhilarating. 

It's a site specific melding that fits together astonishing well. In fact, the wall molding, arches, pillars and doorways working with Van Gogh's art was one of our favorite elements of the exhibit. We enjoyed the motion effects of smoke and steam rising from still pictures. 

We also loved the time lapse painted flowers, proliferating to fill the vaulted ceiling space, in a magnificent bouquet.  In a season where the arts are struggling, it's a joy to get out of the house and see something uplifting in person. 

Concerned about covid? It was a welcome relief to see temp checks and hand sanitizer at the door and distancing dots along the queue to enter the space. Masks are mandatory and even the bathrooms had virus safety measures in place. The hour-long, walk-through experience has been designed with health and safety as a priority. Capacity will be limited in accordance with the City of Chicago’s safety protocols. Additional safety precautions include touchless ticket-taking, social distancing markers throughout the venue, and digitally projected social distancing circles on the gallery floors to ensure appropriate spacing. All guests must wear a face covering at all times during their visit to Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago.  

I've been a lifelong fan of Van Gogh's works, and back when international travel was easy, I was thrilled to explore The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Certainly this exhibit is an entirely different experience than seeing Van Gogh's works in person, somewhat like the blockbuster version of a favorite novel, different yet engrossing, and well worth experiencing. It may be months before we can sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers in traditional theatre spaces, or meander through packed art galleries. In the meantime, we're thrilled that the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago has managed to pivot and present a visually stunning, in person production amid a pandemic. This hour of fun just might feed your art starved soul for days. We highly recommend the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago for all ages. Go already!

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: ChiILLiveShows.com (adult) & ChiILMama.com (family friendly). 

Musical concept and composition by Luca Longobardi. Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is an immersive show directed by Massimiliano Siccardi and produced by Lighthouse Immersive Arts, Visioni Eccentriche, Starvox Exhibits and Showone Productions.

Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago, a new venue within Chicago’s recently renovated landmark Germania Club Building, announced that due to popular demand the U.S. premiere of the blockbuster art experience Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit will extend its dates through Labor Day after having sold out the initial block of tickets. The Exhibit will open one hour earlier at 9 a.m. and will offer Saturday afternoon VIP and Premium tickets in February and March. Tickets are currently on sale at vangoghchicago.com and by phone at 844-307-4644. 

Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago, a three-story facility located at 108 W. Germania Place, is dedicated to immersive art presentations, merging the boundaries between entertainment and culture to give visitors the sense that they are encountering art as never before. Utilizing the building’s Victorian Era architectural details, 35-foot-tall walls and multiple levels (including balconies), the venue will present vibrant immersive art exhibitions that surround the viewer on all sides.

The venue’s first presentation, Immersive Van Gogh, is a visually spectacular digital art exhibition that recently received widespread critical acclaim during its debut in Toronto. Immersive Van Gogh invites audiences to “step inside” the iconic works of post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh, evoking his highly emotional and chaotic inner consciousness through art, light, music, movement and imagination. The Italian creative team who pioneered digital experiences in Paris will create a custom design to fit the gracious Neo-Classical architecture of the exhibition’s Chicago home.  

Immersive Van Gogh was designed by creative director and Italian film producer Massimiliano Siccardi, with original, mood-setting music by Italian multimedia composer Luca Longobardi, who provided a score that combines experimental electronic music with pure, ethereal and simple-seeming piano. Vittorio Guidotti is the Art Director. Siccardi and Longobardi are both pioneers of immersive digital art experiences in Paris, where they were part of the team that created the world-renowned Van Gogh, Starry Night exhibition, among others. With more than 50 projectors illuminating over 14,000 square-feet, visitors to Immersive Van Gogh will be encircled from head-to-toe in Van Gogh’s brushstrokes and colors, including animated details from works such as Self Portrait with Felt Hat (1888), The Bedroom in Arles (1889), Irises (1889) and The Starry Night (1889).  

“Immersive Van Gogh is a new way of encountering art, as it quite literally surrounds viewers on all sides with the brilliant work of one of the greatest painters of all time,” said Immersive Art Space Co-Producer Corey Ross. “Both connoisseurs and new admirers of Van Gogh’s work are guaranteed a breathtaking perspective on the influential artist’s oeuvre. Merging state-of-the-art technology, theatrical storytelling, animation and some of the finest works of art ever created, Immersive Van Gogh is a uniquely mesmerizing experience that seemingly transports the viewer into the artist’s mind to see these timeless works as never before.” 

“Despite being unknown throughout his life, Van Gogh’s artwork has created a lasting impact through its emotional richness and simple beauty,” said Massimiliano Siccardi, Immersive Van Gogh designer. “Both myself and Luca Longobardi are very excited to visit Chicago and once again bring Van Gogh’s legacy to life in a way that is unique to the beautiful architecture of the Germania Club Building.”

The premiere of Immersive Van Gogh, which opened in Toronto this past July, has already received rave reviews from critics around the world. The Toronto Sun pronounced it, “intense and emotional, cathartic and liberating” and Debra Yeo of the Toronto Star reflected, “I wondered: could projections of paintings on walls and floors be thrilling? The answer is yes.” Called “dazzling” by Lonely Planet and a “blockbuster digital experience that has taken the art world by storm” by artnet news, the exhibition can be summed up by CTV’s description, “a completely new way of encountering art.” Immersive Van Gogh has already been enjoyed by more than 180,000 guests since its debut in Toronto during the pandemic in July 2020. During July and August 2020, according to Ticketmaster, it has surpassed worldwide ticket sales for any of the ticketing platform’s live cultural events.

Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago is operated by Immersive Art Space LP, a partnership between co-producers Corey Ross, Svetlana Dvoretsky, Maria Shclover and Irina Shabshis. The venue also will feature a merchandise/gift shop and café. Future plans include additional immersive art shows as well as live performances. 

Ticket prices start at $39.99 for adults ($24.99 for children 16 or younger) with untimed and flexible ticket options available. Beginning Saturday, Jan. 30, tickets will be on sale Feb. 11 through Sept. 6, 2021. The venue is easily accessible by public transportation and has ample parking in the nearby James House parking garage. For more information about Immersive Van Gogh, visit vangoghchicago.com or call 844-307-4644.  Follow the exhibition on social media at @vangoghchicago on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

About Vincent van Gogh 

Legendary Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) is recognized as one of the world’s greatest and best loved artists. He was born in the Netherlands to his father, Theodorus van Gogh, and his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, a moody artist whose love of nature, drawing and watercolors was passed on to her son. He worked at his uncle Cornelis’ art dealership when he had already been fluent in French, German and English, as well as his native Dutch. He fell in love with English culture when he was transferred to the Groupil Gallery in London in 1873.

During his short life he painted more than 2,000 artworks ranging from ordinary household items and self-portraits to surreal landscapes that inspire awe. Van Gogh was a post-Impressionist painter whose work — notable for its beauty, emotion and color — highly influenced expressionism in 20th-century art. He struggled with mental illness and remained poor and virtually unknown throughout his life.

He was tragically admitted to a psychiatric hospital after offering his severed ear to a woman at a local brothel. For hope, he turned to painting and nature, until one day when he went out to paint in the morning with a loaded pistol in his hand and reportedly shot himself in the chest. In his 37 years alive, Van Gogh only sold one painting, The Red Vineyards, to his brother Theo.

About the Producers and Creative Team 


Massimiliano studied at the London School of Contemporary Dance of London. But in 1990, he left the world of dance to begin a new journey in the world of video art. Massimiliano quickly became the artistic force behind several visual mise-en-scène for choreographers around the world. He also created video scenographies for numerous prestigious festivals and galas around the world. He also re-constructed the video mapping of the Basilica di Giotto and for the Teatro Petruzzelli of Bari, where one of his permanent installation’s virtually reconstruct the frescoes of the Cupola. Massimiliano is also a celebrated photographer and has had photo exhibitions in Spoleto and Rome, to name a few. He is professor of digital image elaboration at the Accademia di Comunicazione e Immagine of Rome. In 2012 Massimiliano received the prestigious International Award “Romaindanza” for his talent in the visual work of dance theatre. Since 2012, he has been artist in residence at the Carrières de Lumières - Atelier des Lumières where he authored the mise-en-scène of numerous immersive shows. He is currently creating projects within Italy as well as New York, Berlin, Leipzig and Rome.


Italian composer and pianist Luca Longobardi is a classically trained musician who incorporates the contemporary electronic music into his pieces. Born in 1976, Longobardi studied classical music in Italy and New York and went on to earn his doctorate in digital audio restoration in Rome in 2011. His works reveal a strong interaction between classical and contemporary music. The experience he has gained as a theatre musician has increased his interest in the relationship between sounds and spectacle; he has composed music for ballets and films and accompanied installations and experimental art productions (Atelier de Lumières - Paris, Carrière des Lumières - Baux-de-Provence, Kunstkraftwerk - Leipzig). At his multimedia performances and in his recordings, strong experimental electronic music meets pure, ethereal and simple-seeming piano playing that nevertheless relays deep emotions.

COREY ROSS, Co-Producer

Founded in Toronto in 2003 by Corey Ross, Starvox Entertainment has ranked in Profit Magazine’s Fastest growing Canadian companies for 5 years in a row. Starvox produces, manages, represents and promotes cross-over performing arts shows and exhibitions that tour Canada, the United States and internationally. Ross has produced multiple theatrical shows in Chicago including the Harry Potter parody Potted Potter, Evil Dead The Musical, Champions of Magic and Sherlock Holmes. In Las Vegas, Ross produces three shows for Caesars Entertainment—Wow, Extravaganza and Potted Potter.  In the world of art exhibitions, Ross produces the Art of Banksy in London, Canada, the USA and Taiwan, as well as Immersive Van Gogh and Illusionarium in Toronto.


Toronto’s Show One Productions was founded in 2004 by the enterprising Russian born impresario Svetlana Dvoretsky. Initially focused on classical music, the company has since expanded greatly and is now a leading presenter of high-profile International artists, symphony orchestras, theatre and dance companies and special projects. The company is especially proud of its presentations of Mikhail Baryshnikov, John Malkovich, Michel Legrand, Slava’s Snow Show, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, Vladimir Spivakov and the Moscow Virtuosi, Eifman Ballet, the Vakhtangov Theatre, opera stars sopranos Sondra Radvanovsky and Hibla Gerzmava, and the late baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Trio Magnifico Opera Gala – the historic union and once-in-a-lifetime event at The Four Seasons Opera House of soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Yusif Eyvazov in their Toronto debuts, with Hvorostovsky in his last Toronto appearance – remains an exceptional musical memory in the history of the performing arts in Canada. Dvoretsky is a proud recipient of the Order of York by the Government of Canada for “an outstanding contribution in art and culture.”


New York-based Maestro Immersive Arts is the latest creative venture by Maria Shclover and Irina Shabshis, in partnership with Lighthouse Immersive (Canada) to introduce the immersive art genre in major markets across the United States. 

Shclover is a classically trained pianist who later became a finance and international business professional, after graduating from NYU Stern School of Business. With extensive finance experience under her belt, Shclover founded Maestro Artist Management in 2004 that initially concentrated on presenting classical music and special events.  

Shabshis joined Maestro Artist Management in 2005, with a classical music background and vast computer science experience. Maestro Artist Management focused on providing a bespoke experience to international artists and over the years became one of the leading boutique artist management companies that presented international tours of such legendary classical musicians as Yuri Bashmet, Olga Kern, Denis Matsuev, Mischa Maysky, Vadim Repin, Vladimir Spivakov and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Together, the company presented more than 1,000 events and sold more than 700,000 tickets, working with international stars such as Michel Legrand, John Malkovich, Mikhail Baryshnikov and many others. As a presenter of some of the world’s best talent in the international performing arts, the company closely collaborated and partnered with some of the most prestigious art organizations, such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, The Metropolitan Opera and various Broadway productions. 

In 2012, Shclover and Shabshis formed a non-profit organization, Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation, to introduce international theatrical projects and acclaimed performers to American audiences. Festival has been a summer staple in New York and beyond, and received rave reviews from critics and audiences, welcoming such prominent international companies and projects as Gesher Theatre (Israel), John Malkovich and the international cast of Giacomo Variations (Austria), The Theatre of Nations (Russia), Vakhtangov State Theatre (Russia), Jaunais Rīgas Teātris (Latvia), Tango Fire Dance Company (Argentina), Rafael Amargo Flamenco Company (Spain), The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra (Russia), Max Raabe & Palast Orchester (Germany), Theatre-Atelier Piotr Fomenko (Russia) and many more. In 2018, Shclover and Shabshis founded yet another venture, the Russian Film Week USA, an annual showcase of both independent and artistic films that represent the dynamic landscape of Russian filmmaking today. The festival received a resounding welcome from critics and audiences, and is continuing through January 29, 2021.  


ChiIL Mama ChiILin' at 
Immersive Van Gogh Chicago

All photos by Bonnie Kenaz-Mara