Friday, October 8, 2021

REVIEW: Punk Grandpa Now Playing at Dreamers YOLO! Through October 16, 2021

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

Guest Review

By Cath Hellmann 

It’s not often that the playwright of a show I’m reviewing enthusiastically praises my cool new socks within moments of our first meeting. In all fairness, they are super-fun socks with corgis and bacon on them. What’s not to love?? And the outgoing playwright is LaurA! Force Scruggs, who I liked immediately. 

Punk Grandpa is her sweet homage to her funny, irreverent, outrageous grandpa. He always encourages our young heroine to be herself, enjoy life, and it’s ok to be different. What a wonderfu message in our current strange times. 

Playing the grandpa with relish is Colin Jones who breathes life into every scene. He yells from the car at random women that he’ll “pick them up later!” He flirts with all the bank tellers. He claims a black umbrella from the lost-and-found at the bank that’s not really his, but he’s lost other ones along his travels, so he figures it balances out. He tells his granddaughter that the FBI sends him messages through his hearing aids. 

Punk Grandpa is hilariously inappropriate. He brags to the bible-thumpers at church that his son drives a fancy car, makes a lot of money...and is a pimp! The Churchgoers need some levity, as one congregant intones that, “The Liberals are not going to Heaven.” 

Of course, Young Laura, portrayed by a sweet Sallie Anne Young,  adores him. He protects Laura from her horrid older brother who calls her “Freak Show.” She was a very serious child, and her fun-loving grandpa helps lighten her spirits and see the whimsy in life. Laura imagines herself as a fairy, and our Narrator-Older Laura, played by Felisha McNeal, is dressed in a tutu with a wand. She’s been asked in her neighborhood by local children if she really IS a fairy. 

Later in life, Punk Grandpa is diagnosed with Alzheimers. It’s a sad ending for the vivacious man who meant so much to Young Laura. Knowing what he was really like makes his decline all the more tragic. 

The production opens with a vintage slideshow of photos of the real-life Punk Grandpa. I wish we had been able to see the pictures more clearly. My young theater companion thought the images would have been more effective at the end of the play instead of at the forefront. Then the audience members have the opportunity to form their own opinions and impressions of Punk Grandpa from the show. 

I loved the soundtrack of Big Band and Jazz music. Dancing and music play important roles in the show and in the spirit of Grandpa. 

The players who round out the production have a lot of heart. The tiny storefront theater on Lincoln Avenue feels cozy like one is watching a performance in your friend’s living room. The publicity notes describe Punk Grandpa as the male version of one of my favorite characters, Auntie Mame. Remember, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Punk Grandpa would have approved. 

Cath Hellmann is a teacher, mom, avid theater goer, and lover of silly socks. Her goal is to be the grandma who causes mischief.  

"Punk Grandpa" is like a modern-day Auntie Mame, with genders reversed. It’s all about being yourself, not worrying about what others think, embracing life and humor and the value of the grandparent/grandchild relationship. The show takes place one magical weekend Laura spent with her grandpa at 5 3/4 years old, portrayed through storytelling, dance, music and vintage family movies and photos. Grandpa was the free-est, most inappropriate person Laura ever knew and this show demonstrates how he set Laura free to be herself through his humor and unpredictable, wild ways. It'll put hair on your chest.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

REVIEW: Collaboraction For Social Change 6th Annual PeaceBook Festival 2021

 ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

Guest Review 

By Cath Hellmann

I admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at the PeaceBook Festival held at the lovely Kehrein Center for the Arts in the Austin neighborhood. But it was a delightful evening filled with loads of talent and positive vibes. 

The first half of the program featured six local films created during the shutdown. Because their social justice mission, even during a pandemic, “doesn’t stop,” according to Artistic Director Anthony Moseley, who is a delightful host. 

A Letter to My Younger Self by Ada Cheng addresses racism against Asians and how students choose “not to make a scene” when confronted with hurtful comments about the coronavirus. They accept rudeness of strangers rather than rock the boat. “Silence can be a strength but it isn’t always a virtue.” Ms. Cheng reminds her younger self to “be the troublemaker.” 

Essential?...”Tengo que trabajar/I have to work” by Jasmin Cardenas is a moving tribute to struggling essential workers and how they fared during the pandemic. One Spanish-speaking woman is a street vendor who loses three months of business during the shutdown. Another Latina from Back of the Yards lost many of her clients from her cleaning business. People tried to help when there were stories in the news about how Hispanics were hit the hardest by the pandemic. A young African-American man copes with trying to find work.  

Cardenas was in the audience and gave feedback on how all three of her subjects are doing currently. The vendor came down with Covid and is recuperating. The other two have been, thankfully, working again. It was very inspiring to have the filmmaker present to give us an update on these courageous individuals. 

Brother! Blackbird by Vernon D. Gooden and Back to Me by Darling Shear both feature stunning dancing and visuals. Gooden was especially amazing in his outside dancing under the el tracks and on a city street corner. 

I Am North Lawndale by Willie Round featured several everyday heroes in his neighborhood. There is a restaurant owner who donates  back to her community and wasn’t looted during the riots that affected other businesses. There is a woman who has fresh produce that she contributes to others in a food desert.   

Oh, Colonizers! is a wonderfully witty film written by Carla Stillwell about racism. The commercials feature a beverage called “Drink of Audacity” and a phone company with a lot of nerve called “Confederate Cellular.” There was also a game show like the “Dating Game” where the American bachelor post Civil War must choose between: Reconciliation, Emancipation, and Capitalism. Hmmm...what do you think our young country chose?? Ms. Stillwell has script #2 ready to film if she gets the funding raised. I’d love to see another episode.  

The second half of the show featured poetry/spoken word, music,  and an awesome band with a wonderful percussion section and xylophone. The big name of the evening was Broadway star Karen Olivo who goes by K.O. because “nobody wants to be a ‘Karen’ these days.” ;-) I was soooo  hoping to hear her sing, since she originated the role of Vanessa in In the Heights and won a Tony for West Side Story. But tonight was a time for thought-provoking monologues. 

Molly Brennan is a force of nature with her very commanding presence on stage. She played a ukulele peace song. She’s mesmerizing. 

Abad Viquez is a charmer who goes by “Shorty A.” He arrived on stage in his motorized wheelchair. Abad told his background of being born with a disability and his parents being told he would not walk, talk, or live to see his first birthday. Shorty A is now a graduate from Senn High School, an aspiring actor, and a winner in the August Wilson Monologue Competition. A theater program, and his very encouraging teacher, kept him looking forward. 

The most powerful performance, imho, was Anthony Wolf talking about his mother and his admiration of the Jackson Five. Wolf is a painter and an incredible dancer. He also tragically lost his mother, who was murdered five days after Christmas, by one of her johns. She was able to get her hands on $5k from another john to take her son to see Michael Jackson himself. Very moving story of love, devotion, and great dance moves! 

Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I loved my evening at the 6th Annual PeaceBook Festival 2021. My date even bought me a Collaboraction t-shirt! I look forward to more in the future.  

Cath Hellmann is a teacher, mom of three, theater lover, good troublemaker, and teller of tales, most of them true. 

Saturday, October 2

at the 
Kehrein Center for the Performing Arts
5628 W. Washington Blvd. 
in Chicago's Austin neighborhood
Actor, activist and Tony Award-winner Karen Olivo has been added to the line-up of Collaboraction’s 6th annual Peacebook Festival on Saturday, October 2 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts in Chicago’s Austin community.  
Collaboraction has long been a favorite of ours for social justice theatre and community based work. My son, Dugan, a Northwestern theatre undergrad, interned with their After School Matters teens the summer before last, crafting two original productions based on students' works. Prior to that, he attended the program for two years in high school. 
Collaboraction asks the hard questions with thought provoking theatre, and unflinching looks at our city and beyond. Check out their excellent Peacebook Fest lineup. We'll be out today to recap the event, one of our top weekend picks. Don't miss this. 

5:30 pm

Film Screenings

Oh, Colonizers 
Masterpiece Theatre styled satire hosted by
self-proclaimed Cultural Historian of Black Joy Carla Stillwell

Peacebook Short Films
By Ada Cheng, Darling Squire, Jasmin Cardenas, 
Vernon D. Gooden and Willie Round

7:30 p.m. 

Live "Gifts of Peace" solos 
created and performed by: 

Karen Olivo

Tony Award-nominee as Satine in Moulin Rouge. Karen
declined to return to Moulin Rogue and commercial theater after what they felt was the theater community's lack of meaningful response to the allegations against Broadway producer Scott Rudin. The are also a Tony Award-winner as Anita in West Side Story, and Karen originated the role of Vanessa in In the Heights.

Abad Visquez

A 19-year-old Senn High School graduate, born with sacral agenesis, who placed first in Chicago's qualifying rounds of the 2019 August Wilson Monologue Competition and won third place in the national championship in New York City.

Ada Cheng

The Chicago storyteller, solo artist, show producer, educator, facilitator, and speaker based in Chicago, and a frequent, favorite Collaboraction solo performer.

David Flores

The activist, artist, storyteller and Humboldt Park native, currently enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Anthony Wolf

A native of Chicago's west side, a dancer, painter and writer whose career has led to him work with Jay Leno, the Chicago Bulls, Puff Daddy, Eve, Oprah Winfrey and many more.

Marvin Tate

A multidisciplinary artist, performer and educator, active in the Chicago music scene since 1993, and collaborator with the likes of Leroy Bach, Theaster Gates Jr. and the Black Monks of Mississippi.

Molly Brennan

The Chicago actor, artist, agitator, activist and accomplice. Brennan has performed at Steppenwolf, Goodman, Lookingglass, Lyric Opera, Second City, American Theatre Company, The Fly Honey Show and others.

Olivo will be one of the seven Gifts of Peace solo artists sharing their perspectives on peace with Collaboraction’s audience, live and in-person. 
Tickets to see Olivo live at Peacebook on Saturday, October 2 are $5-$35. Performances start at 5:30 p.m. The Kehrein Center for the Arts is located at 5628 W. Washington Blvd. in Austin. Go to to purchase tickets. 

​​Karen Olivo (she/they) is a multi-hyphenate living/working on the ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Madison, WI. She is most widely known for their acting work that spans the last 25 years on Broadway and TV. In the Spring of 2020, Olivo co-founded the non-for-profit organization, AFECT- Artists for Economic Transparency (, in an effort to educate the industry and promote discussion regarding entertainment industry structures and how they can be altered to better support underserved communities.

“Building a better industry is more important than putting money in my pockets,” Olivo said. 
Olivo’s most recent theatrical work is for playing “Satine” in Moulin RougeThe Musical for which they received their second Tony Award nomination. Olivo is also recognized for their Tony Award-winning performance as “Anita” in the acclaimed 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story, a role for which she also earned Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle, and Astaire Award nominations.

Some of their Broadway theater credits include originating the role of “Vanessa” in the Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights (2008 Astaire Award), starring as “Faith” in the Broadway production of Brooklyn the Musical, and in Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning musical, RentOlivo is familiar to Chicago audiences, too, having portrayed Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago production of Hamilton from 2016 to 2017. 

Olivo is also recognized for her many television appearances including a series regular, recurring and guest-starring roles on “Harry’s Law”, “The Good Wife,” “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” “Chase,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Conviction,” and “Law & Order.” As an educator Olivo has worked at Northwestern University, NYU-Tisch, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as working as a visual artist, writer, and vocalist. Their 1st solo album LEAVE was released in 2018.

A festival of films and solo performances sharing personal perspectives on peace featuring Peacemakers Karen Olivo, Ameena Matthews, Marvin Tate, Ada Cheng, Molly Brennan and more, music by Joyful Soundz, debut of Carla Stillwell’s short film Oh, Colonizers, a response to January 6

Each Peacebook event will present a selection of world premiere Gifts of Peace Solos created and performed live and in-person by a diverse line-up of leading Chicago peace visionaries.

Gifts of Peace soloists on October 2 in Austin are Abad ViquezAda ChengAnthony WolfDavid FloresKaren OlivoMarvin Tate, and Molly Brennan.
A collection of short films all produced by Collaboraction since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic precedes the solo works each night. 

The evening will conclude with a Crucial Conservation between the artists and audience about how to increase the peace in Chicago. 
“This unique moment in history is an open door to new ideas and actions around cultivating peace in Chicago and we are honored to be able to share these gifts of critical voices and perspectives on Peace,” said Collaboraction Artistic Director Anthony Moseley
Tickets, $5-$35, are on sale now. Go to for tickets, the full line-up, artist bios, show descriptions and artist information. 

Note: Masks will be required at all times, and proof of vaccination is required. Or, in order to not limit access to the great majority of these communities based on their vaccination hesitancy, a negative Covid PCR test within 48 hours of performance time, or a negative six-hour hour rapid antigen test, will also be accepted. Visit for updates to Collaboraction's Covid policies.

Saturday, October 2
Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W Washington Blvd., in Austin

5:30 p.m. Film Screening 
Oh, Colonizers
by Carla Stillwell
Oh, Colonizers is a Masterpiece Theatre styled satire hosted by self-proclaimed Cultural Historian of Black Joy Carla StillwellOh, Colonizers unpacks the way white people throughout America’s history have spread "oppression mayonnaise" over countless Black and Brown people. In this episode, we look at the period after the Civil War when America had a choice between emancipation, reconciliation and capitalism. With the help of a metaphorical World Colonization game show and KAREN inspired commercials, Oh, Colonizers connects the dots between capitalism and the insurrection of January 6, 2021 with historical accuracy and enough comedy to help the medicine go down.

Peacebook Films
by Ada Cheng, Darling Squire, Jasmin Cardenas, Vernon D. Gooden and Willie Round
Short films from Collaboraction's 2020 Peacebook Fest include (left) Essential?...Tengo que trabajar/I have to work by Jasmin Cardenas and (right) This is North Lawndale by and featuring Willie “Prince Roc” Round.

Live Music by Joyful SoundZ, led by Joy Smith, the Englewood percussionist, teaching artist and Tru Chat podcast host, featured in Collaboraction’s Encounter Englewood.
Joy Smith performed at Collaboraction's 25th Anniversary Moonset Sunrise gala in June. 

7:30 p.m. Gifts of Peace Solos
Abad Viquez, a 19-year-old Senn High School graduate and budding theater actor, born with sacral agenesis, who placed first in the Chicago qualifying rounds of the August Wilson Monologue Competition in 2019 and won third place in the national championship in New York City.
Ada Cheng, the Chicago storyteller, solo artist, show producer, educator, facilitator, and speaker based in Chicago, and a frequent, favorite Collaboraction solo performer.
Anthony Wolf grew up on the west side of Chicago and is a dancer, painter and writer whose career has led to him work with Jay Leno, the Chicago Bulls, Puff Daddy, Eve, Oprah Winfrey and many more.

David Flores, the activist, artist, storyteller and Humboldt Park native, currently enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Karen Olivo, Tony Award-winner for West Side Story, Tony Award nominee for Moulin Rouge! The Musical, and theater educator and activist, co-founder, AFECT-Artists for Economic Transparency 

Marvin Tate, a multidisciplinary artist, performer and educator, active in the Chicago music scene since 1993, and collaborator with the likes of Leroy Bach, Theaster Gates Jr. and the Black Monks of Mississippi.

Molly Brennan, the Chicago actor, artist, agitator, activist and accomplice. Brennan has performed at Steppenwolf, Goodman, Lookingglass, Lyric Opera, Second City, American Theatre Company, The Fly Honey Show and others.

All Gifts of Peace Solos will be captured by a multi-camera live video team directed by award winning filmmaker Marquis Simmons for future release on Collaboraction’s Together Network.

Want to spark social change in Chicago and beyond? 
Become a CollaborActivist! 

Join the company’s new member program that supports digital workshops and live programs, helps pay artists equitably, and provides a brave space for diverse voices who create transformative performances on critical social issues. CollaborActivists receive exclusive invitations to monthly social events (virtual and in-person), free or discounted tickets, special swag, and updates on Collaboraction’s community impact. Become a CollaborActivist for as little as $1 a month at

For more information, visit, follow the company on Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram or YouTube, or call (312) 226-9633.

About Collaboraction

Collaboraction, Chicago’s theater for social change, collaborates with a diverse community of Chicagoans, artists and community activists to create original theatrical and virtual experiences that cultivate dialogue and action around the world’s most critical social issues. 

Since the company’s founding in 1996, Collaboraction has pushed artistic boundaries working with more than 4,000 artists to bring over 100 productions and events to more than 150,000 unique audience members, and has inspired measurable positive change on social justice in Chicago and beyond. Collaboraction’s work includes SketchbookPeacebookCrime SceneForgotten Future and Gender Breakdown
Collaboraction has been acknowledged for innovation and inclusivity by using theater as a tool for social change with numerous awards including, most recently, a 2020 Foster Innovation Award from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the 2020 Multi-Racial Unity Award from the First Unitarian Church-Chicago, a 2018 Stand For the Arts Award from Comcast & OvationTV, and an Otto Award from New York’s Castillo Theatre.
In August 2021, Collaboraction returned to live performances by debuting The Light, a new ensemble of six high-achieving Chicago youth artists and activists who performed at Douglass Park in North Lawndale, LaFollette Park in Austin, and Hamilton Park in Englewood as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks. Visit to see where The Light will perform next in 2021-22. 

Meanwhile, Collaboraction’s Together Network presents exclusive virtual content like Becoming, a live web show for anyone looking to be active anti-racists (first Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. CT), and Crucial Connections, a live, interactive talk show that brings social justice warriors, artists and community residents together for crucial conversations (third Thursday of every month, 8 p.m. CT). Learn more at

Collaboraction continues to use the theater at Kennedy-King College in Englewood as its mainstage producing home. Meanwhile, the company has initiated a search for its next home for live performances, community building and video production, exploring Chicago neighborhoods historically overlooked like Englewood, Austin and Lawndale.

Collaboraction is supported by The Chicago Community Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, Illinois Humanities, Paul M. Angell Foundation, Marc & Jeanne Malnati Family Foundation, Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation, and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. 

For more, visit


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