How The Loop got its name

Patrick Reardon, author of 'The Loop' (Photo courtesy of Reardon and Southern Illinois University Press)
Patrick Reardon, author of ‘The Loop’ (Photo courtesy of Reardon and Southern Illinois University Press)

Readers who pick up “The Loop: The ‘L’ tracks that shaped and saved Chicago” by Patrick T. Reardon, today, should picture the constant stream of office workers, lawyers, financers, shoppers and theater goers who filled Chicago’s downtown business district before the COVID-19 pandemic forced pretty much everyone to work and shop from home.

Reardon makes the case that unlike some big cities’ downtowns such as Detroit which faced difficult times until it recently started a comeback, Chicago’s business district flourished because its heart was encompassed by the approximately two miles of elevated tracks known as The Loop.

Ask many Chicagoans about The Loop and they are likely to say it is the downtown business district. The Loop’s elevated tracks follow Wabash Avenue on the east, Lake Street on the north, Wells Street on the west and Van Buren Street on the south.

Indeed, The Loop is usually considered so important as a Chicago neighborhood that business, restaurants and residences that have developed south and west of it are now known as in the West Loop and South Loop neighborhoods.

However, the author doesn’t start with the building of what is actually a rectangle of tracks.

Readers interested in that beginning should start on page 97 in the chapter called “The Birth of the Union Loop” which chronicles some of the shenanigans by city and real estate movers and shakers that entrepreneur Charles T. Yerkes wallowed through to make the Union Elevated Railroad Company (Union Loop Company) a downtown elevated track reality beginning in 1895 and completed in 1897.

Starting with the later chapter and then going back is a good idea because Reardon often refers to The Loop early on as the Union Loop but the word Union doesn’t mean much until the birth of his company.

The Loop (Southern Illinois University Press photo)
The Loop (Southern Illinois University Press photo)

What Reardon, a long time Chicago Tribune writer, columnist, editor and Pulitzer Prize winner, does do early in the book is convincingly dispute claims that The Loop really was an evolutionary name that grew from the many small loops made by cable cars.

And even though Chicagoans have lovingly adopted The Loop name for downtown Chicago, the book also describes efforts to tear down the elevated tracks because they pass second-story business windows, shadow the businesses on their streets below and make a racket.

The book contends that the “L” tracks still exist today partially as a result of their landmark status, their universal identity with Chicago similar to San Francisco’s cable cars and New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and the efforts to save them by a former mayor, the late Jane Byrne, after Mayor Richard J. Daley wanted them gone.

As evident by the bibliography, notes and 230 pages of historic references, Reardon has definitely done his research. Translated, that means there is extraneous information including bits about skyscrapers and Potawatomi Indians, but readers will come away with a better understanding of Chicago and its core.

The Loop: The “L” Tracks that Shaped and Saved Chicago (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 2020)

Jodie Jacobs

 

CSO concerts and conversations

 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (A CSO photo)
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (A CSO photo)

I can’t promise that your eyes won’t tear as you watch Stehanie Jeong, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Associate Concertmaster, stand elegantly but alone in  an empty Orchestra Hall.

The talented violinist is introducing viewers to “Sounds of Celebration: An Evening at Home with the CSO,” a fundraiser that aired Oct. 24 but that can still be seen.

However, I can promise an entertaining evening that includes, among others Maestro Muti talking about how he misses his CSO family and  Yo-Yo Ma, explaining what the orchestra means to him while he accompanies two  rising cellists in separate videos.

Other voices and performers included Cynthia Yeh (principal percussion) playing Elden “Buster” Bailey’s “Two sticks in search of a waltz” and Concertmaster Robert Chen playing a Ravel sonata for violin and cello with  principal cellist John Sharp plus appearances by Herbie Hancock, Mitsuko Uchida, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn and Anita Rachvelishvili.

To see the event click CSO.org/tv then scroll way down to “Sounds of Celebration” and click “watch now.”

The CSO tv site is a good one to bookmark because it has links to concerts in the Sessions series that ranges from a virtual recital of the Lincoln String Quartet performing Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 and a program of CSO members playing Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

Each session is on for a limited, date specific time. They cost $15 a ticket but can be obtained at a discount with the series. And viewers’ seats are unobstructed. And they support the CSO.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

‘A War of the Worlds’ reimagined for a new millennium

 

Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.
Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.

3 Stars

Is it an audiobook? Is it a podcast? Is it a radio show? Maybe yes but then again maybe no. Actually it is Theatre in the Dark’s virtual audio drama.  Perhaps it is partially inspired by Orson Welles’ memorable 1938 radio broadcast of “A War of the Worlds” based on H.G. Wells’ iconic novel about a Martian invasion of the Earth.

Congratulations to this innovative production company whose mission is to create theater performance based on sound and utilization of Internet technology to reach out and engage audiences during these trying times.

This updated 21st century version of “A War of the Worlds” adapted by director Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon, is set primarily in and around the Chicago area. (Ironically Bradberry and Gordon met at an improv class at Second City which is now up for sale).

The original book was centered in London at the end of the 19th century. Then, the 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air production was based in mid-twentieth century New Jersey. So with so much global turmoil in 2020, why not project a Midwest interstellar invasion into the mix.

The story itself is not complicated. Basically, it deals with peoples’ mostly nonchalant, then chaotic reaction to the presence of an extraterrestrial artifact. First thought to be an asteroid, it turns out to be the beginning of an invasion fleet from Mars.

Theatre in the Dark’s production is not about the story, but rather more about the dramatic performance in the telling of the tale which this company does very well.

It’s a study in contrast that depicts the laid back lives of many city dwellers who are going about their daily business while the first reports of odd occurrences in the seemingly remote village of Bourbonnais, 55 miles south of Chicago, begin to reach the downtown area.

Tension mounts as complacency leads to panic and then to mayhem.

It is probably safe to say that the majority of today’s theater goers have had little or no experience with traditional radio drama. The genre reached its commercial peak sometime in the early 1940’s then limped along into the beginning of the 1950’s.

Indeed, most of us are children of the television age for whom this style of entertainment is an oddity or curiosity. That makes this presentation much more interesting as it encourages performers and audiences alike to explore a nearly forgotten, or at least, underrepresented art form.

Because the audience, listening at home via Zoom, is using sound only with no visual cues such as facial expressions, gestures, or body language, the actors must be extra creative in the verbal projection of their characters.

This is a chance for them to exercise their emotional muscles audibly in a slightly over-the-top way, even flirting with full-on melodrama. Conversely, the audience is challenged to listen closely for the information needed to paint mental images of the situations and the shifting environment.

The construction of one’s mental picture is aided greatly by the sound design offered by Ross Burlingame and Corey Bradberry. They provide continuous, thoughtful, sound effects meshed with an effective, original music score by Ben Zucker.

A major question is why do this live over multiple performances? Tickets are needed for each performance. Why not simply record it?

I imagine part of the answer has to do with the fact that this is a live theater company and that is what they do.

However, one of the unique aspects of this particular production that makes it different from a traditional radio drama is that the actors themselves are not in the same room. They are not necessarily even on the same continent.

Each performer logged in remotely from various locations around the world using their own often makeshift home studios. In this way they are literally pushing the boundaries of what we think of as theater.

What is missing, of course, is the interplay between the audience and the actors. The feedback loop that brings energy to live performance is an element that is difficult to duplicate at a distance.

The freshness of multiple performances will rely on the extent to which the actors innovate and improvise as they discover new opportunities of expression.

But not having been in a theater for over six months, it was exciting to prepare for the eight o’clock “curtain.” This was accomplished by setting the lighting and adjusting my laptop and speakers in the living room, ready to provide an optimal listening experience.

Then, it was settling down with a glass of wine in eager anticipation of this unique event.

As a way to celebrate this Halloween season I encourage you to gather your “pod mates” and a few socially distanced friends (wherever they may be) to enjoy this performance online then consider a Zoom call together to  discuss the play or perhaps devise a disaster plan of your own.

Details:  Theatre in the Dark players Mack Gordon, Elizabeth McCoy, Alex Morales, Ming Hudson, Robinson J. Cyprian, and Lauren Ezzo will be performing “A War of the Worlds” through November 21, 2020 via Zoom. Running time is 90 minutes with a 10 minute intermission. For tickets and information visit  Theatreinthedark/tickets.

Reno Lovison

RENOWEB.NET

A show to watch

Yes, shows, conferences, etc. that go virtual have become a way of life that sometimes reaches maximum level of “go-away,” “don’t- bother-me” reactions. However, Neo Futurists, a small theater on Ashland Avenue that doesn’t go in for the usual stuff, is doing a show that theater goers will find a break from the political craziness clogging the airways.

The show, “45 Plays, 50 First Ladies,”  a 100-minute take on who was in the White House besides the husbands, opens, Oct. 13, 2020 online.

Directed by Denise Yvette Serna and written by Chloe Johnston, Sharon Greene, Genevra Gallo-­Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, and Andy Bayiates, it continues through Nov. 2, 2020.

Tickets are $15. For more information visit Neofuturists/events.

 

‘The Talk’ is a play for right now

 

Sonny Kelly in 'The Talk' (Huth photo)
Sonny Kelly in ‘The Talk’ (Huth photo)

 

Because theaters have been shuttered during the COVID-19 crisis for the safety of artists and audiences they have been putting some of their productions online. One such production was a Neo-Futurists “Wrench” production mentioned here in CTAA a few weeks ago.

Also, Citadel in Lake Forest just successfully held a live production that was a round-up of past musicals. It was held sitting in cars in the parking lot of the local community center.

However, sometimes it is worthwhile to go back to productions that have become extraordinarily relevant today during our (hopefully) history-changing 2020.

One such production is “The Talk” done in Durham and Chapel Hill, NC in 2019. Presented by StreetSigns and Bulldog Ensemble Theater in cooperation with the Department of Communication at UNC Chapel Hill, it has been brought back on video for a short time only by Bulldog and PlayMakers Repertory Company with permission from the artists and unions.

Written and performed by Sonny Kelly and directed by Joseph Megel, “The Talk” is a one-person show where a young black father talks to his son about his own experiences and what the son may experience growing up in the United States of America.

The script and acting is intelligent, poignant and heartbreakingly informative. Kelly wrote it while working on his Ph.D at UNC Chapel Hill’s Department of Communication a few years ago. He has since attained his doctorate.

The show takes a little over an hour to watch but its messages are deep and lasting.  Be mindful that the video introduction says not to copy the video or use it for commercial purposes.

The production companies involved hope more people will be able to see a show that sold out in 2019 and speaks to what is still confronting Americans today.

Jodie Jacobs

Escape online to great art museums

Edward Hopper Gas 1940 The Museum of Modern Art NY

Enjoy the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Go into the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Cross back over the pond to New York to visit the Museum of Modern Art. While in NYC explore the huge Metropolitan Museum of Art without wearing out the shoes.

The first two places are excellent stills and 180 degree shots you can maneuver to see galleries and works up close. The next two places you visit are really good YouTube videos that are part of the Great Museums film series.

Musée d”Orsay

Google Arts & Culture takes you to Paris’ famed Musée d”Orsay to see works by Renoir, Monet,  Manet and Degas among others. Its giant clock is a reminder that the museum is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay railway station and hotel on the Seine’s Left bank across from the Tuileries Gardens.

Instead of watching a video, with this visit you go to the floor you want, the work you want and the views of the galleries.

Van Gogh Museum

On this site you can scroll down past highlighted works by Vincent van Gogh to four circles, each a different floor for you to visit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

MOMA

What is modern? What is art? The video on New York’s Museum of Modern Art starts with those often asked questions, then takes you on a tour so you can find your own answers.

Met

As expected with a building that stretches 1,000 feet along New York’s Fifth Avenue at Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is filled with more than paintings. It’s two million square feet covers multi cultures and multi centuries. Stay with the video after its introduction to get to the film itself to answer its question “What makes a masterpiece.”

Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

Black Ensemble presents a battle cry

 

Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater
Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater

‘Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’

3 stars

Jackie Taylor, the amiable creative heart and soul of Chicago’s beloved Black Ensemble Theater, has declared 2020 as the company’s Season of Change. She opens with this original, ambitious, musical battle cry, a movement against the injustice and bigotry that’s overtaking our country today thanks to an administration that has set our country back 200 years.

And this is just the beginning of Taylor’s aggressive theatrical approach to helping combat the racism that’s reared its ugly head in America.

Continue reading “Black Ensemble presents a battle cry”

Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!

 

Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)
Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)

4 stars

Imagine what it was like in 1964 when Judy Garland and her daughter, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli, performed together for the first time at The Palladium Theatre in London. This was the only time these two superstars performed in a live concert together and it was electrifying.

Now, Chicago theatre-goers can experience the thrill of “Judy & Liza — Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert – A Tribute” at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The show is co-produced by Greenhouse and Nancy Hays Entertainment, Inc.

Continue reading “Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!”

‘Middletown’ encapsulates the comedy and tragedy of life

 

left to right Adrian Zmed, Sandy Duncan, Kate Buddeke in Middletown. (Photo courtesy of GFrour Productions)
left to right Adrian Zmed, Sandy Duncan, Kate Buddeke in Middletown. (Photo courtesy of GFrour Productions)

3.5 stars

Be prepared to laugh and cry If you go to see “Middletown,” a GFour touring production now at the Apollo Theater.

Written by “Timekeepers” playwright, Dan Clancy, the play’s strength is how it captures some of life’s funny moments and extreme low points as they are experienced and shared by two couples.

Continue reading “‘Middletown’ encapsulates the comedy and tragedy of life”

‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ is no mystery

 

Left to right, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Greenwood in Mrs. Warren's Profession. (Photo by Tom McGrath)
Left to right, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Greenwood in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. (Photo by Tom McGrath)

3 stars

It is late summer 1905 and Mrs. Kitty Warren (Elaine Carlson), a seemingly wealthy woman with no known extended family, finally reveals to her curious adult daughter how she is able to support their comfortable lifestyle.

Continue reading “‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ is no mystery”