While living in Wicker Park, working on illustrations for Sufjan Stevens' Illinois album in 2005, designer Divya Srinivasan said Chicago gave her “a new routine and new place to explore,” away from her hometown of Austin, Texas. Over the past few years, her art has been featured in the New Yorker and This American Life. Now living back in Austin, she’ll unveil her second picture book, Octopus Alone in May. Through her captivating visuals, the book takes readers on a journey through the oceanic reef, introducing them to a bashful Octopus, who hides from others until she realizes she misses her friends.
A musical biography of the famous circus entreprenuer, Barnum made a splash on Broadway in 1980, running for two years on the strength of its highly entertaining formula of brining the big top to the stage. Its Tony-lauded cast included Glenn Close (in her first major stage role) and tightrope-walking, unicycle-pedaling leading man Jim Dale (who's since made a name for himself recording the Harry Potter audiobooks). But it's not been easy to find regional productions of the show—until now. On the strength of its well-received annual revival of The Christmas Schooner, the Mercury Theater is now producing its first full season of shows, and next up is Barnum, opening tonight. It's the first major revival seen in Chicago in two decades, with Gene Weygandt (well-known to local audiences as the Wizard in Wicked) as Phineas Taylor Barnum. We recently checked in with director Walter Stearns to discuss the challenges of bringing “The Greatest Show on Earth” to the stage.
Although Barnum was originally a hit, it's seldom produced today. Why do you suppose that is?
Walter Stearns: I think people are intimidated by the challenges of it. It's a show that calls for a quadruple-threat actor—someone who's a singer-dancer-actor who might have some variety skills. Chicago has really started to train their actors in variety skills, and this is great market to try the show out.
Maybe fetal imprinting really does work. You can’t discount it after learning more about crackerjack cartoonist Lucy Knisley, whose mother embraced of gourmet meals and painting while little Lucy was still in utero. Be it nature, nurture or (likely) a mix of both, let’s just be thankful for the results: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, a comic-book memoir that’s part coming-of-age tale, part travelogue, part cookbook. While Knisley is the progeny of foodies, Relish is what happens when M.F.K. Fisher and Archie have a baby.
A graduate of the School of the Art Institute (and occasional contributor to TOC Kids), Knisley mixes her many geographical influences into this delightful paperback. She chronicles her childhood in New York City and rural Hudson Valley; eventful trips to Mexico (more on that in a minute), Italy and Japan; and her gumption in manifesting gourmet experiences in the Windy City despite a college-kid budget. Through it all, she leavens her mix of amusing anecdotes and keen observations with deceptively simple artwork, accented by whimsical lettering and a gorgeous color palette. Occasionally, the pages appear overcrowded with text, but for the most part, the layouts form a perfectly proportioned feast. And each chapter ends with a cartooned recipe (chocolate-chip cookies, huevos rancheros, marinated lamb).
The book is easily suitable for the junior-high-and-up crowd (who might recall hearing about Knisley thanks to her awesomely ambitious Summharry, a distillation of the entire Harry Potter saga into one enormous comic-book poster). Her fun drawings and zippy prose might inspire kids to become a bit more adventurous, or at least more thoughtful, about what they eat. They’ll surely chuckle as they relate to the conflicts an adolescent Lucy has with her dad in Italy: Just to bug him, she buys McDonald’s for breakfast while he’s still asleep, then eats it in front of him as he's waking up. (Read an exclusive excerpt of that sequence, plus one of her recipes, below.)
The book is also accessible to middle schoolers, though parents might want to consider ahead of time one particular chapter. During a trip to Mexico, Lucy and her lifelong friend Drew, both on the verge of puberty, experience their own coming-of-age journeys: He discovers a treasure trove of Mexican pornography, while Lucy has her first period. It’s potentially risqué material but handled in a humorous PG manner—and there’s a great punchline at the end validating the wisdom of moms everywhere.
Knisley’s ecumenical take on eating won’t satisfy everyone. For example, she loves foie gras (she indulges guiltlessly, thanks to an encounter with geese and hornets practically torn from The Hunger Games) but she also enjoys Mickey D’s because “we all sometimes need a little comfort grease.” The only thing she won’t eat? Miracle Whip. Hey, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere.
Knisley will make three Chicago appearances this month: Monday, April 8, at 826CHI in Wicker Park; Wednesday, April 10, at Challenger's Comics in Bucktown; and Thursday, April 11, at Women and Children First in Andersonville. Relish (published by First Second Books) is cover-priced at $18.
A playwright whose work has been produced both at home and abroad, DePaul University professor Carlos Murillo makes his first foray into theater for young audiences with his latest work, Augusta and Noble. The Adventure Stage Chicago show, which opens for a month-long run April 13, follows Gabi, a high school freshman in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood who begins to ask questions about her family’s heritage and journey to America while struggling to find her place in the world. Conceived through a series of neighborhood “story circles,” the play is part of an effort by Adventure Stage to connect with the community around the Northwestern University Settlement House—the building where the company mounts its shows. Murillo chatted with TOC Kids about his play and the creative process behind it.
What inspired you to work on this play for middle schoolers? You have children—are they any influence on what you write?
My kids certainly are, and when I’m writing, I do have them in the back of my mind. Both my wife and I are theater people, so [our kids are] both pretty sophisticated for a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old. And as far as how this project came to be, Tom [Arvetis, Adventure Stage's artistic director] and I met at a workshop about community-based theater making, and we started a conversation there about doing a project specific to West Town. It’s grown into the play we’re rehearsing for now.
In the not-so-distant past, I was working on an essay asking why there were no large-scale protests against school closings in Chicago. During the teacher strike, the Loop was clogged for nearly a week with red-shirted union members and their supporters, and I was curious to see if the same amount of passion could be whipped up around the latest wave in the ongoing crisis of Chicago Publi Schools. Well, at the first major action in response to the closing of 53 schools, hundreds of protestors started at Daley Plaza last night and marched to City Hall, where they staged a sit-in on LaSalle Street, leading to the Chicago Police Department issuing 127 tickets.
North Side eighth-grader and budding journalist Mia Seeley interned at Time Out Chicago Kids last month. One of her assignments was to interview local author Blue Balliett, a favorite of Mia's since she'd read Balliett's Chasing Vermeer in fourth grade. Mia talked with the author about writing for kids, where she finds inspiration and about her latest book, Hold Fast, which tell the story of a South Side family involved in a scary mystery as they face homelessness.
What made you want to become a writer?
I’m somebody who, I’m quite sure, had a burning desire to write books since I was 8 or 9. But I didn’t start writing any fiction until I was a teacher in Chicago. I didn’t really start writing full-time until my late 40s. It’s always been a part of my being.
Chasing Vermeer was one of my favorite books growing up. Why do you prefer writing for a younger audience?
I love writing for kids. The ideas that get in your head and your heart at that age are the ones that stick with you for the rest of your life. And I also feel as though what you read at that age determines how you look at language.
Wiggleworms, the Old Town School of Folk Music’s ridiculously popular singing, dancing and musicmaking class for tots, just introduced a Spanish-English bilingual edition called ¡Hola! Wiggleworms. Geared towards kids 6 months to 3 years old, the sessions feature instructors leading on various instruments, including guitar, percussion, jarana and fiddle. Meanwhile, kids get steeped in the culture of Spanish-speaking countries with a dance on the tarima, or wooden platform, and by playing the cajón, or box drum, as well as other instruments.
"We are amazed by the power music has to ignite many of the areas of the brain at once," says Erin Flynn, Wiggleworms' program coordinator. "Parents, too, get excited about how young children's language development often emerges through music and song first." The class is designed to create a sense of community through shared language and culture, too. "When I hear the music and lyrics ringing out from the Hola! Wiggleworms classroom and then hear the families and children speaking Spanish together in our hallways, it feels really important to our School and to Chicago," Flynn says.
Kids as young as 6 months can sign up for ¡Hola! Wiggleworms before graduating on to ¡Hola! Instrumentos and then Piano en Español. For schedule and price information visit oldtownschool.org.
Time Out Chicago Kids has partnered with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Kohl’s Cares to bring you the Play It Safe Memory Game. Play the game with your kids to see who can finish in the fastest time and learn important safety tips along the way. Click here to play the Memory Game now!
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Well, file this under "Things that make this Monday better." The Chicago Children's Theatre and Redmoon are putting on a special performance of their upcoming play, The Elephant & the Whale, reserved for families with children on the autism spectrum. Before coming to the show, parents will receive a "social story," which includes a preview of the play, and walks kids through attending live theater. There will also be a quiet room for kids during the show, though by holding this special performance, the theater companies hope to create a "judgment-free" atmosphere.
The show happens on Saturday May 4 at 11am. Tickets are $31 for adults, and $21 for kids 16 and under, and more information is on the performance's site.
As promised, Rihanna spiced up the first day of spring break for students and other Barrington locals with an appearance at the town's high school. She was there to honor the extaordinary do-gooding accomplished by the BHS students; and while the international pop star was almost three-and-a-half hours late, her hundreds of fans didn't seem to mind. Much.
Organizers of the event (originally slated to being at 2pm) did their best to keep the crowd peppy as they waited. The school's principal, Stephen McWilliams, raffled off signed CD's, signature Rihanna bracelets made with conflict-free diamonds, and tickets to tonight's concert, some of which the singer sent over with apologies.
Before Rihanna's entrace, McWilliams called for everyone to watch the contest-winning video that brought her there. Set to the singer's own "Diamonds," the five-minute clip showcases BHS's volunteer spirit and involvement with different charities. BHS students raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Relay for Life and logged over 45,000 hours of volunteering time, all while working with a wide range of charitable programs to spread cultural awareness, end the 'R'-word, and help their community. Rihanna, who said she was impressed and touched by their video, added, "I wanted to make sure I came and expressed that to you in person." After a few more words, she took pictures with members of the various charities as well as those who worked on the video.
The short appearance ended before 6pm with a few more photos: one with the winner of a dance contest staged before Rihanna arrived, and a selfie with her quick Q&A host. Despite the delay, students seemed psyched over the singer. "That was kind of fun to be in the same room as her, though," said one as she shuffled out. Another chatted with her friend excitedly. "I bet I still smell like her. Smell me."