As the doors of the Andrew Bae Gallery opened, the crisp sound of bells disturbed the loud ambiance of the city outside.
Located in the busy gallery district on West Superior Street, this gallery carries a surprisingly comforting vibe. A soft, yet very pervasive scent of herbal tea whirled as the entrance door shut close. The light walls are pale, typical of art galleries but the room’s scattered oak pillars echo the look of a traditional Korean household.
“This gallery is 25 years exactly” said Andrew Bae, founder, owner and namesake of the Andrew Bae Gallery, gesturing fondly at the art work.
Ten residents have died while shoveling snow in Cook County since the fifth largest winter storm hit Chicago on Jan. 31, leaving 19 inches of snow across northeastern Illinois. According to the Cook County Medical Examiner, nine of the ten residents who died were men.
Many parents introduce smartphones and tablets to their children as a teaching tool. However, a recent study says the educational benefits of mobile devices may come at a hefty price, affecting a child’s social and emotional skills.
The windy city is known for its unrelenting winters, and the past month has been no exception. One west-suburban homeless shelter is providing services that go far beyond a blanket and a warm bowl of soup.
Roughly two weeks before citywide elections, education advocates debated the merits of a mayor-appointed and voter-elected school board, while noting issues such as conflicting interests and political pressures.
“I do have a concern about inserting more politics into school board operations,” said Jesse Ruiz,, vice president of the Chicago Board of Education, during a panel discussion Monday at the City Club of Chicago. “Well, you may laugh, but again, I don’t have to raise a dime from anybody.
On Jan. 22, a crowd descended on a small, intimate theater in Links Hall, a shabby studio caught halfway between Lakeview and Logan Square. They encountered a tiny bar complete with worn wooden countertops and rickety stools inviting them to indulge in a libation before the performance. And when the lights rose in this warm and fuzzy atmosphere, the definition of puppetry was challenged and expanded.
Poduced by Nasty, Brutish and Short, a puppetry company born of and bred for Chicago, “A Puppet Cabaret Program B” took the audience on a somewhat dreamy, psychedelic ride through various worlds. In this case, however, as in many productions that were part of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival which ran Jan. 14-25, the term “puppet” is applied liberally.
“The definition of puppetry is way broader than anybody gives it credit for,” Mike Oleon, the show’s co-curator, said. “It’s not just marionettes, it’s not just Muppets, I mean there was supposed to be a dude stacking rocks. Like, the whole performance was stacking rocks. I don’t know what that means, but it’s puppetry.”
This year marked the first installation of the biennial Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, which offered puppeteers from nearly 50 companies the chance to sample each other’s work in a concentrated, festival format. They also connected with the puppetry community in Chicago and those who traveled from outside the city to perform.
“As far as puppetry communities go, it’s huge,” Oleon said, laughing. “As far as any other community goes, it’s very intimate. It’s my hope that this festival will raise awareness that there’s phenomenal puppet work happening in Chicago and that there are several incredibly talented potential collaborators who are already doing great puppetry.”
The idea for the festival came to its artistic director, Blair Thomas, because there was no major puppet theater festival in the U.S., let alone Chicago, despite the city’s distinguished history in puppetry. In the early days of TV, Chicago’s “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” show featuring a full cast of puppets drew huge audiences. Thomas had been a fixture in the Chicago puppetry community for three decades, and he founded his own puppetry company, Blair Thomas & Co. in 2002. With the Chicago Puppet Fest, Thomas said he hoped to capture the atmosphere of the Chicago International Theater Festival, which began in 1988 and ended in 1998. According to Thomas, it “changed the face of Chicago theater.”
Similarly, Thomas hoped the festival’s various performances and symposiums would expand the horizons of not just the audience, but also the puppeteers, themselves.
“There’s a language of the puppet that is the connection from shadow puppetry to performance with a mask to traditional hand puppetry. The language is reliant on objects,” Thomas said. “It’s an object-centered world rather than a human-centered world.”
In Nasty, Brutish and Short’s production, those objects included extra limbs for the puppeteers, projected images and screens lit from behind to create shadows. Performers not only controlled their puppets, but they also interacted with them as actors. It was far from children’s puppet theater, and definitely a far cry from the Muppets. But, for Oleon, the techniques are nothing new.
“It’s the same thing,” he said. “It’s been the same thing since forever, which is exciting because it’s such a relatively small thing. When people discover it, it feels like they’re discovering something completely new.”
The festival ran from Jan. 14-25 and featured nearly 50 performances across Chicago.
Photo at Top: In a scene from A Puppet Cabaret, screens are used alongside human actors and puppets. (PHOTO: Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.)
Restaurant Week can be a boon for some establishments trudging through the slow winter months but for others, it can be a costly burden.
This annual winter culinary event, now in its eighth year, allows Chicagoans to dine for cheap at more than 300 restaurants, including some of the city’s best spots. Diners can order from prix fixe three-course menus starting at $22 for lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner, not including beverages, tax and gratuity. The event runs January 30 through February 12.