WATCH: ‘Live theater … was no more’: Chicago performers reflect on major comeback 3 years after beginning of COVID-19 pandemic

Cabaret Zazou comic host Frank Ferrante plays Forte, a bellhop at the Cambria Hotel who follows his dream of becoming a band leader for his village. (Jordana Comiter/MEDILL)
Cabaret Zazou comic host Frank Ferrante plays Forte, a bellhop at the Cambria Hotel who follows his dream of becoming a band leader for his village. (Jordana Comiter/MEDILL)

By Jordana Comiter
Medill Reports

It’s been three years since the world shut down and people’s lives were interrupted. With live performances halted, the theater industry took one of the biggest hits. Three years later, Cabaret Zazou performers, crew and audience members are reflecting on how their lives have changed since the return of the arts.


[Music playing]

DREYA WEBER, Cabaret Zazou artistic director/writer: So we’ve all lived through the pandemic, and people whose life is live performing arts suffered in a way that …. It’s not that we all didn’t suffer. But, the inability to be with people, to perform for people, to have the human interaction that people spend their lives becoming excellent at their profession so that they could do that, it was profoundly devastating. So, it’s so encouraging to see people coming back to theater, hearing people laugh, watching an audience stand up because they want to … because they have to give something a standing ovation because they’re that moved. It’s profound, and to be part of Chicago’s theater community, which is so proud and so vibrant, is really an honor.

[Music playing]

[Caption: Chicago Theatre Week features value-priced tickets to more than 100 performances at theatres across the city.]

[Music playing]

[Caption: This year, CTW ticket sales reached over 18,000, surpassing every year to date.]

[Music playing]

[Caption: So, the 11th Annual Chicago Theatre Week extended a week, giving theatre-lovers an additional chance to catch Cabaret Zazou.]

[Music playing]

[Caption: Cabaret Zazou’s CTW tickets sold out the day they were released.]

WEBER: There’s this tradition of bringing music, dancing, circus artists, comedy and singers into this place and then having the audience experience this kind of world. So, it’s like, how do you honor the style of the past, how do you honor the music of the past, the tradition of this amazing spiegeltent that’s been housing music and dancing for 90 years, and then weave it into an evening where the audience is constantly surprised and in awe?

[Singer sings “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley]

JANE PIGOTT, audience member: One of the hardest things for me during the pandemic was only being able to see the arts virtually, which I did, but it’s not the same as being there live in person to actually see people making art.

NATHAN PRICE, Cabaret Zazou acrobat: So for the pandemic, we were just kind of stuck in London.

FRANK FERRANTE, Cabaret Zazou comedian: Everything just kind of came to a standstill, and I didn’t work for a year and a half.

PRICE: We couldn’t do anything really.

FERRANTE: It was a very mixed feeling. It was depressing, saddening, frustrating, kind of incomprehensible, that of all of the businesses to go down, that live theater – perhaps one of the oldest industries or fields or crafts – was no more.

PRICE: To be back in a tent and back in front of an audience, it does feel great, especially here because you’re so close to the audience. It’s like, we do some tricks, and we drop her from like five meters and I catch her, and we are literally like half a meter, a meter away from the audience. I couldn’t think of a better contract or show or environment to come back to.

FERRANTE: It feels great to be back in front of an audience. I love it. In fact, this show (Cabaret Zazou) was the first show to come back from the pandemic. This to me is a dream. This is exactly where I want to be and where I’ve always wanted to be. I fantasized as a young boy that I would be doing what these people on the screen and on stage were doing. I can’t believe how close it is to what my heroes of humor did. Performance for me is a heavenly experience, it’s a transcendent experience, it goes beyond my body.

KERRY SHEEHAN, Cabaret Zazou executive director: It’s always a good investment to spend money on the arts because it is what brings joy to everyone’s lives in this incredibly crazy world that we live in and that we get super consumed in what we’re doing. When I was speaking to a guest who was leaving the other night, she shared with me, she’s like, “I just escaped for two and a half hours.” And I’m like, “That is exactly what all of this is about.”

[Music playing]

[Crowd clapping as the show ends]

Jordana Comiter is a magazine graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @Jordanacomiter.