Wolves prepare for season-high seven-game home stretch

By Sara Romano

It’s not every day that a minor league hockey team has the opportunity to star in a romantic comedy alongside the likes of Alicia Silverstone.

But that was exactly the case Tuesday morning with the filming of Silverstone’s latest movie “Who Gets the Dog?” in which her co-star Ryan Kwanten plays a goaltender for the Chicago Wolves.

While the Wolves players enjoyed the opportunity to be extras in the film, there was one person who was less than pleased to have his team’s practice routine interrupted.

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Education advocates split over elected, appointed school board

By Phoebe Tollefson

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.

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Puppets — not just Muppets

By Jessica T. Gable

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.

Nasty Brutish and Short Puppet Cabaret held several shows as part of the festival.
Vanessa Valiere performs during Nasty Brutish and Short’s Puppet Cabaret. PHOTO: Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival


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.”

Blair Thomas founded the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.
The Festival’s founder, Blair Thomas, hoped it would give puppetry communities a chance to explore and sample each other’s work. PHOTO: Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

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 challenges proprietors

By Alysha Khan

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.

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Hockey City Classic makes lukewarm return to Chicago

By Ryan Lund

It started hours before the games began, with a souvenir hockey puck that mistakenly pitted Michigan State against “Michigan University,” and continued into Saturday afternoon, as mild temperatures delayed puck drop for nearly two hours.

But while this year’s Hockey City Classic pitted Miami-Ohio, Western Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State against poor ice conditions and an announced attendance of just 22,751 at 61,500-seat Soldier Field, Miami coach Enrico Blasi says that his team would do it all again. Continue reading

VIDEO: Where you live matters for access to quality, healthy foods

The availability of quality grocery stores in neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic status is scarce.  There is a slow movement towards quality grocers expanding to less affluent neighborhoods. But some believe that expansion is not happening at a fast enough pace and low-income communities continue to lack access to good food. Shoppers at the Streeterville opening of Whole Foods weighed in on the issue. Continue reading

St. John’s wort gets mixed reviews for treating depression

By Lucy Vernasco

What if there was a flower that could make you happy – not just as a thing of beauty but an object of healing? Some claim one such bloom actually exists.

Stocked with the supplements and gummy vitamins is St. John’s wort, capsulized from the blooms of a yellow-flowered shrub used to remedy snake bites, depression and other ailments since the ancient Greeks first tried it. In the form of branded and generic pills and capsules, St. John’s wort is sold as a mood lifter.

There’s even a Yogi Blues Away tea that relies on St. John’s wort to ease tension, fix mild emotional imbalance and assist with seasonal affective disorder. Continue reading