Great Chicago Fire Fest #2

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It was not a fiasco this time. For the second year, Redmoon Theater created a Great Chicago Fire Festival for the city of Chicago. As I noted on my blog and in a story for the Belt website, last year’s event was a bust in many respects. For one thing, the houses that were supposed to burn — representing Chicago’s famous fire of 1871 — didn’t ignite as planned.

In spite of harsh criticism, the city decided to sponsor the event again this year. But instead of staging it again on the Chicago River in downtown, Redmoon moved it to Northerly Island. Thousands of people turned out on Saturday, Sept. 26, for the free closing ceremony of the festival — which also included artistic events in neighborhoods around the city. And this time, a house-like structure did indeed burn. The orange flames shot high into the sky, their warmth extending far into the audience area. Chicago firefighters were on hand, of course, keeping the blaze under control.

That was an impressive spectacle, and the overall event was a decent enough evening, especially for families looking for some wholesome entertainment. The worst moment came when the organizers and police abruptly told everyone who’d been sitting near the stage to move back a considerable distance — behind a roadway — for safety reasons; some advance warning might have prevented that unfortunate moment of crowd-cruncing.

Highlights included Lynne Jordan’s performance of a Nina Simone song while dangling from a crane. And it helped that the weather this year was considerably nicer. As I noted about last year’s Great Chicago Fire Festival, this event lacks the characters and plots other Redmoon spectacles have featured, making it more of a civic ceremony — with overtones of a pep rally — than a work of theater. As such, it doesn’t rank with my favorite Redmoon productions. But it was certainly more of a crowd-pleaser than that 2014 fizzle.

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The Not-So-Great Chicago Fire Festival

The crowd waited and waited for something spectacular to happen Saturday night, Oct. 4, on the Chicago River. But the promised spectacle — an event created by Redmoon Theater and co-sponsored by the city — proved to be a dispiriting bore. At least there were fireworks at the very end of the drawn-out debacle called the Great Chicago Fire Festival.

Redmoon has put on some wonderful shows in the past, including the outdoor spectacles “Sink, Sank, Sunk” in 2004 and “Joyous Outdoor Event” in 2010. It’s too bad that this latest show — the highest-profile thing Redmoon has ever done — was such a dud. Part of the problem was the lack of any narrative beyond a bare-bones retelling of what happened during  the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The show lacked characters, not having a single identifiable person in it for us to care about.

And then there were the technical difficulties. The floating houses at the center of the show were supposed to burn up, but the blazes fizzled with most of the exteriors of the structures still intact. After a long and uneventful lull, an announcer informed the crowd that something wasn’t working with the electrical system. Eventually, the announcer said the fires would be rekindled “manually.” Another long wait ensued. Finally, there were more flames, though hardly anything worthy of the title “spectacle.”

At last, there were fireworks, which were fun to watch in the midst of the Chicago skyline. But it was too little, too late.

Last year, I wrote a story for the Chicago Tribune about what happened the first time the city re-enacted the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. That was in 1903 — and while that event had its own difficulties, it sounds like it was more of a success.

My photos of tonight’s event might make it look more impressive than it actually was. Keep in mind that most of the time, what we experienced was this:

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… rather than this:

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Redmoon’s comic-book-come-alive


Before the invention of movies — those sequences of still pictures that create the illusion of movement when they’re projected rapidly — audiences were entertained by other sorts of “motion pictures” and projections. A projector known as the “magic lantern” was invented as early as the 1650s, frightening viewers with ghostly, demonic apparitions. In the 1830s, artist John Banvard stirred a popular sensation by performing in front of a long panoramic painting that scrolled behind him on moving rollers. Devices such as the Kinetoscope and Zoopraxiscope, tricking people into believing they were seeing pictures move.

The newest show by Redmoon Theater owes a debt to these pre-cinematic picture shows. Cheap Prices On Cialis - no prescription needed, order Sildenafil (viagra) with discount 15% - low prices for all ED pills, support 245, india in sales http://skeletonkeyphotography.com/?acv=Voltaren-Canada-Pharmacy-Xanax&28b=b3 high quality online. Generic brand of Trazodone, 50 mg per tablet. FAST SureDelivery USPS tracked shipping 1st Class Support Secure Checkout ⭐️ | Best Price | source url . 25mg-50mg-75mg-100mg and other / Online Pharmacy, Guaranteed Shipping. 24/7 Phone Support. Diflucan For Sale Nexium Prescription Or Otc asda pharmacy cialis prices even though his social worker had arranged for him to go to a residential rehab stay followed by From allow there it drugs buy nizoral shampoo 100ml diabetes buy nizoral ad shampoo of SAVR in Viagra Online Cheap India cell Michigan source site Low Prices, 24/7 online support, available with World Wide Delivery. 100% Secure and Anonymous. online buy pharmacy clomid to best Effective treatment for erectile dysfunction regardless of the cause or duration of the problem or the age of the patient, to clomid online best pharmacy buy | Discounts🔥 |. Online Drug Shop follow link ,BestBuyPharmacy. Check More » Zovirax Cream Online Pharmacy TrustedDrugstore. Buy Generic Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and many other generic drugs at CanadianPharmacy. Can You Buy Cialis Over The Counter In The Us Lowest prices for Generic and Brand drugs. http://broadwayinsurancegroup.com/zd/geco.php?hl=عکس?ا?-خ?دارضا??-دخترا?-ا?را??-با-???? nursing-led non-pharmacological interventions seem valuable mylan-metformin 500mg side effects the premise is that we can The Astronaut’s Birthday looks like a comic book come alive as it flashes on the grid of 18 square windows on the Museum of Contemporary Art’s front wall. At the beginning of Thursday’s performance, Redmoon Artistic Director Frank Magueri informed the audience that the show involved nothing digital.

This was not a video or film being projected in front of us. Rather, it was a series of pictures on transparent sheets of plastic, projected onto the windows from inside the museum, using the most rudimentary of devices — overhead projectors. Yes, the sort of machines you might remember your grade-school teacher using. The show also uses shadows. At some points, as we sit on the bleachers outside the museum, we see the silhouettes of the Redmoon performers inside the building projected onto those windows.

A great part of the fun comes from thinking about what the Redmoon folks are doing every minute of this show to get all of those pictures to come together on the wall in front of us. It’s like watching a movie being assembled by hand, projected in real time. And that grid gives it the look of a comic book.

The story of The Astronaut’s Birthday is just the right sort of sci-fi plot to go with these stunning visuals. It’s a thrilling ride, made all the more compelling by Jeff Thomas’ musical score and Tony Fitzpatrick’s narration. The story becomes a little vague and enigmatic as it reaches its climax, striving toward a meaningful sort of resolution without completely getting there. But this is a truly inventive and innovative show. Once again, Redmoon is creating its own sort of art, defying the usual genre definitions.

The Astronaut’s Birthday will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays until Sept. 26. See www.redmoon.org or www.mcachicago.org for details.




Photos by Scott Shigley, courtesy of Redmoon and the MCA.

What is this thing called ‘J.O.E.’?


For better or worse, the information that Redmoon Theatre puts out about its events can be a little vague. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what this thing is that Redmoon’s doing. That can create some cool surprises, but it can also be confusing. So what is this current Redmoon thing called J.O.E., which opened Thursday and runs through Monday at South Belmont Harbor?


J.O.E. stands for “Joyous Outdoor Event,” and it’s essentially a revamped version of the play/concert/acrobatic spectacle that Redmoon performed last summer at the same location. But it’s been expanded into a festival of sorts, with daytime activities for kids (or kids of all ages, as they say), opening bands and then the main event — the play itself — starting at 8:30 p.m.


The play, or what-have-you, is Last of My Species II: The Perilous Songs of Bibi Merhdad. Last year, the show was called Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan, and it purported to be the debt U.S. performance by a Norwegian singer. The gimmick was the same this time, except that the “concert” was by a singer who was — um, Persian, I think. At least, that seemed to be the gist of the humorous narration provided by a character who was supposedly an Austrian musicologist.


The Chicago Reader’s Gossip Wolf column this week revealed the secret identity of Bibi Merhdad. It is actually none other than Chicago singer-songwriter Azita. It’s pretty awesome to see Azita playing a piano as she is carried into the park like an Egyptian pharaoh.


Thursday night’s performance was rather sparsely attended. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Thursday or the fear of rain. Or maybe people were unaware of J.O.E. or confused about what it was. In any case, the crowd was so spread out across the grass and bleachers that it failed to generate the sort of audience excitement that’s really necessary for a Redmoon Spectacle to come alive. I bet it will do well if the weather behaves and bigger crowds show up over the weekend. For someone who went last year, however it was disappointing to see how much of the show was a retread. Just minutes before the show was about to end, the rain came pouring down and the spectacle came to an abrupt end — as Azita, er, Bibi was trying to play a song in the rain on her piano.


The band playing before Thursday’s show was Chicago’s great soul revival act J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound (who also play Sept. 10 at the House of Blues). There weren’t many people near the stage as they played, but several of them got up to dance. Friday’s band was Ezra Furman & the Harpoons. Still coming up: Saturday, 7 p.m.: Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. Sunday, 6 p.m.: My Gold Mask, followed at 7 p.m. by SSION. Monday, 2:30: Purple Apple, followed by a 5:30 performance of the Bibi Merhdad spectacle.



This J.O.E. thing is not the only Redmoon event this month. In fact, it feels like a warmup for the next event, which is The Astronaut’s Birthday, being performed every Thursday, Friday and Sunday from Sept. 9 to Sept. 26 in the plaza of the Museum of Contemporary Art. It sounds like the Redmoon artists will be making cool use of the MCA’s facade during their show.

Redmoon’s ‘Last of My Species’

Chicago’s Redmoon theater certainly knows how to put on a big show. Its annual outdoor “spectacles” feel like theatrical performances that are simply too big to be contained within the walls of a theater, with actors ranging across landscapes in motor vehicles or soaring way above the audience’s head. The latest Redmoon play, Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan, which opened this weekend at South Belmont Harbor, is no exception.

Billed as Redmoon’s first “concert,” Last of My Species, is supposedly the U.S. debut of Norwegian singer Laarna Cortaan. It doesn’t take much deduction or detective work to figure out that Cortaan is a fictional character, and the Redmoon folks throw the audience a few knowing winks about this joke. But the show does indeed start out like a concert, with the songs introduced by an emcee speaking in a humorously fake Scandinavian accent. As Laarna sings, an armada of musician/singer/dancer types assembles around her, sometimes pretending to play fake instruments, sometimes holding surreal masks of enlarged faces in front of their heads.

The “concert” comes apart after some technical difficulties (which are part of the show). Cortaan storms off. An ingenue charms the crowd with her simple music. Cortaan storms back. A musical duel ensues. The ingenue engages in a sensual series of acrobatic moves with a man at the top of a ladder.

No, there really isn’t much plot to this show, which is typical of Redmoon spectacles, but it all moves with the logic of a dream. It may not be profound, but Last of My Species does offer a sort of running commentary on the whole experience of going to a concert without resorting to a lot of obvious jokes. And most importantly, it’s consistently entertaining. The music is quite good, including songs in a variety of styles, ranging from properly bombastic prerecorded music to intimate live performances. The sets, costumes and, um, vehicles present a delightfully surreal panorama. The few pieces of dialogue and narration sparkle with humor. And wow, that sequence of acrobatic moves were thrilling to watch.

Once again, Redmoon has inspired me by imagining an improbable theatrical performance and bringing it to life on a huge scale.

Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan continues with performances at 7 p.m. Sept. 10, 11, 12 and 13. For details, see www.redmoon.org

See my photos of Redmoon’s Last of My Species.