It’s obvious theater is big in Chicago, really big. But few people know Chicago is proving ground for many plays and musicals before they head off to Broadway or on tour. Well hold on to your seats, as Chicago is home to a new venture to bring original musical theater works to life. Eight experienced theater folk have formed FWD Theatre Project (Festival of Works in Development), and this esteemed group is producing a one-time concert at City Winery Chicago (1200 W Randolph Street) on Monday, September 22nd (sorry folks, it’s already sold out, that should speak to the excitement surrounding this project).
This concert, LaunchingFWD!, will be FWD Theatre Project’s inaugural event and will present selections from five new musicals in the works. These musicals were selected from over 220 submissions in response to a nationwide search.
There are several things about FWD Theatre Project that are really exciting. Not only are they seeking to discover and develop brand new musicals but they’ll be produced by some of the already existing, fabulous theaters here in Chicago. More than that, the audience will have a chance to be part of the creative process through discussion, analytical exploration, and education.
I have a confession to make. By the time I’m done writing this I’ll probably have more than that, but I digress. Here goes: I have never seen a puppet theater show. I know, I know, it’s an art that’s alive and well, and … wait, you haven’t either? Well, get ready to be submersed in puppet theater art as Chicago is hosting its first festival in January for ten whole days. Since we’ll be enduring subzero temperatures at that time (hard to imagine right now, I know) what better thing to do than to traverse the city taking in theater like you’ve never before imagined.
This past Tuesday I attended a work-in-progress showing of Mementos Mori by Chicago’s own Manual Cinema at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). (Second and third confessions: I had not previously been to the MCA in the 10+ years I’ve lived in Chicago and I didn’t know they had a theater where they hold all sorts of fabulous performances in theater, dance, film and music. Now we both know.) Manual Cinema was founded about four years ago by five Chicago artists all with backgrounds in theater, music, sound and visual arts. The show they are currently developing in residence at MCA will be presented at that venue during the puppet theater festival.
I had no notion of what I was in for and by the time I left I felt like a child who’d been to the theater for the very first time. My mind was expanded by the visual spectacle that unfolded before me. Imagine, if you will, seven overhead projectors (the kind used for snooze-inducing presentations in middle school), three screens on stage, live musicians, actors, and on-stage editing. The show will encompass three tangential story lines that are presented in analog and digital, 2-d and 3-d, all without a single word of dialog. It employs early cinema techniques juxtaposed with modern technology. Quite a bit went into the writing of the story line itself and how it should be presented, so that the end result is a tug at your heartstrings and identification with the characters, using shadow puppets and live actors.
I know January seems like eons away but mark your calendars for this city wide event. Manual Cinema’s production of Mementos Mori is the first of its kind especially on such a grand scale and you won’t want to miss it.