William Shakespeare comes alive this year in Chicago, as the city celebrates the poet and playwright’s legacy, marking the four centuries since his death in 1616 with a fabulous international arts festival. With more than 850 events in venues across the city, the Shakespeare 400 Chicago Festival offers exciting plays, operas, art exhibitions, dance and even cuisine that will make his works come to life.
You’ll want to brush up on your Shakespeare and plan a Chicago visit this spring or summer, when many events are scheduled. And be sure to check out the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington where you can see Shakespeare performed under the stars.
“In Chicago we hope people take advantage of the festival offerings and go to a museum one day and then hear a concert that night,” said Doreen Sayegh, festival producer who worked with Chicago Shakespeare Theater to organize the festival.
Among the highlights she recommends are the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concerts in April at Orchestra Hall conducted by Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s music director. These include Berlioz’s score from “Romeo and Juliet,” Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Tempest,” as well as a concert version of Verdi’s “Falstaff” that is sure to be memorable because of Muti’s understanding of Verdi’s genius.
You’ll also want to visit the Art Institute of Chicago’s “Supernatural Shakespeare” exhibition, which was scheduled to open April 11. Shakespeare’s witches and fairies are featured in three atmospheric engravings inspired by Gothic artist Henri Fuseli, including “The Witches Appear to Macbeth and Banquo.” In a nearby gallery Fuseli’s theatrical paintings of celebrated writers will be on display.
On May 1 you can combine art and music with an afternoon concert by the CSO Chamber at the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall. Selections from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are on the program, which also includes pieces by Mozart and Brahms. A gallery tour is also included with the concert. Note: order concert tickets through the CSO.
Theater fans won’t want to miss “Tug of War,” a theatrical event at Chicago Shakespeare Theater staged and directed by Barbara Gaines, the theater’s artistic director. The program features six Shakespeare history plays divided into two action-packed dramas. From May to October, you can see one or both parts. The first, Foreign Fire, includes Edward III, Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1, focusing on England’s war with France. The second part, Civil Strife, includes Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3, with Richard III, depicting the country’s war with itself. Each part runs about six hours but offers intermissions and a meal break.
I found the theater’s presentations of Measure for Measure and King Lear earlier this year very striking. In both cases, international companies offered their own takes on Shakespeare’s portrait of government, mercy and justice in one play and Lear as a dictator who deserves no mercy in the second. They both inspired me to see more international offerings later this year.
Shakespeare 400 events will take place at more than 120 locations throughout Chicago. Improvised Shakespeare performs at the iO Theater located near Goose Island. The group presents an improvised Shakespearean play Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights all year long. This summer the Grant Park Chorus will perform free concerts featuring a cappella choral songs and settings of Shakespeare’s verse at the South Shore Cultural Center and the Columbus Park Refectory.
Other musical offerings abound. If you enjoy alternative music, Theater Zuidpool of Belgium will perform an original score based on Macbeth in August at Thalia Hall in Pilsen. In September an adaptation of Hamlet by the Shanghai Peking Opera will be presented at the Harris Theater. Finally the Joffrey Ballet will perform a new rendition of Romeo and Juliet in October at the Auditorium Theatre.
Chicago restaurants are also getting in the act. You can experience the talents of 38 Chicago chefs this year at restaurants that include well-known eateries such as Topolobampo and North Pond, as well as neighborhood gems. At Café Spiaggia, for example, chef Tony Mantuano will offer a culinary interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.
You also can enjoy free Shakespeare this summer. Shakespeare in the Parks offers a free 75-minute production of Twelfth Night at neighborhood parks across Chicago all summer long. This summer you can enjoy this tradition, too. Just pack a blanket or lawn chairs.
Beginning July 5, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington will offer performances of Twelfth Night and Hamlet, with performances for both plays running through August. The festival’s 438-seat Elizabethan-style outdoor theater is located at the Ewing Cultural Center in Bloomington.
The Festival can help you introduce Shakespeare to your children. “Shakespeare Alive” is a free 45-minute family-friendly entertainment. Performances are at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays beginning July 1.
For more information about the Chicago Shakespeare 400 festival, go to: www.shakespeare400chicago.com.
To book tickets for Chicago Shakespeare Theater productions see: www.chicagoshakes.com
For Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts, go to: http://cso.org/
For information about the Art Institute, see http://www.artic.edu/
To learn more about the Culinary Works at Chicago restaurants, go to www.shakespeare400chicago.com/culinary
And for more information about the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, see: http://illinoisshakes.com/
Mary C. Galligan is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago. She alternates writing the monthly IT travel column with Mary Bohlen of Springfield.