Commuters, residents, and visitors carry on in crisis mode

By Daniel Patton

 

Two weeks after President Trump declared a national health emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Chicago appeared rather desolate on a foggy Friday afternoon. But some people were out and about, carrying on almost as if everything were normal. Almost.

New Eastside News hit the pavement to see how commuters, residents, and visitors are getting by during the crisis.

 

Lynn and Elizabeth (Lizzy) Brahin, New Eastside

New Eastside residents Lynn and her daughter Elizabeth (Lizzy) were enjoying an outdoor lunch in Streeterville when they graciously paused to explain how the pandemic has affected their lives.

Lynn, a Corcoran Urban Real Estate broker, is mostly showing houses through virtual tours to accommodate the stay-at-home order, a process that she believes may ultimately prove to be beneficial for the industry. “Buyers will become much more informed,” she explained. “Back in the day, it would take a long time to visit several properties.”

When the order is lifted, she looks forward to enjoying the intimacy of companionship once again. “That in-person, eye-to-eye, human contact is so much different than anything else,” she said. “It’s priceless.”

Lizzy is a junior high school student at Walter Payton College Prep who has been studying at home due to the statewide school closure. But the thing is, she really doesn’t have to study at all. “You can do the assigments to improve your grade,” she explained. “But not doing them will not make your grade worse.”

Walter Payton also cancelled a school trip to San Francisco, where Lizzy was scheduled to participate in the Knowledge at Wharton High School Investment Competition with the economics and investment team. “We submitted a 14-page report tailored to the needs of a particular client,” Lizzy said. “She’s a mother, a businesswoman, and the CEO of a multi-million dollar venture capital company who graduated from Wharton.” After graduation from Walter Payton, Lizzy plans to attend college and study economics, of course.

 

David and Jill Newton, Streeterville

The Newtons wore their optimism well as they prepared to make an unplanned exit from Chicago, where they have spent the past year residing in Streeterville. Since the native Englanders lived as Windy City residents during a previous two-year stint, they have found many things to love about the city.

David, who has been working at home since Kraft Heinz closed its offices in the AON Building three weeks ago, rearranged his retirement so that he and his wife could spend time with their children back near Liverpool. “I had a month of celebrations for me retiring all planned, but none of that’s happening now,” he said. “We want to get back and see our kids and be close to them at this time.” But he will miss “getting on the lakefront” as well as “Kingston Mines and the Green Mill and the jazz clubs and Andy’s and all the different things.”

Jill will miss the theatres, museums, opera, and symphony. “It’s just a great place to live and I hope that things will return to normal before too long and it will be the great city that it is,” she said.

 

Erin Matsumura, East Lakeview

Personal trainer and dog-walker Erin was strolling near the Columbus Avenue Bridge with a six-month old boxer named Mia when she explained how the stay-at-home era has helped her realize that, “simplicity is maybe the way to go.”

“Everything I thought I needed, I don’t,” she said. “I’m actually pretty much a minimalist anyways, but I mean, you know, buying day-to-day things you think you need or things you think you need to do, you really don’t.”

With so many businesses closed for the same reason, some of her clients have reached the same conclusion. “People are home, so a lot of them don’t need their dogs walked,” she continued. “It’s not like it used to be.” Since gyms are also closed, fitness has taken on a do-it-yourself necessity as well. But Erin offered suggestions for exercising at home. “Go easy and get dialed in with the basic movements,” she said. “Just move — walking, stretching, you know, your basics. If you want to dance, dance. Whatever. Anything to move.”

 

Susan (last name withheld), downtown

A retiree who is “very involved with the performing arts,” Susan was accustomed to going out “every night” until the health crisis came along. Now she spends her days with a new friend.

“I have this dog to take care of as long as we’re sheltering in place,” she explained. “His name is Oreo, which makes no sense because he’s not black and white at all.”

Susan decided to foster Oreo after Mayor Lightfoot closed all the bars and restaurants in Chicago. “I realized that if I was going to be home all the time, I could get a dog,” she recalled. When she’s not walking the dog, Susan checks out the free concerts that The Metropolitan Opera streams every day. It’s not the same as the live performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle that she intended to attend before it got cancelled, but she said, “it’s really generous of them.”

Oreo has been adopted by a Missouri family, but that’s on hold “because of what we’re dealing with right now.” Same goes for his favorite places to walk — the Riverwalk and the lakefront — but he and Susan still manage to get out about four times every day.

 

Thoa Le, Viet Nam

Vietnamese medical student Thoa Le came to Chicago for a cardiology conference but ended up sightseeing when it got cancelled. She was disappointed to learn that Millennium Park was closed, but understood the reason. “Every store and market in Viet Nam had to close at least 14 days,” she said. “The pandemic is dangerous and it can cross borders without a visa.”

The Loop “open for business” this St. Paddy’s weekend

By Dan Patton, Staff Writer | March 12, 2020

About Last Knife, the Taureaux Tavern, and ROOF on theWit are among dozens of downtown venues planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this weekend. Offering a variety of food, drink, and activities, the neighborhood tastemakers intend to enliven the city throughout the beloved Irish-American tradition.  

Residents and businesses can choose from a variety of holiday options including live music and customized Guinness pint glass engravings at The Dearborn, corned beef and cabbage at Remington’s, and Beef & Guinness Stew at State and Lake Chicago.

For those who seek a less bar-centric experience, the 360 Chicago Observation Deck, Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours, and the Gene Siskel Film Center are each hosting programs that are a little more temperate but no less fun.

To view an extensive list of menus, drink specials, and things to do downtown on and around St. Patrick’s Day, click here.

To ensure that everyone stays happy and healthy, the Chicago Loop Alliance will track the latest developments about the COVID-19 situation and post necessary updates on social media.

“The Loop is open for business,” says President and CEO Michael Edwards. “We’re monitoring information from the City of Chicago, Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to stay up-to-date on recommendations surrounding COVID-19. At this time, the Loop is still going to be the most vibrant place in the city to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.”  

As always, be sure to confirm the events’ status when making your plans.

One Earth Film Festival connects people to the planet

by Elisa Shoenberger

The One Earth Film Festival hopes to change hearts and minds about the environment, sustainability, and climate change through the power of film. The festival will be presenting 48 films throughout Chicago from March 6-15.

“I think film presents us with stories,” said festival president Ana Garcia Doyle. “These are mostly documentaries. They put people into a place where they can connect with someone’s story or a story of a group of people.” 

But the festival screenings include more than just the movies. Each show has action partners related to the documentary. Action partners include the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defence Council who provide additional information and help people who want to get more involved, said Cassandra West, publicist for the festival. 

“We want them to take something from the film and inspire them to look around their community to see how they can make the environment they live in more sustainable,” West said.

Each year’s festival presents a broad spectrum of films covering areas of conservation, climate change and sustainable agriculture. Several films highlight issues in Chicago and Illinois. “It personalizes the issues in a way that few other things can,” Doyle said.

Director Ines Sommer will be showing her film “Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm” at Patagonia, 48 E. Walton, from 5:30-9 p.m. on March 12. The film is about Illinois organic farmer Henry and Brockman who takes a fallow year. His former apprentices take over the farm but end up facing unexpected consequences—notably flooding.

“I think as the climate is changing, our food production will absolutely be impacted, farmers are already struggling now. Ultimately it will impact what we see on food shelves,” Sommers said.

Many films take the story of climate change and conservation and add the human element to them. “When people find out we are doing environmental work, they think we are talking about lightbulbs, not driving… we are, but it’s so much deeper than that. I do hope people will think it’s a human issue,” Doyle said.

The festival started when a group of people met after an event with community organization Green Community Connections in 2012, West said. Now in its ninth year, the festival has expanded from Oak Park to Chicago and other suburbs. There’s also a youth filmmaking contest with entries from all over the US.

For more information, visit oneearthfilmfest.org

“The Times Are Racing” an innovative art piece

by Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Times Are Racing” is a modern repertory ballet, with five works from contemporary choreographers. The performance, taking place at the Auditorium Theatre from Feb. 12-23, displays innovation, while still maintaining artistry.

The production begins with “Commodia,” which harkens back to classical ballet, as it’s set to the music of Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella.” Although the performance has the commedia dell’arte style, the movements are decidedly modern. New patterns are made, as the shapes on the harlequin costumes fit together in different shapes as the dancers work in pairs or groups.  

“Mono Lisa” features two dancers under an array of light. Set to the sounds of a clicking typewriter, the pas de deux elicits gasps of awe from the crowd, as the couple completes acrobatics in a seemingly casual fashion. With hints of a competitive spirit, the pair provoke each other to new heights. 

“Bliss!” was created by Chicago choreographer Stephanie Martinez for the Joffrey and originally premiered in 2019. The piece flows from quiet to joyfully enigmatic throughout. There are instances of simplicity, as the male dancers’ don neutral-toned sweatpants, juxtaposed with moments of opulence featuring the female dancers’ bejeweled tutus and tiaras. That mode is reflected in the movements, as some are quiet and close, while others are fierce and bold.

“The Sofa,” with music by Tom Waits, presents a love triangle between two men and a woman, with fighting and desire, accompanied by a large yellow sofa as a prop. The lovers fight and come together with a comedic, but truthful, energy. 

The eponymous “The Times Are Racing” is a sneaker ballet, with costumes designed by Opening Ceremony. T-shirts and jackets are adorned with words such as “resist, “shout” and “defy.” The dancing is frenetic and full of vibrancy, featuring moments that resemble breakdancing and tap alongside ballet. 
“The Times Are Racing” is at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., through Feb. 23. Tickets start at $25 and are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office, at (312) 386-8905 or at joffrey.org.

No winter break for the marine unit in Chicago

by Doug Rapp

In the summertime, you see police boats and helicopters cruising the shoreline. But during the winter, although the lakefront is desolate—save for a few hardy joggers—it doesn’t mean the marine unit isn’t working.

“During the winter, we still see a fair amount of activity on the lake as the marine unit is still responsible for various Homeland Security checks, lakefront and river patrols and emergency rescues of individuals that may fall in or be discovered in the lake,” said Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer with the Chicago Police Department.

“It’s also when the officers within the unit complete much of their mandated departmental training,” he said.

Sgt. Eddie Beltran, training and dive coordinator for the marine unit, said winter can be just as busy as summer. 

People end up in the water “all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t change because of the weather.”

Beltran cited a recent incident when a park district salt truck slid into the lake near Oak Street beach. The two employees escaped the truck before it submerged, according to ABC7 Chicago, and the marine unit helped recover the vehicle.

Beltran said the group also does ice training in the winter to simulate rescues when the lake and river are frozen. 

“It’s different with the ice.” he said. “We always tell people there’s no such thing as safe ice. People walk out on the ice and it’s possible they could fall through and get themselves in trouble.”

A 12-year veteran of the marine unit, Beltran said all officers are certified divers and their equipment is able to handle the brutal Chicago winters. They wear “drysuits,” which are completely waterproof, along with full face masks. 

“It protects us from contaminants but also protects us from exposure,” Beltran said. “It’s pretty good in the winter…we’re completely encapsulated.” 

‘Roe’ examines if a law can change people’s hearts

by Stephanie Racine

Roe v. Wade remains one of the nation’s most controversial Supreme Court decisions. “Roe,” a play by Lisa Loomer showing at Goodman Theatre until Feb. 23, looks into the lives of those who were a part of the famous decision. 

Plaintiff Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe), and her legal representative Sarah Weddington, don’t see eye-to-eye in many aspects of the case and the events that follow. They both wrote and proclaimed conflicting information throughout the years. 

The complexity of the story mirrors the issues regarding Roe v. Wade. When McCorvey is approached by Weddington at age 22, she’s on her third child and too poor and troubled to face the responsibility. She’s happy to help in the fight for access to abortion for women.

Later, McCorvey becomes a born-again Christian, and regrets her part in Roe v. Wade. She actively protests against abortion and claims she was coerced into her role in the case. 

Weddington was 26 when she argued before the Supreme Court. She remains stalwart in her support of abortion access throughout her life. 

The show emphasizes the impassioned opinions from both sides, which culminates in one moment of debaters yelling over each other in a cacophony. The moment is brought to silence by a young girl, painfully lamenting at the complex steps a woman has to experience to inquire about abortion in current times.

“Roe” is sharp in its commentary and storytelling. Characters address the audience in sidebars with heartfelt asides and monologues, explaining their motivations, the consequences of actions and their true feelings. 

One moment in “Roe,” asks if a law can change people’s hearts. The response is that it can start to.

“Roe” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., until Feb. 23. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased at GoodmanTheatre.org/Roe, by phone at (312) 443-3800 or at their onsite box office.

Mean Girls musical teaches important life lessons

By Elisa Shoenberger

While many people will be snapping their fingers to the music while leaving Mean Girls, they will also be taking away some life lessons.

“It’s very clear that (though) it is a comedy that there are dire repercussions to being mean—to being a bad person,”  said Danielle Wade, principal actor playing the lead role of Cady Heron. 

Wade appreciates that Cady Heron “starts out one way and goes through all these emotions that we have felt and dealt with in high school or post high school. She faces repercussions for actions too and I think that’s really important.”

The Mean Girls musical is based on the 2004 movie by Tina Fey. It’s the story of  Cady Heron who grew up in Africa and finds herself in the world of high school cliques in the suburbs. She becomes part of the Plastics, a popular trio of girls led by Regina George, and faces some tough challenges arising from her decisions.

The musical has something to offer for everybody.

“There is a character within the show that everyone can relate to—or parts of each character that everyone can relate to,” Wade said. She’s met many people at the stage door that have told her that they saw themselves in various characters.

When Wade was on Broadway, a woman told her she realized that she was Regina in high school and needed to go make an apology phone call to her high school friend.

“On the inside, I was like ‘Regina is very scary, that’s scary to me.’ That was  cool that she recognized that and felt she needed to say something,” Wade said.

 Mean Girls helps people better under- stand issues of cliques and bullying. 

“I think it’s given people language to talk about this problem. When 12 to 13 year old girls refer to ‘Mean Girls,’ we know what they are talking about,” child  therapist and president of Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute Erika Schmidt said. 

Wade hopes that people will take something away from the show.

“The show is goofy and it’s rooted in humor, but it’s really truthful. As much as we joke and are dressed head to toe in pink outfits, it’s an important message for people to hear,” she said.

Mean Girls runs through Jan. 26 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, and will tour across the U.S. throughout 2020.  

‘The Santaland Diaries’ opening at the Goodman Theatre brings festive, but naughty smiles

By Mat Cohen

It’s rare for one of Santa’s little helpers to be a realist who gets satisfaction from asking, “Have you ever imagined Santa as an anagram of Satan?”

But then again, a Christmas grouch doesn’t usually make you smile.

Steven Strafford does while performing The Santaland Diaries in his return to the Goodman Theatre. 

Strafford plays a struggling actor in New York in need of some quick cash. So he becomes an elf at Macy’s Santaland. After a quick job orientation and a costume change, Strafford takes the audience on a comedic sleigh ride exploring the realistic side of a 33-year-old wearing striped tights while dealing with the holiday crowd.

The monologue contains a high level of detail from writer David Sedaris. He depicts specific situations of the holiday rush, from a perspective not familiar to many, observed by an angry elf, helping parents force kids onto Santa’s lap while also trying to make them smile. The specificities benefit the sometimes-crude humor and draw the audience into every word from Strafford.

He walks around the glitter-filled, snow-covered stage, playing different parts, including a crying kid, a flirtatious Santa and an elf singing a Billy Holiday-style Christmas carol. He mans different stations of Macy’s Santaland, bringing out funny observations, such as dealing with a fist fight and ignoring cash bribes in hopes of cutting the line and going straight to Santa’s house.

The 80-minute show displays Strafford’s ability as a storyteller and as a solo entertainer, which made the festive, but naughty, performance feel like half the time had passed.

The Santaland Diaries, written by Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello, is directed by Steve Scott.

For information about the Goodman Theatre and The Santaland Diaries, running through Dec. 29 in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, visit https://www.goodmantheatre.org/santaland

THE JOFFREY BALLET CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS WITH CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON’S CHICAGO-SET THE NUTCRACKER

Photo by Cheryl Mann

By Elaine Hyde

Dec. 1, 2019

This time of year you might have different options when it comes to seeing a Nutcracker performance but you should really go to see the ‘real’ one. In Chicago, you can’t get any better than The Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’. With its dazzling whirlwind of sugar plum fairies, its rendition of the dance is so glorious, you can barely believe your eyes.

There may be nothing more perfect for a family Christmas outing than a visit to Joffrey’s ‘The Nutcracker’, partly owing to the pomp and ceremony that going to the ballet at the Auditorium Theatre affords – it’s the last time the show will take place at the theatre as the Company will move to the Lyric Opera House at the start of the 2020-2021 season – but mostly because sitting in a gilded room with an audience full of bright eyed children, bursting with questions and excitement is electrifying. 

This year, the children’s cast numbers 102 and includes students from Joffrey Academy Adaptive Dance Program for students with disabilities. “We are proud that our Academy, which is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary year, is developing the skills of all its students, no matter their specific needs,” said Ashley Wehater, The Mary B. Galvin Articstic Director.

The Chicago World’s Fair themed Nutcracker performance, first unveiled in 2016, is reshaped with new surprises. Tweaks to the set make the show feel slightly different from previous years. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is spot on, and takes the audience on a turn-of-the-century tale paired with Tchaikovsky’s classic score, performed by The Chicago Philharmonic.


Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a transformative experience, leaving you filled with the joyful energy of the holiday spirt.

Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’, Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Ida B. Wells Drive, in 29 performances only, November 30-December 29, 2019. Single tickets start at $35 and are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium TheatreBox Office, by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at joffrey.org.

Blind musician makes audiences see Jazz in a different way

by Mat Cohen

For Matthew Whitaker, a blind eighteen-year-old jazz musician who will be playing at Harris Theater in Millennium Park on Dec. 9, hearing and touch are his most gifted senses.

“It makes me feel amazing that the audience is supportive of whatever music I’m playing,” he said. “I always try my best to make the audience feel it just like I do when I’m playing.”

Whitaker lost his sight at birth. Born prematurely in Hackensack, N.J., weighing one pound, 11 ounces, he was given less than a 50 percent chance to live. Three years later, his grandfather gave him a keyboard and he fell in love. He taught himself nursery rhymes and filled the air with music.

“I’ve been in love with [playing] ever since,” he said. “When I was five, I started taking classical piano lessons and when I was six, I started playing drums. At seven I got into jazz music and ever since it’s been my favorite genre to play and listen to.”

Although he draws from many inspirations, he doesn’t remember the exact jazz albums or songs that drew him in.

“Whatever it was, it got me really interested in it,” he said.

He’s been named a Yamaha Artist; he’s made appearances on “Ellen” and “The Today Show;” he won Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater when he was 9 years old and opened for Stevie Wonder’s Apollo Theater Hall of Fame induction at age 10. 

The legendary musician has been a great influence for Whitaker.

“It’s an honor to be compared to Stevie Wonder, but there’s really only one Stevie,” he said.

He plays at his church in Hackensack and is majoring in jazz piano in New York. Whitaker spends just about every minute immersing himself in his craft. He has released two albums, “Out of the Box” and “Now Hear This.”

“The first album was called ‘Out of the Box’, which really demonstrates the different styles I can play,” he said. “‘Now Hear This’ shows what else I can do. It features a lot more complex styles and I lot of complex music as well.”

At his performance at the Harris, Mix at Six, the audience will hear a little bit of everything.

“It’s going to be a fun time. Get ready.”

Harris Theater’s President and CEO Patricia Barretto is thrilled to have Whitaker perform.

“It’s great to be able to present a young and astonishing talent,” she said. “It couldn’t be a better fit. I think people are going to be blown away.”

Mix at Six draws younger crowds with its more casual style and feel.

“It’s a place for trying new things and trying exciting things,” she said. “They end up falling in love with what we put on stage. He’s so inspiring, he’s young, he’s a self-starter and it’s going to be inspiring.”

Through the help of sponsors of the Harris Theater, Mix at Six has been showing for about five years with tickets at $15. 
For more information visit https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/tickets/2019-2020-season/mix–matthew-whitake

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