Monthly Archives: October 2013

New Media exhibit “Shift” delights the senses

“Shift”, a new media exhibit delights the senses through the right combination of sound and vision.

The exhibit created by Chicago-based collaborative Luftwerk, whose previous projects include the colorful Luminous Field at Chicago’s Cloud City in 2012, aims to explore the basic relationship between color and light through a splendid display of sights and sounds. “Shift,” which is being exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center until January 5, 2014, and is free of charge, is able to amplify a heightened experience of sight, color, and sound through the medium of projected light.

The exhibit is split into three very different stages set in different rooms; Spectrum, Synthesis, and Threshold. Each of these rooms aims to give the audience a very different experience from the one before.

Going from room to room, one can’t help to become part of the exhibit itself by colorfully blending into the sensory overloading panorama formed by an extreme spectrum of light and colors.

“Shift” is driven by Luftwerk’s interest in determining how the human eye perceives color through the shift between light and dark.  This exhibit manages to do that by pulling the viewer into a surreal experience, which often invocates different feelings and emotions ranging from awe to gloom as one transitions through narrow white hallways between rooms.

From the gleeful saturation of color and the peaceful serenity of light and shadow from the first two rooms, to the darkness created by the absence of such elements in the last one, “Shift” can give each viewer a different experience every time.

The new media exhibit is based on some very basic principles but the delivery method is far from it.

Carefully researched and crafted by the artist collaborative, the exhibit borrows inspiration from previous works created by renowned artists such as Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, and Wolfgang Von Goethe.

The simplicity of the exhibit successfully delivers a complex experience to the viewers by making them emerge into the abstract concept of sound and vision through the perfect combination of light and sound.

“Shift” delivers a delightful experience without all the bells and whistles, and that is ultimately what art is all about.

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Owners of newly restored Thalia Hall in Pilsen hope it will become one of Chicago’s hottest live venues

CHICAGO–The owners of the newly restored historic Thalia Hall in Pilsen hope that it will become one of Chicago’s hottest performance venues while putting the neighborhood on the live scene map.

Located on the intersection of 18th Street and Allport, the long abandoned performance space built in 1892 by Czech architect John Dusek is quickly being restored by the new owners (Craig Golden and Bruce Finkelman from The Empty Bottle) and it will “reopen in 2014 and again serve its community, hosting music, festivals, films and performance.”

Speaking to a small crowd inside the theatre during the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s Open House event, Will Duncan, one of the project organizers/ manager of the John Dusek tavern located right below the hall,and former Longman and Eagle commander said, “everyone is behind the project and we’re moving quickly to restore the venue to its original working state.”

The venue is part of the Thalia Hall complex, named for the Greek Muse of comedy, is part of a work/performing living space designed by John Dusek in 1892. The architecture of the building mimics some of the most famous buildings in the Czech Republic and the theatre itself is a smaller replica of the Plzen Theatre, from the city which the neighborhood was named after by Czech immigrants in the 19th century.

After several changes in ownership, the building fell into a state of disrepair in the 1960s, and was turned into residential units, leaving the theatre largely abandoned until 2013 when it was bought out by Golden and Finkelman.

The venue will provide a much-needed film and musical performance space in a community that until now has mostly consisted of Mexican bars and nightclubs.

Ramon Gutierrez, 34, a long time Pilsen resident and artist said that “(he’s) glad to see that the neighborhood is becoming more diverse,” Gutierrez said. “We have plenty of art galleries but a big performance space like this could be a game changer.”

One of the most recent events that was held at Talia Hall was the alternative film festival “Dinca Vision Quest” in August 2012.  Although  the event will take place in some another venue this year due to construction, the newly restored Thalia Hall should provide a new home for such events starting in 2014.

Back when the festival was presented last year, Andrew Rosinski the organizer of the event expressed “the excitement that a venue would give the opportunity to such an alternative art, something that most of Chicago is lacking.”

It is amazing what a new attitude and management can do. Back when Dinca Vision Quest was presented, the performance space was still in a great state of disrepair, with the paint from the walls rotting away and the neo-classic gold fixtures of the wall hanging by a thread.

Now, as Duncan speaks to the crowd, one can see a noticeable difference, especially with the new hardwood floors, the restored fixtures, and the cleaned up balcony section which almost brings the venue back to life.

The restored venue will be able to hold up to 4,000 people and is expected to start holding events in the summer of 2014 in hopes that the venue will revive the live performance scene in Pilsen.

“There is still a lot to do,” Duncan pointed out while speaking in front of a video being projected onto the wall that showed some of the progress made so far, “but we are well on our way.”

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Captain Phillips

Rating: Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 12.17.19 PM out of 4

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be captured and terrorized by dangerous pirates, “Captain Phillips” can give you a pretty good idea without the danger of actually being there in person.

Through excellent filmmaking that includes shaky camera work and immaculate acting not only by Tom Hanks, but a very convincing supporting cast, Captain Phillips manages to capture the essence of what it’s like to be captured by modern day pirates.

Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) employs some of his same docudrama techniques ( nerve-wracking shaky camera work, grainy film, tense storyline) to tell the true story about a 2009 American cargo ship hijack by Somali pirates.

Within the first 20 minutes, “Captain Phillips” jumps into the action, and without looking back grabs the audience and holds on to them until the very emotionally draining climax.

The first half of the movie focuses on the actual highjacking, where the Somali pirates attempt to board the ship twice, finally succeeding despite Phillips’ attempts to repel them by using emergency maneuvers such as doubling the speed of the ship and using flares as projectiles.

After succeeding in hiding the crew from the pirates, the focus shifts on Captain Phillips himself, as he is put in a claustrophic covered lifeboat, with the pirates demanding a multi-million dollar ransom in exchange for his return and the U.S. navy employing different tactics to secure his rescue.

Although Hanks provides a steady anchor for audiences, the best work comes from the supporting cast, especially the pirates lead by the skinny, bug-eyed Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who seem to emulate a more realistic and literally barebones version of characters from an American gangster movie such as “Goodfellas” or “Casino.”

“Captain Phillips,” out now in theatres around the United states, entrances audiences by taking them on a psychologically charged whirlwind that often employs tight camera shots, in tight quarters, and in tight situations.

It was not uncommon to hear different out loud reactions from the audience as the movie moved from suspenseful frame to frame.

The Left Behind: Chicago’s local musicians’ struggle

We’ve all heard the rise-to-fame stories about the bands and artists that got lucky and were able to become superstars.  What we don’t hear are the stories of the unlucky ones.

Chicago has always set a great stage for the music scene. After all, this is the city that artists such as Muddy Watters, Louis Armstrong, Wilco, and Smashing Pumpkins once called home. However, being such an artistically active place, there are thousands of band competing with each other and in the end many are left behind.

Andrew McCall, 28, and James Fronza, 27, sit on their living room in Pilsen rehearsing some of their old songs and writing new ones as well. There are wires and recording equipment scattered throughout the apartment as the music and the creativity resonate in sync through the 19th century walls as they strum their instruments and sing out loud.

However, the duo, simply known as McCall and Fronza, know that the game isn’t about fame anymore.

“We try to write music about what’s going on in our community,” McCall said. “That’s where we draw the inspiration, and that we know is our biggest audience.”

McCall and Fronza have been playing together for four years. Originally an experimental rock trio, they now mostly write and play country and folk songs.

“We’re trying to get back to the basics by using kind of interesting instruments and sounds,” Fronza said. “We’re aiming for simpler songs from simpler times, some are folky and some are country or bluegrass.”

Andrew McCall from McCall and Fronza sets up some of their recording equipment in their Pilsen apartment. (Photo by Juan Latapi,2013.)
Andrew McCall from McCall and Fronza sets up some of their recording equipment in their Pilsen apartment. (Photo by Juan Latapi,2013.)

McCall, a Michigan native, and Fronza from Chicago met while working at Whole Foods, where McCall is still employed to this day. Fronza is a meat sales representative by day and musician/music teacher at night.

Like other musicians, McCall and Fronza are forced to face the harsh reality where sometimes their dreams and aspirations are not enough to pay the rent.

Although Chicago has a good music scene with famous venues such as The Double Door and the Metro, most musicians will never get to experience what it’s like to play in such renowned places.

“We have played shows here and there,” McCall said. “At this point we do it for fun, we don’t expect any money or fame to come from this.”

DePaul’s Theatre School to premiere new building with an Americana classic

As their 2013-2014 season approaches, DePaul University’s Theatre School is ready to show off their brand new shiny facilities with a classic old story that integrates current students and famous alumni as well, trying to give a sense of community and their proud past, while moving forward into the future.

“Our Town” will be the first production to be performed in the new theatre school, which is located in the heart of the Lincoln Park neighborhood at 2350 N. Racine, just a few short blocks from DePaul’s main Lincoln Park school campus. The new building contains  a 250-seat theatre and a 100-seat flexible theatre. The building also includes costume, makeup, prop and scene shops, rehearsal studios, lighting laboratories, movement studios, as well as classrooms and a conference center on the top floor that offers a breath-taking view of the Chicago skyline.

The season starts on October 5th and kicks off with Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” a 1938 three-act play set at the turn of the 20th century. The show, directed by Damon Kiely, is going to be different from other DePaul productions because is set to feature famous alumni each week in guest roles, including famed Hollywood actors John C. Reilly and Gillian Anderson.

Sitting down in one of the new avant-garde space age-looking spaces that’s designed for public performances, Catherine Miller, the play’s dramaturg said that  “A lot of alumni are excited to come back and perform here, they feel like they’re still part of it because it represents their legacy.”

Some of the famed alumni that will guest in "Our Town." In alphabetical order: Tom Amandes, Gillian Anderson, W. Earl Brown, Ann Dowd, Mary Grill, John Hoogenakker, Lisa Joyce, Adam Poss, PJ Powers, John C. Reilly, and Lucy Sandy. (Photo courtesy of DePaul's School of Theatre)
Some of the famed alumni that will guest in “Our Town.” In alphabetical order: Tom Amandes, Gillian Anderson, W. Earl Brown, Ann Dowd, Mary Grill, John Hoogenakker, Lisa Joyce, Adam Poss, PJ Powers, John C. Reilly, and Lucy Sandy. (Photo courtesy of DePaul’s School of Theatre)

As the school moves into a new era and a brand new building, it is no coincidence that the opening play is historically themed and has themes such as loss, despair, hope, and unity through adversity.

“This is a classic Americana play with a story that deals with the themes of community and our relationships with our fellow human beings,” Miller said. “We want to send the message that this new building is about feeling safe in a community environment, where you can deal with different issues, that might be hard to talk about.”

According to Miller the actors were trained to reflect this by detaching themselves from technology and media for at least three hours a day and were forced to interact with one another and others in close environments.

Besides “Our Town”, the season schedule will include hits such as, “Arabian Nights,” “A Free Man of Color,” and “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”

Students such as Jill Ibach, 30, a senior DePaul student, have been surprised by the aesthetics and functionality of the new building.

“The new space finally seem to fit the school’s persona,“ Ibach said, “I’m glad to see that the theatre school is finally living up to their reputation with this modern building.”

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Past vs. Future.
The historic Merle Reskin Theatre (left) in the loop will be repurposed as a youth and children oriented theatre, while the new building (right), located in Lincoln Park, will serve as the school’s main performance from now on. (Photos courtesy of DePaul University.)

According to the school’s website, their former theatre school building, the historical Merle Reskin Theatre, will still be open and serve as a space for “Chicago play works for families and young audiences.”

“Our Town” will run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until October 13 at the Fullerton Stage.