2011′s Theatrical Dazzlers

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As I said in my previous blog post, I flew lots and lots of miles over three continents in the course of 2011. But when I was in Chicago, I made sure I slid my butt into a theater seat (over the objections and recriminations of friends and (ex) lovers who I ended up not seeing during those so few weekends). So I still managed to go to a significant number of shows this year despite feeling as if I lived at O’Hare instead of my Ravenswood loft.  No regrets on this end, since Chicago continued to be a dazzling North American capital for live performance, with a bounty of world premieres, Chicago stops of great touring productions, and storefront theatrical treasures.  Here, then, is my annual top ten list of Chicago theater:

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Shining City

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When I moved to the US from the Philippines for graduate school in the mid-1990s, I never thought I would end up living in Chicago.  I’ve visited it before then since I had cousins who lived in the city, and although I liked it, I always thought that if I stayed in the US, I would find myself ultimately settling down in New York City or San Francisco, the two American cities that personified first-world sophistication and hipness to those of us who grew up in the developing world.  But a great job opportunity presented itself, and I moved to Chicago in 1998 and have not left since.  Over the years, I have come to deeply love Chicago’s cosmopolitan buzz and sprawl, its diversity and rich history, its Midwestern plainspokenness, its thriving, confident arts and culture scene- this blog was initially conceived as, and continues to be, my love letter to the city.  But I’ve also been pragmatic enough to embrace its infuriating inefficiencies, its constant politicking, its defiance at not covering up its warts and scars.  In my mind, 13 years living in Chicago have made me an expert of its urban psyche and landscape, so I initially didn’t pay attention to the mailings from Chicago Shakespeare Theater about en route, described as “an extraordinary journey through downtown streetscapes, building lobbies, and cafés—guided by audio tracks and mobile phone communication—as (the audience’s) shifting perceptions make and remake the city they inhabit.”  I’ve walked and driven all over this city, and have gone on so many Chicago Architecture Foundation tours that I could probably ace the docent exam, so my initial reaction was “no thanks” to what, on paper, seemed to be another city tour, but with a theatrical bent, devised by the Melbourne-based theater company one step at a time like this.  But after raves from the Tribune’s Chris Jones and Timeout Chicago’s  Kris Vire which unequivocally stated en route’s exhilarating uniqueness but intriguingly did not give anything away, I was, well, intrigued.  So I scooped up one of the last tickets for en route, and boy, do I feel fortunate that I did.  As a passionate lover of theater, of culture, of urban space, and of Chicago, en route has been one of my most indelible cultural experiences ever.  It is truly, uniquely unmissable.

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