Shining City

Theater Add comments

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.

The trademark of the en route theatrical experience is the brilliant calibration of discovery, surprise, and truly individual-based responses, so I really won’t say much about it except for the basics.  It is theater, but also upends all expectations about what theater should be.  It’s a solo experience. You walk (and at one point, jog) through Chicago streets, alleys, buildings, and the singular Lower Wacker Drive that has captivated Christopher Nolan. You have an mp3 player strapped to your arm and headphones on your head so you can listen to music (from terrific Chicago musicians) and excerpted readings while you walk.  You need to have your cell phone with you since most of the directions and instructions for the 100 minute experience are either texted or called in.  Other instructions are delivered in surprising ways, including street markings.  There is brilliant use of highly theatrical devices and multi-media.  And yes it is exhilarating and unique.  But also moving, transcendent, eye-opening, perception-revising, life-enriching, like all great art should be. 

During my en route experience, I saw the new (the dates from the 1800s etched on fire escape ladders along some of the older buildings in the Loop), the heightened (the diversity, both racially and professionally, of the city, something you forget if you spend most of your time in the Northside where everyone seems to be Caucasian, an IT person, and a Notre Dame graduate), the perplexingly memorable (a shoeshine guy plying his trade in an alley along a row of dumpsters).  I became more aware of the narratives of this city:  the impressive yet ambivalent co-existence of the historical Chicago and the shining, 21st century Chicago; the working class ethos of the city despite the large presence of bankers and white-collar professionals in the Loop, so unlike that of New York City’s or San Francisco’s; the creativity of its residents, which is both legacy and day-to-day reality.  But the beauty of en route, in my mind, is that it is ultimately about the narrative between you, audience member and Chicago resident, and the city (and the word “narrative” is featured in one of the most memorable sections of the route).  My own personal narrative with Chicago is that of an immigrant putting down roots, discovering himself, establishing a life, realizing aspirations, overcoming disappointments, finding solace.  At a point in en route, I found myself surrounded in an open-air spot on top of a building by the great architecture of a great city.  The instructions told me to say out loud a word I would like to say to Chicago; I found myself saying without hesitation and with emotional heft a word this Manila-born-and-bred guy has never really said about it until then – “home”.  And it felt complete.  And moving.  And truthful, as great art can give you an opportunity to be.

Photo:  Taken during the en route experience, per instructions.

en route is unfortunately sold out.  Call the Chicago Shakespeare Theater if there is a waitlist.  For those who already have tickets, the experience is ongoing from Tuesday to Saturday, in staggered departures between 11 am and 2 pm, until August 13.  This experience is so brilliant and so singular, a London-specific en route will be part of the Cultural Olympiad running in conjunction with the 2012 London Olympics.  This Chicago-specific en route is its North American premiere after “performances” in Melbourne, Darwin, Brisbane, and the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

WP Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
Entries RSS Comments RSS Log in