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Monday, July 16, 2018

Pirates of Penzance and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 07.16.18 at 06:00 AM

Saltbox Theatre Collective's Pirates of Penzance, at Stage 773 - RACHAEL NUCKLES
  • Saltbox Theatre Collective's Pirates of Penzance, at Stage 773

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Friday, July 13, 2018

George Clinton and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 07.13.18 at 06:00 AM

George Clinton - ETHAN MILLER
  • George Clinton

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Profiles abuse scandal inspires new magazine examining Chicago theater

Posted By on 07.12.18 at 01:00 PM

  • courtesy Almanya Narula
  • Almanya Narula

When Almanya Narula enrolled in graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she wanted to find a way to bring her passions for journalism and theater together to tell stories of the theater community. The fusion of her interests led her to create Chicago Theatre Now, a new biannual magazine that will discuss and explore issues of accountability, inclusion, diversity, and equity within the Chicago theater scene.

Narula traces the creation of Chicago Theatre Now back to the summer of 2016 when the Reader published an article about abuses occurring at the now-defunct Profiles Theatre. The story hit home for Narula who was then a theater student at Columbia College Chicago studying fight choreography. "Being a fight choreographer, being a person in the industry, that was very triggering for me," she says. "It was also triggering because some of the people who were a part of Profiles were faculty members at Columbia College Chicago. What was going on within Profiles was an open secret for years, yet they were allowed to come to my institution and recruit people who might be under the age of 18 to intern for them."

Shortly afterward, Narula applied to arts journalism graduate program at SAIC. "Within my theater art, my main goal was to make a difference," she says. "At that point, I didn't think my art was conveying that, but I wanted to highlight the good things that were going on in Chicago, and I wanted to document that within journalism."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

100,000 'From Immigrants' love letters to the U.S. are being left around Chicago and other cities

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 06:00 AM

One of the "From Immigrants" love letters - PILAR TORCAL
  • Pilar Torcal
  • One of the "From Immigrants" love letters

Melis Sönmez is the founder and director of Bright Side, an online magazine dedicated to telling the stories of creative immigrants living in the United States. With her small team, composed of herself, a writing volunteer, a social media volunteer, and a design partner, she hopes to empower immigrants and educate American citizens about the obstacles that they must overcome to live in this country. She's starting at the grassroots level with her newest project, titled "From Immigrants," a series of cards featuring vibrant artwork and brief anecdotes from immigrants that Sönmez will leave in various public spaces across Chicago. She wants the people who pick up the cards to think of them as love letters from immigrants to the United States. Last month, Sönmez launched the "From Immigrants" project on Kickstarter to help spread the love letters beyond Chicago.

The stories that Sönmez, 28, shares on Bright Side are those of immigrants who do some type of creative work and are having a positive impact on society. About a year after the magazine's inception, she says that she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but she wants to be careful that she is not preaching to the choir. She hopes to reach those who may not have a true understanding of immigrants' plight in this country.

"These people are not here to steal jobs," Sönmez says. "Almost every person that I've interviewed so far, they're here because they want to get some sort of different experience. Not everyone is here because they hate their [home] countries."

Sönmez, a Turkish immigrant, came up with the idea to create Bright Side after her own struggles with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. She moved to the United States in 2014 on an internship visa, which expires after a year. The company that she was interning for offered her full-time employment, prompting her to apply for an H-1B visa, which allows for foreign workers in specialty occupations to work for U.S. companies. The H-1B visa is given out by way of a lottery and, unfortunately, Sönmez was not chosen in the lottery that year.

While the United States was the sixth country she's lived in, she was ready to settle down in Chicago and build a life here. The company she worked for encouraged her to speak to an attorney, who suggested that she apply for a different visa, the extraordinary ability visa or EB-1A visa. Sönmez, a design reseacher by trade, applied and waited.

"I thought that I didn't have a chance, and I was eventually getting ready to leave the country, but for some reason they gave me that visa," she says.

However, she lived in limbo for nine months, unsure of her status and whether she would have to pack up and move back to Turkey. Since she couldn't work legally and didn't have much money, she spent most of her time at home and felt useless.

"I thought that I was the only person to go through those difficulties," Sönmez says. "But then I realized that a lot of people overcome the same problems. So I was like, OK, this is interesting, I think [immigrants] need a platform where we can share these struggles but in a positive way."

Being positive is important to Sönmez, and she wanted this to be reflected in Bright Side. It is a large part of the reason she chose Pilar Torcal, an artist from Spain who now lives in New York City, to be her design partner.

Torcal created the images for both the website and the "From Immigrants" project. Torcal's style is very colorful and striking, which Sönmez loved and felt would fit well with her mission. Torcal also being an immigrant made her a perfect fit for Bright Side.

  • Pilar Torcal

Sönmez is leaving the love letters in places like coffee shops, grocery stores, and mailboxes across the city so that everyday people have access to them. She hopes that the Kickstarter will help her afford to print 100,000 of the "From Immigrants" love letters to distribute in not only Chicago, but also New York and Miami. (She's starting in those cities because she already has volunteers there.) Eventually she wants to translate the cards into various languages, and she hopes to see the project implemented in elementary schools, grow nationwide, and ultimately go global.

As the debates about immigration reform grow more heated—especially since the Trump administration issued its zero tolerance policy—this labor can be difficult at times, but Sönmez says, "The only thing that gives me peace of mind is that I'm not doing anything wrong here. It's all positivity, and it's not a lie. These are the things that people are going through, these are facts. I cannot live in fear."

She is cautious about jeopardizing her visa, though. So while she recognizes that the plight of illegal immigrants is equally important, she only publishes stories of legal immigrants.

Her ultimate dream, she says, laughing, is "as Trump says, a big, fat, beautiful wall. [But] for immigrants." The wall will feature a compilation of the images that Torcal has created for the "From Immigrants" love letters.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Y No Había Luz brings the voices of post-Maria Puerto Rico to Chicago

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 01:00 PM

  • Gabriel Vargas
  • Y No Había Luz

Ten days or so after Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico last September, Casa Pueblo—a solar-powered, self-sufficient environmental center in the mountainous municipality of Ajuntas—got in touch with the San Juan theater company Y No Había Luz. With the electrical grid destroyed, the entire island was in survival mode, focused on clearing debris and securing food and clean water. Casa Pueblo, one of the few sites anywhere with electricity, had become a hub of activity. Everything is crazy here, they told the group. We need cultural activities for the kids, for everyone. Can you come?

"We said YES," remembers company cofounder Yari Helfeld. "Finally, we thought, we can help." For the next three or more months, the company crisscrossed the island, teaming up with community kitchens and other ad hoc groups to stage street theater, lead workshops, and develop new work. Sing-along plena workshops guided people struggling to process and express what they'd lost in the storm. In Orocovis, Helfeld's hometown, a huge mango tree that had been felled by the hurricane became the inspiration for a new cantastoria show, El Centinela de Mangó (The Mango Sentinel), that they took on tour to shelters, schools, and hospitals. Another piece, Diego el Ciego (Diego the Blind) urged the audience to grapple honestly with the challenges of Puerto Rican life. "People keep sewing their eyes together to stop seeing things like the Jones Act and overconsumption," says ensemble member Carlos Torres Lopez. "If we don't open our eyes we are blind, and we can't do anything to help Puerto Rico."

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Brigid Mae Power at the Empty Bottle, and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

Brigid Mae Power - DECLAN KELLY
  • Brigid Mae Power

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Nerds unite at Challengers for Women’s Comics Night

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

The June edition of Women's Comics Night - ANDREA THOMPSON
  • Andrea Thompson
  • The June edition of Women's Comics Night

When the owners of Challengers Comics decided they wanted to put on more events, they knew they wanted some of them to focus on women, but they had no idea what that would look like. But when they asked for organizers, Samantha LaFountain volunteered. She knew what she wanted to see.

"I wanted it to be like a party, that was the main idea," LaFountain said. "And to build friendships between women, nonbinary individuals, however you identify. Between people who aren't normally seen."

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Avenue Q at Mercury Theater and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 07.06.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Avenue Q

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

The art of the taco

Posted By on 07.02.18 at 09:05 AM

Yolocone's original piece painted on the wall of El Santo Taqueria. - JAMIE RAMSAY
  • Jamie Ramsay
  • Yolocone's original piece painted on the wall of El Santo Taqueria.

We don't know about you, but with last week's taco crawl (the Reader cover story), we've been laser-focused on tacos, not unlike a mural on the wall at one of the featured stop's on the crawl, El Santo Taqueria

Curious about the talent behind the colorful mural?  It was created by Chicago artist Laurynas Yolocone, who goes by the tag Yolocone.  Rumor has it that a second El Santo location is in the works with another unique piece to be done by Yolocone.

Below, find some of his work; for more of his street art and graphic design, visit

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Fireworks, High Fidelity in the park, and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 07.02.18 at 06:00 AM


There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend.

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Guards at the Taj Steppenwolf Theatre
June 13
Performing Arts
June 21

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