Taking the leap into outdoor performances: Chloe Jensen of Aerial Dance Chicago at the May 29 launch of Chicago Dance Month at Navy Pier
Taking the leap into outdoor performances: Chloe Jensen of Aerial Dance Chicago at the May 29 launch of Chicago Dance Month at Navy Pier Credit: Michelle Reid

In just the past couple of weeks, theaters have started sending out announcements that they’re getting ready to reopen. Second City is already welcoming audiences back with Happy to Be Here on the mainstage and Out of the House Party at Second City e.t.c.  Goodman plans to open its doors with Jocelyn Bioh‘s School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play, directed by Lili-Anne Brown, on July 30. (The show was in previews in March 2020 when the COVID shutdown hit, and a recorded performance from that truncated run was available as a streaming show for a time last year.) Teatro Zinzanni opens a new circus-dinner theater extravaganza July 8, for those ready for both indoor dining and entertainment under the Big Top. (The company performs in a spiegeltent, adorned with mirrors and chandeliers, set up inside downtown’s Cambria Hotel.)

But if you’re still a little hesitant to sit in close-ish proximity to strangers inside—or you’d just prefer to take your entertainment with a dose of Vitamin D (or starlight) and fresh air, there are several good outdoor options for theater and dance performances in the next several weeks. Some of these do require advance reservations, even if the events are free, as social distancing will be in effect. (Bring your masks, even if you’re fully vaxxed.) We recommend checking with the companies in advance for information about seating arrangements, policies about bringing in outside food and drinks, and accessibility for people with disabilities. With a little planning, there’s no reason you can’t break away from the screens and enjoy live performances with your fellow theater and dance fans. (Oh hey—speaking of, it’s not a bad idea to bring your own little handheld fan to keep cool.)

Night Out in the Parks and SummerDance

The Chicago Park District program offers free citywide performances featuring a wide array of artists that will get you on your feet (or at least dancing in your seat). The lineup includes “Stepping at Seward,” a community dance event with a DJ every Friday, 6-10 PM, at Seward Park and “Dance in the Parks” programs created by local professionals and youth artists. SummerDance, which brings live music and dance (including instruction) to parks throughout the city, also returns this year. Night Out in the Parks, through 10/11, chicagoparkdistrict.com; SummerDance, 8/18-9/15, ChicagoSummerDance.org.

Walkie Talkies

Chicago Children’s Theatre continues to offer podcast walking tours that take families through various neighborhoods, with stories created by teams of artists that illustrate the history, culture, and natural surroundings in places like Horner Park, South Shore, and Little Village. Each episode is just under an hour and comes with an interactive map and other enrichment activities. Through 12/31, chicagochildrenstheatre.org.

Wave Wall Moves

June is Chicago Dance Month, but this pop-up series of free performances and classes at Navy Pier, produced with See Chicago Dance, runs all summer long, every Saturday at 3 PM. Some of the participating companies include Afro Latin jazz troupe Desueño Dance (7/24) and hip-hop troupe Culture Shock Chicago (8/14). Through 9/4, Navy Pier, seechicagodance.com.

Talley’s Folly

This 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning piece by Lanford Wilson, the first in his celebrated “Talley Trilogy,” is in fact set outdoors. A boathouse in Lebanon, Missouri in the 1940s is the backdrop for this unlikely romance between Sally Talley, the “spinster” daughter of a conservative Protestant family, and Matt Friedman, an offbeat Jewish accountant and immigrant who woos Sally. Glenview’s Oil Lamp Theater offers an appropriately al fresco production, directed by Tad Ingram. St. David’s Episcopal Church, Glenview, 6/17-7/18, oillamptheater.org.

Legends of the 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits

Music Theater Works (known for many years as Light Opera Works) announced last summer that they were moving on from their longtime home at Northwestern’s Cahn Auditorium to Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. That move kicks off with this revue (itself a rarity for a company that usually produces classic musicals accompanied by a full orchestra), staged in the Center’s “out back” parking lot and featuring crowd-pleasing hits from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Buddy Holly, Doris Day, The Supremes, and more. Kyle Dougan and Martin L. Woods codirect. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, 6/18-6/27, musictheaterworks.com.

The Tempest

Oak Park Festival Theatre has been performing Shakespeare and assorted other classics outdoors since 1975, with the obvious exception of last summer. It somehow seems fitting that they’re coming back with the Bard’s late romance about magic, redemption, and love. The story also touches on colonialism and prejudice—aspects that director Barbara Zahora suggests will come into focus in her staging. Austin Gardens, Oak Park, 7/15-8/21, oakparkfestival.com.

Sea Change

Cabinet of Curiosity taps the talents of playwrights, composers, lyricists, puppeteers, and more for this anthology of short pieces celebrating “the power of the sea and the feminine divine.” The offerings include Lindsey Noel Whiting‘s Whale Song (“a brief musical about not killing a whale”); A Mermaid’s Tail (If There’s a God), by Bethany Thomas (music and lyrics by Liz Chidester), about a mermaid “grappling with existence in a world imagined by men”; More by Kasey Foster, in which a shark on a feeding frenzy gets some advice from the moon; and Seth Bockley‘s The Lookout, set in a crow’s nest on a ship. BRNDHAUS PL-ZEN, 7/15-7/25, cocechicago.com.

Broadway in Your Backyard 

Porchlight Music Theatre presents a touring show featuring favorites from the Great White Way, performed by longtime Porchlight vets Nik Kmiecik, Michelle Lauto, Lorenzo Rush Jr., and Bethany Thomas. All the performances except at the North Shore Center are free. Washington Square Park, 7/18; Welles Park, 8/3; North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (parking lot), 8/7; Sidney Epstein Youth Center, 8/28, porchlightmusictheatre.org.

The Rite of Spring

Chicago Repertory Ballet performs a revival of artistic director Wade Schaaf’s interpretation of the classic Ballets Russes piece, composed by Igor Stravinsky, along with other works in a ticketed outdoor performance at Montrose Harbor’s Cricket Hill. The company cautions that some material may not be suitable for younger audiences. Montrose Harbor, 7/23-7/25, chicagorepertoryballet.com.


Possibilities Theatre Company formed last year after the shutdown and made their debut with an outdoor production of Noah Haidle‘s Smokefall at Northcenter Town Square. They’re back there this summer with a revival of the late Jonathan Larson‘s rock-musical update of Puccini’s La Boheme, set during another time of pandemic, when AIDS (and general penury) threatens the stability of a group of artist friends on the Lower East Side. Northcenter Town Square, 8/5-8/21, possibilitiestheatre@gmail.com.  v