A scene from Trial in the Delta. At left, a middle-aged bald Black man in shirtsleeves, suspenders, and tie stands behind a table covered with law books. He is pointing toward a white man seated at a table whose back is to the camera. Several other white men are also seated, facing the Black man who is testifying. On the right is a white attorney in a dark suit and tie, who is holding a portfolio or notebook of some kind.
A scene from Trial in the Delta: The Murder of Emmett Till, presented by Collaboraction at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center through February 19. The production is part of Chicago Theatre Week, running through February 26. Credit: Joel Maisonet

Update February 24: Chicago Theatre Week has been extended through March 5.

“If you see our show, that’s at least two spots on your bingo card!” 

That’s what Jimalita Tillman, global director for the Harold Washington Cultural Center, said at the Chicago Theatre Week kick-off party Monday night at Wicker Park’s Den Theatre.

She wasn’t being metaphorical either. Theater audiences who check out participating shows starting today through February 26 can literally fill out a bingo card, with slots for categories such as “a comedy,” “a show at a theatre you’ve never been to,” and “a show on the south side of the city.” (Turn in your completed card with proof of attendance by March 1, and you can be entered in a drawing for two free theater tickets and a restaurant gift card.) Tillman, whose original musical comedy Queens of the Policy is running through Broadway in Bronzeville at the HWCC (4701 South King Drive), was betting that audiences may not have been to see her company before. And talking about bingo felt like an appropriate intro for the high-spirited musical numbers in Tillman’s show, which features alums of the theater’s Off the Streets, On the Stage training program.

Queens of the Policy, set in Bronzeville in the 1940s, portrays the Black women who entered the previously male-dominated (and sometimes mobster-dominated) world of “policy,” a forerunner of the lottery. Many of the women, in addition to running the games, had deep roots as activists and philanthropists in their communities. 

Now in its 11th year, Chicago Theatre Week is a project of the League of Chicago Theatres, the service organization that represents around 200 producing organizations in the city and suburbs. It’s presented in partnership with Choose Chicago, and the goals are to encourage new audiences to check out Chicago theater and to encourage regular patrons to sample companies whose work they’ve not previously encountered. Discounted tickets ($15-$30 or less) are available as well as special dining offers through participating restaurants. 

Since it coincides with Black History Month, this year’s Chicago Theatre Week also places the spotlight on Black theater artists and productions. In addition to Queens of the Policy, the showcase at the kick-off party included a scene from Micah Ariel Watson’s Alaiyo, produced by Definition Theatre at the Revival; Invictus Theatre‘s production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop (opening in previews tonight); and Columbia College Chicago’s production of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67, running through February 18. (The Invictus and Columbia College productions are both directed by Aaron Reese Boseman.)

Despite concerns overall in the theater industry about the return of audiences since the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, the League notes that advance ticket sales for Chicago Theatre Week have been robust and could end up besting the previous record from 2020 (pre-shutdown) of 13,400 tickets.

Lots of other shows participating in Chicago Theatre Week also offer stories tied to Black History Month, and several of them are recommended by Reader critics. They include Trial in the Delta: The Murder of Emmett Till with Collaboraction at the DuSable; Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at Mercury Theater Chicago’s Venus Cabaret; Boulevard of Bold Dreams at TimeLine; and Toni Stone at the Goodman. 

You can check out all the participating companies and start filling out your own bingo card at chicagotheatreweek.com.

Amanda Okolo performs as part of the Black History Month Cabaret with BIPOC Circus Alliance Midwest at Aloft. Courtesy the artist.

Black circus arts in the spotlight

This Saturday at 8 PM, BIPOC Circus Alliance Midwest (BCAM) presents a Black History Month Cabaret at Aloft Circus Arts (3324 West Wrightwood). A dozen Black movement artists will demonstrate their skills in hammock, silks, straps, flying pole, and more. Tickets are currently sold out, but you can contact bipoccircusalliance@gmail.com for information about the organization. They have a three-part mission: “Advocating for equity and inclusion in training, teaching, and performance space; Partnering with circus organizations to implement policy changes designed to increase BIPOC representation and inclusion within students and staff; Celebrating and amplifying BIPOC stories in circus.”