For the last two years Mayor Emanuel’s been waging war on the students in Chicago public schools—or at least their teachers—with his cuts and closings.
So it’s only fitting that some of these students are fighting back.
I’m talking about Cold Summer, a play about growing up in the age of Mayor Rahm that opens tonight at the Free Street Theater.
It’s written by and stars the Young Fugitives, an ensemble of actors who know a thing or two about this topic, as most are CPS high school students.
Just so you know, the play is about more than Mayor Emanuel. It’s also about teenage angst and anxiety and street violence in Chicago.
But for my money, the high point is the sketch featuring a character named Mayor Rahmye, who, as the name suggests, is a composite of Kanye West and our very own man in City Hall.
“I ain’t readin’ no autobiography of Frederick Douglass, I’m watchin’ The Hunger Games,” Mayor Rahmye proclaims. “You know, in them movies they just let the young people who live in impoverished districts go on and kill each other for the entertainment of the wealthy. I like that. They ain’t gonna become nothing no way.”
You got to admit—that sounds a little like what Mayor Emanuel told Karen Lewis when they had dinner together a few years back.
“There’s a connection between the violence and the larger policies,” says Seline Racey, a member of the ensemble who goes to Lincoln Park High. “There are conditions that create the violence.”
The show’s directed by Ricardo Gamboa, a writer, filmmaker and performer who was born and raised on the southwest side (Brother Rice, class of ’99).
A couple of years ago, Gamboa got a gig as a teacher at After School Matters, the not-for-profit founded by the late Maggie Daley that sponsors classes for teenagers in the arts.
I’m all for after-school arts classes. But if we really want to be known as the Paris of the Midwest—or whatever tourist pitch the mayor’s people are cooking up—we need to find the money to offer a arts program during the school day.
I know! Just take the money out of the mayor’s DePaul/Marriott South Loop development scam.
Anyway, most of the members of the Young Fugitives were in Gamboa’s course, where they developed a script about life in Chicago as they know it.
“It was a workshop in which we discussed racism and classism and sexism—they talked about their lives in a wider context,” says Gamboa. “The sketches and comic bits emerged from these discussions.”
And how did the Mayor Rahmye sketch come about?
“We were watching a Kanye West video and I said, ‘What if we did Rahm as Kanye?'” says Omari Ferrell, a senior at Kenwood High School, who wrote an early version of the sketch in collaboration with Racey and Jesse Murphy, another member of the troupe.
“He’s kind of a egotist who’s thinking only of the wealthy,” says Ferrell.
When some of the honchos who run After School Matters saw a first draft of Cold Summer, well, suffice it to say they weren’t pleased.
And I can’t say I really blame them. You don’t become the charity of choice for corporate and civic Chicago by depicting the mayor as an F-bomb-dropping looney tune. Even if the depiction is accurate.
Lesson number one for any kiddies out there thinking of a career in the arts: you’re free to skewer and satirize any foreign despot you want—but hands off the mayor!
In short, Gamboa was told to take out the swear words and drop the bit about Mayor Rahmye. The actors decided they didn’t want to perform a “censored” show and so it was never performed as an ASM production.
To their credit, the folks at the Free Street Theater opened their stage to the production. You’ve got a lot of guts, Free Street. If you suddenly get visits from city building inspectors, let me know.
There are performances every Friday and Saturday through February 15 at Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk. The Friday shows start at 6:30 PM. The Saturday shows are 2:30 PM matinees.