Chicago’s Physical Theater Festival Goes Virtual July 17-19

Plans for the 7th annual Physical Theater Festival were full steam ahead when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in March and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a statewide stay-at-home order following the announcement. Originally scheduled to take place July 10-19, 2020, the festival, like many theater companies and festivals across the city, state and country, started to explore the possibility of going virtual to connect local and international artists not only with the festival’s traditional audience but also to audiences outside of Chicago

The result: Physical Theater Festival at Home. The three-day virtual event will take place July 17-19 and will feature a combination of free and ticketed performances, panels and workshops from such companies and performers as: The Era Footwork Crew (Chicago); Cia de Teatro Manual (Brazil); Single Shoe Productions (Portugal, UK, USA); The Pandemic Project by UJ Arts & Project (South Africa); and Joana Barbosa (Brazil).

All the works being presented were created during the pandemic by theater artists and dancers. Admission for the ticketed performances are $3 per ticket, making this “at home” edition as affordable as possible. Ticket buyers will receive a confirmation email with a Zoom link once purchase has been made. For free events, just go to the festival’s events page and click on the video the day of the event.

Physical Theater pursues storytelling through primarily physical and virtual means to create original and contemporary work. It embraces a wide variety of styles, approaches and aesthetics including clown, puppetry, mask, mime, dance, vaudeville and circus, among others.

Physical Theater Festival is supported by the Driehaus Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Theater Unspeakable, Links Hall, Fractured Atlas and the Cliff Dwellers.

Physical Festival at Home Schedule

Ticketed events and workshops:

  • The Testament by The Era Footwork Crew (Chicago), Friday, July 17, 7pm: The Testament is a response to the industries that surround dance and to the times we’re facing today. Too often Black bodies, Black dancers, Black anything is cast to the wayside. The Testament speaks to dancers using battling as an instrument to fight oppression that comes in any form. Admission: $3 per ticket.
  • The Woman Who Dreamed by Cia de Teatro Manual (Brazil), Saturday, July 18, 7pm: The Woman Who Dreamed is a theatrical experiment that mixes gestural, audiovisual, narration, animated forms and music to bring to life a universe inspired by fantastic realism to its audiences. Everything happens live, on a virtual interactive platform, where the audience feels close and can participate. The work tells the story of a woman who, being born and raised too quickly, perceives time and herself in a different way. She finds herself immersed in a world where choices are made all the time and when she finds herself without choices, she decides to dream and look inside herself. Admission: $3 per ticket.
  • Scratch Night by Local Artists (Chicago, USA), Sunday, July 19, 7pm: Scratch Night features new contemporary, visual, and physical theater by Chicago artists. Each show brings together different theater makers to present short previews that require an audience to further their development. Six to seven separate pieces are curated for each show, each act lasting 10-15 minutes. The show’s mission is to foster growth of these new theater works, expose Chicago audiences to diverse forms of theater, and bring together different communities of Chicago artists for conversation and collaborations. Admission: $3 per ticket.
  • The Clown Within: a three-day workshop by Joana Barbosa, all weekend July 17, 18 & 19, 12-1:30pm: This workshop is an introduction to the smallest mask in the world: the clown’s red nose! Through exercises, dialogues and games, it presents to the student the wonderful and poetic universe of clowns. During this journey the student will start the exercise of seeking the child within himself/herself and search a personal way to make comedy. Admission: $60 per ticket.

 Free Events and Panels

  • #TakeUsThere by Single Shoe Productions (Portugal, UK, USA), any time from July 17-19: Is there someplace you miss? Somewhere you were supposed to be? Across the world, our lives have been put on hold. For Single Shoe Productions, that’s meant everything from touring schedules to even a family wedding. So, they are embarking on homemade travels and invite you on a journey of the imagination as they recreate the places they miss using household objects. Join them by making your own creations.
  • The Pandemic Project by UJ Arts & Culture and Khaya Ndlovu, Athena Mazarais, Sunnyboy Motau, Fana Tshabalala and Ignatius van Heerden. (South Africa) any time from July 17-19: On May 11, the UJ (University of Johannesburg) Choir launched its 9th album, When the Earth Stands Still, and with it came an emotional interdisciplinary project, The Pandemic. UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg, invited visual artists and choreographers and 40 UJ Arts Academy poets to develop a new work inspired by music from the album. Other than the initial lockdown time period, there were no aesthetic restrictions on the commission and a literal interpretation of ‘the pandemic’ was not expected. Each creative was assigned one of the 20 tracks on the UJ Choir’s album and was required to submit a short time-lapse video of the work in creation. The final artworks will be published on the UJ Arts & Culture online platform and will be presented in an exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery as soon as less stringent social distancing measures are allowed.
  • International Panel: The Future of The Performing Arts, Saturday, July 18 at 10am: ​We are living in unprecedented and unpredictable times for the arts. Join us for a conversation about the future of the performing arts with an international panel of artists, curators, producers and directors from around the world. The panel will be moderated by Alice de Cunha, co-artistic director of Physical Theater Festival. Panelists: Tara Willis, Associate Curator of Performance Museum of Contemporary Art (USA); Elayce Ismail, Theater and Opera Director (UK); Yuenhung Lei, Theater Producer (Hong Kong)

For tickets and other information, visit Audiences are encouraged to donate to the festival as well.

Kim Campbell
Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.