Previews: Chicago Theaters Schedule New Works and Classics for Streamed Performances

Chicago theater companies are scheduling new virtual experiences as we approach the first anniversary of pandemic theater. Some are live streamed and some filmed—all will be available from your living room.

In Joffrey’s Bolero, Anais Bueno is the featured dancer, performing here with Jonathan Dole, Blake Kessler, Jose Pablo Castro Cuevas and Hyuma Kiyosawa. . Photo courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

Joffrey Ballet’s Boléro is a world premiere of  a new ballet set to Ravel’s Boléro. It is available through midnight on Tuesday, March 2. (See our review.) Originally a one-night only premiere last Friday, the company decided to make it available for a longer run. Viewing is free and donations are encouraged.  Registration is not required. Running time is 17 minutes.

Boléro was created by Yoshihisa Arai and performed in the Gerald Arpino Black Box Theater at Joffrey Tower. Joffrey artist Anais Bueno takes the featured role as “muse, leading the audience on a journey through time and space” with a crew of other dancers.


Screenshot from The Secretaries. Top, left to right, Molly Brennan (stage directions reader); Sarah Price as Helena;  Emjoy Gavino as Helga. Bottom, Tina Muñoz Pandya as Henrietta; Echaka Agba as Hannah.

Goodman’s Future Labs play reading series. The Secretaries was the first of Goodman Theatre’s Future Labs, a free live play reading series. Future Labs is Goodman’s newest artistic program, designed to develop works written and directed by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders), SWANA (Southwest Asian/North African) and other artists of color.

The Secretaries, by Omer Abbas Salem, a Chicago actor, playwright and activist, is set in 1944 Berlin. It’s the story of four women in Aryan drag vying to be the Führer’s personal secretary as he heads into a bunker with his girlfriend. It about complicity and the lies we tell ourselves. Audrey Francis directed the play, which ran 1 hour and 50 minutes with an intermission. The Secretaries premiered for one night only on February 27.

The next Future Labs play reading will be Tokens of Promise, a new play by Ada A., an early-career playwright and director who graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A in anthropology. The storyline begins with one open “diversity” analyst position at this start-up. And the minorities must compete to gain employment. It’s a satire about the modern-day job search. Ada A.’s new play exposes the inherent competition in employment that can lead us to forsake our humanity.

Tokens of Promise, directed by Sydney Chapman, is a free live reading at 7pm on Saturday, March 20. Free but registration is required.


Uprising Theater’s The Story of Zahra. Uprising Theater will present a virtual staged reading of The Story of Zahra at 6pm on Thursday, March 4. The play, produced in partnership with San Jose State University, is based on the novel by Hanan al-Shaykh, with the script written by Raeda Ghazaleh and Matthew Spangler, Ghazaleh also directs. . The story follows the relationship of a young woman and a sniper operating on her street during the 1980s Lebanese civil war in Beirut. This will be the first presentation of The Story of Zahra in North America.

The reading is free to view but registration is required. Learn more and register here.


Court Theatre’s An Iliad. Court Theatre will present a filmed streamed version of the theatrical masterpiece, An Iliad, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, based on Homer’s The Iliad. The one-man production takes audiences on a journey through ancient societies, cultural artifacts and warfare in a thrillingly visceral performance by actor Timothy Edward Kane. The production, filmed in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, will be available for digital access from March 3 through March 31,

The play has been mounted three times in Court’s history—twice at Court Theatre and once at the Oriental Institute. This professionally captured, multi-camera stream of the play allows the audience to experience this one-of-a-kind production at home.

The original design team includes Todd Rosenthal (scenic design), Rachel Healy (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design), Andre Pluess (sound design), and Kate Ocker (stage manager).

Streaming tickets are on sale now: $15 (1 viewer under 30), $25 (1 viewer), $40 (2+ viewers). Once a ticket buyer begins watching, they will have 72 hours to complete viewing. For more information, call the box office at (773) 753-4472 or


Image courtesy Steppenwolf Theatre.

Steppenwolf Theatre’s Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!  Steppenwolf Theatre Company will present Duchess! Duchess! Duchess! by emerging playwright Vivian J.O. Barnes. Duchess! is the fourth of six productions in its Steppenwolf NOW virtual series. Directed by Weyni Mengesha, artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto, this world premiere filmed play begins streaming March 10. Chicago artist Sydney Charles plays a duchess meeting the young soon-to-be-duchess portrayed by ensemble member Celeste M. Cooper for the first time. A royal wedding is looming and everyone is watching, as there are rules to joining the family. Duchess! Duchess! Duchess! looks at the hidden costs of being the “luckiest girl in the world.”

Loosely inspired by Meghan Markle and the royal family, Duchess! Duchess! Duchess! uses the monarchy to investigate how society’s institutions of power affect Black women. Running time is about 35 minutes.

All six productions are available to stream with purchase of a virtual membership ($75; discounted $50 for essential workers, artists, students, teachers) visit or call Audience Services at 312-335-1650.


How Do We Navigate Space? Image courtesy Strawdog Theatre.

Strawdog Theatre’s  How Do We Navigate Space? Strawdog calls this “an original, devised hybrid of film and theater;” it’s a series of video monologues that combine movement, music, visual art and the voices of Chicagoans. The production explores true stories of how we navigate physical space and what that says about us during a time of pandemic and social justice demands. Written by Karissa Murrell Myers and directed by Denise Yvette Serna, the material comes from surveys submitted by Chicagoans about their experiences in 2020.

How Do We Navigate Space? premieres on Monday, March 15, and runs through Sunday, April 18. You can view it at any time between 12noon and 12midnight daily during that time. Tickets are pay what you can with a $15 price suggested. Strawdog will share a portion of ticket sales with Black Lives Matter.


American Blues Theater’s California Dreamin’—The Songs of Laurel Canyon. This musical performance is a one-night-only online benefit at 7pm on Friday, March 12, featuring ensemble members Michael Mahler and Dara Cameron performing live from their home with songs by The Mamas and the Papas, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, CSNY, The Byrds, Eagles, and more. It’s a chance to relive a moment in American history that created classic albums and timeless music.

Tickets to the benefit performance are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $25 and may be purchased at or (773) 654-3103. Space is limited.


Screenshot from a 2020 production. Image courtesy 2nd Act Players,.

2nd Act Players’ Pandemic Stories: 7 Tales of Love, Life and Loss. This spring production by Evanston’s 2nd Act Players features seven 10-minute plays, the winners of the company’s 2021 new script competition, which examine the impact of Covid-19 on people’s lives. The production can be viewed online Friday, April 23, with shows running at 7pm Friday and Saturday and 2pm Sunday through May 2.

Pandemic Stories will be full video productions, with actors “offbook,” in costume and using props. The company uses video editing to give the illusion actors are in the same space when they are actually recorded separately.

Tickets for the shows are $20; they will go on sale on the 2nd Act Players’ website, starting April 3.

The seven plays and their playwrights are:
Lunch Lady by Donna Latham; Second Acts,
Second Helpings
 by John Mabey;
What Good Did We See Today? by Cathrine Goldstein;
Love in the Time of Covid-19 by Germaine Shames;
[Brackets] by Craig Gustafson;
The Birds Are Feeding Me by Rex McGregor;
To the Zoom and Back by Cindi Sansone-Braff.

Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.