The pandemic continues to change plans on a moment’s notice. These events were a go as of presstime, but please check listed websites before heading out.
Get Your Groove Back
You’ll have no shortage of opportunities to see Kweku Collins live. The 25-year-old rapper, who first gained attention for the self-recorded tracks he made in his bedroom as a teenager in Evanston, is only going to keep getting bigger as he nears the release of his much-anticipated next full-length album.
But you could be running out of time to catch Collins up close in a hyperintimate 100-capacity venue. That’s what’s on the menu for Collins’s fall residency at Lincoln Park’s cozy Golden Dagger, where he and guests are playing four nights, premiering unreleased music from his forthcoming album.
Golden Dagger isn’t an entirely new joint, even though it’s been refreshed and remodeled enough during the pandemic for owner Donnie Biggins to decide it deserved a rebrand. The bar formerly known as Tonic Room has a brand-new stage, reconfigured to improve sightlines and eliminate the L-shaped platform Biggins says created “the most awkward experience for a performer.”
Biggins says he’s committed to making Golden Dagger the most artist-friendly small venue in Chicago, in part by returning 100 percent of ticket sales to the performers. “They didn’t get a [Shuttered Venues Operators Grant], you know? They’ve been out of work; they’re hurting,” says Biggins, who also serves as the talent booker for FitzGerald’s in Berwyn and has been a working musician himself. “That’s our commitment to their recovery.”
Kweku Collins September 30 and October 9, 21, and 30, Golden Dagger, goldendagger.com
Radius, a sprawling music venue in a 55,000-square-foot warehouse conversion in Pilsen, opened in February 2020 — just in time to close for COVID-19. The new hall returned to live programming in June with a slate of EDM giants (Tiësto, DJ Snake) and legacy rock acts. On the latter roster: turn-of-Y2K Chicago pop-punkers Alkaline Trio, who headline a Riot Fest show with Bad Religion.
Alkaline Trio November 13, Radius, radius-chicago.com
Superfans: Play Dress-up
A superhero, an Autobot, and an Overwatch Assassin walk into a convention center … Oh, you’ve heard this one before? If you’ve ever attended one of Chicago’s two big comic conventions, you know that cosplayers are no joke. At both Wizard World and the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, many fans get decked out in elaborate, often masterfully homemade costumes based on their favorite characters.
Cosplay-watching is one of the highlights of the conventions, which return this fall after a pandemic pause. The costumes could be even more astonishing than usual — these cosplayers have had a lot of downtime to work on their looks.
Hit a Drive-in Film Fest
COVID-19 led the city to rediscover the drive-in. Indeed, over the last year and a half, we’ve attempted to enjoy all sorts of culture from our cars: drive-in concerts, drive-in children’s theater, even a drive-through opera. But nothing can top a drive-in movie. Thankfully, the city’s best pop-up drive-in is sticking around. ChiTown Movies, originally a pandemic pivot by Pilsen’s ChiTown Futbol facility to keep its workers employed when indoor sports were off limits, is now a permanent fixture. Check out a full calendar at chitownmovies.com.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema Through October 12
Chicago International Film Festival Select screenings run October 13–24.
Halloween family movie nights Late October.
Haunt the Streets
While it covers part of the same segment of Halsted Street as the Chicago Pride Parade (canceled again this year, due to COVID-19), this long-running neighborhood Halloween celebration is a much more low-key affair — or as low key as any event that features professional fire spinners can be. But the main attractions here are the costumes. With cash prizes for the best scary, cosplay, drag, youth, group, and other costumes, contenders tend to go all-out.
Haunted Halsted Halloween Parade October 31. Halsted from Belmont to Brompton. 6:30 p.m.: contest registration; 7:30 p.m.: parade. Free. northalsted.com/halloween
Book It to Bronzeville: Black Arts Movement, Considered
An invaluable presenter of eclectic public programming, the Chicago Humanities Festival won’t be producing a full fall festival this year. But the organization is inching back into in-person events around the city, including an enticing “neighborhood hub day” in Bronzeville on October 2. An agenda of book discussions and documentary screenings centering on the Black Arts Movement culminates in a conversation with — and performance by — musician and “beat scientist” Makaya McCraven at the Harold Washington Cultural Center.
Makaya McCraven October 2, Harold Washington Cultural Center, chicagohumanities.org
The Curtain Rises, Again
Her Honor Jane Byrne opened on March 7, 2020, at Lookingglass Theatre and closed due to COVID-19 restrictions less than a week later. And even while her play was dark, playwright J. Nicole Brooks was still picking up accolades for it: In July, the American Theatre Critics Association announced Her Honor Jane Byrne as the 2020 recipient of its Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, dubbing it the best new script to have premiered outside of New York City in 2020.
“For me, this play is history joining myth. Because everyone I run into, they’ve all got a Mayor Byrne story,” Brooks told Chicago in December 2019.
Her Honor Jane Byrne is about the city’s first female mayor, and though Byrne appears as a character in the play (portrayed by Brooks’s fellow Lookingglass ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford), it isn’t exactly centered on her. Brooks wanted to take on the 1981 episode in which Mayor Byrne took up residence in the Cabrini-Green housing project.
Brooks, who was a young child in Washington Park at the time, aimed to capture the complicated swirl of reactions to the mayor’s temporary move — from Byrne’s enemies on City Council, to cops on the Cabrini beat, to the project’s full-time residents, to the adults in Brooks’s life who crowded around the TV, asking questions like “Is she crazy?” and “What does she think that’s going to do?”
I saw what turned out to be the play’s final performance before a “pause” that looked like it might never end, and I was frustrated on behalf of everyone involved that more audiences didn’t get to see this richly reimagined slice of Chicago history. Happily, Lookingglass plans a full run.
Her Honor Jane Byrne November 11–December 19, Lookingglass Theatre, lookingglasstheatre.org
At Steppenwolf Theatre, Namir Smallwood and Carrie Coon resume their roles in Bug, a revival of a 1996 play by Coon’s husband, Tracy Letts. The play’s conspiracy theorist themes stand to be even more resonant now.
Bug November 11–December 12, Steppenwolf Theatre, steppenwolf.org
Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me will be back at the Broadway Playhouse. Schreck’s cheekily autobiographical work examines the country’s blind spots around race and gender.
What the Constitution Means to Me October 26–November 21, Broadway Playhouse, broadwayinchicago.com
After Last Year, Who Doesn’t Need a Laugh?
Feeling vaxxed and relaxed? Catch a big name at the grand old Chicago Theatre. State Street’s crown jewel has returned to its full capacity of 3,600, and several standups worth seeing will be taking the stage. Our top pick: Hasan Minhaj. The Indian American comic and former Daily Show correspondent brings his new tour, The King’s Jester, to the city for four shows across two nights. The last time Minhaj was here, in 2018, he was trying out material for his Peabody Award–winning TV series Patriot Act.
Hasan Minhaj October 1–2, Chicago Theatre, msg.com/chicagotheatre
Also Consider Jo Koy, October 15–17; Mike Birbiglia, November 4; Chelsea Handler, November 12
The delightfully peculiar Maria Bamford returns to Wicker Park’s 200-seat Den Theatre for six shows, October 14–17 (thedentheatre.com); Matt Braunger stops on his Out of the House Tour at Schubas Tavern on November 19 (lh-st.com); and Ronny Chieng (The Daily Show, Crazy Rich Asians) comes to Thalia Hall on December 5 (thaliahallchicago.com).