When planning trips for performing arts students, most initially think of bright New York stages and star-laden Los Angles film sets, but there is also a sleeper candidate for top performance art city: Chicago. Chicago music and theater has a unique style known for being more down to earth and personal than New York and Los Angles counterparts. From classical pianists to improv comics, Chicago has no shortage of artists ready to hone students’ skills and enflame their creativity.
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It’s All In The Name
For the best inspiration available without paying a penny, students should visit the Chicago Cultural Center. Even the walls are saturated with culture because the center features some of the most beautiful architecture Chicago has to offer. Back in 1897, America’s top architects imported material ranging from marble to mosaics to create the building. The Chicago Cultural Center even boasts the world’s largest dome made out of Tiffany Glass. The stunning 38-foot diameter is sure to wow any creative mind.
Students specifically interested in music should visit Mondays and Wednesdays. Every Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center is “Chamber Monday,” meaning the center will showcase some of Chicago’s best classical, jazz, and ethnic musicians. Wednesdays’ Young People’s Concerts, on the other hand, are much more classical. These free shows showcase a variety of classical music geared toward a younger demographic. Between the architecture and music, culture is rarely so affordable.
No School Like the Old School
Folk music is a more extensive genre than it gets credit for. For example, the Old Town School of Folk Music teaches traditional Celtic music, but they also teach everything from rock to Middle Eastern tunes. The school’s pure variety has made it incredibly popular. It averages 6,600 students a week, with nearly 60 percent being adults.
Students do not even have to sign up for a month of classes to get the best out of the Old Town School of Folk Music. The school offers fieldtrips for everyone K-12. Throughout a field trip students will hear professionals play, meet musicians from around the world, and watch one of the Old Town School’s acclaimed concerts. Visitors who are truly eager to learn can sign up for a workshop where they can learn form a master musician in a personal environment. Previous workshops have ranged from couples dancing to playing the Beatles, so travelers are sure to find something they love.
Students wishing to show off what they learned should sign up for the Old Town School of Folk Music’s teen open mic night. These nights are incredibly open ended. Any thirteen to nineteen year old can show off their skill with any instrument or vocal routine, either alone or as part of a group. The inclusive atmosphere is perfect for building musical confidence in any young aspiring musician.
Discover A Legend
When looking over the musical landscape of Chicago, it would be a crime to overlook the blues. The blues are fundamental bedrock for American music, and who better to invigorate students’ love for the blues than a living legend from the genre’s classic age? Buddy Guy, world record holder for the most Blues Music Awards and noted inspiration for both Jimmy Hendrix and Eric Clapton, still keeps the spirit of classic blues alive at Buddy Guy’s Legends.
While shows starting after eight are strictly 21+, blues performances beforehand are both open for all ages and completely free of charge. From twelve to eight Wednesday through Sunday, students can hear blues and jazz, view memorabilia from Buddy and other blues legends, and taste some of Buddy Guy’s Legend’s award winning soul food. Those under 21 who want to stay after eight should consider booking one a private event. With a bit of luck, students visiting in January might even hear Buddy himself play. If students love blues, Buddy Guy’s Legends is a must. If they don’t love blues, they will after visiting.
Through the Lookingglass and Down the Rabbit Hole
Any actor visiting Chicago will find relaxation and inspiration at Windy City’s vibrant theater scene. Chicago has many incredible theaters, but for quality performances, memorable experiences, and a healthy dose of oddity, Lookingglass Theater comes highly recommended. In 1988 eight young graduates of Northwestern University established Lookingglass. One of these graduates was David Schwimer who is still an active member of Lookingglass to this day. Since its launch, Lookingglass has been incredibly acclaimed. It won a Tony for best regional theater in America and has won 50 Jeff awards for excellence in Chicago Theater.
Lookingglass’ defining characteristic is its dedication to creative togetherness. Every year the ensemble votes for a new artistic director, preventing one individual from driving Lookingglass’s entire creative vision. Consistently fresh voices allow Lookinglass shows to be one of a kind, especially in regards to visuals. Some of the most spectacular Lookingglass performances include long flowing streamers, surreal mind bending costumes, and jaw dropping feats of acrobatics. Their madcap visuals are particularly spectacular when paired with novels that are also gleefully wild, such as adaptations of Mobey Dick and Alice in Wonderland (called Lookingglass Alice).
Second City but Never Second Choice
Second City is the world’s most famous improv troupe. Since 1959 it has been delivering gut bursting laughs all over the world. The list of famous Second City alumni is extensive, with Bill Murray, Amy Poeler, Steve Carell and Tina Fey only being the tip of the iceberg. However, in Chicago Second City is known for more than laughs. They are also known for their affordable workshops where anyone can learn the same skills as comic legends.
Second City’s workshops range from kindergarten to adult. Workshops such as acting, improvisation, comic writing, and directing, share more than half a century of performance knowledge with students. For those not seeking to pursue performance past high school, programs like communication, public speaking, and salesmanship show how the philosophies of comedy and improvisation can be vital in the business world. Regardless of what workshop you sign up for, Second city is sure to create funnier, sharper, and more capable professionals.