Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Remix- Popup Store and Event!

This year, the annual Holiday craft show at the Broadway Armory is going to be longer than ever. It's not that they are extending their time at the Armory or adding an extra day- what they've done is started a pop-up store on Bryn Mawr to help market and sell the local artists wares.

The 2nd annual Holiday Remix show will take place at the Broadway Armory on Saturday Dec 10 from 11 am to 4 pm.  In addition to wares by over 50 artists, there will be food, drink, and an opportunity to donate to local wunderkind charity Care For Real.

If you miss the event, or you liked what you saw but want to find more, the Pop-Up store is at 1056 Bryn Mawr (in the old Johnny Sprocket's bicycle shop, next to Bridgeview Bank)  The store is staffed entirely by volunteers and is open on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m and Saturday-Sunday (except December 10, of course) from noon to 6 p.m. through the end of the year.  Also, this year, as a proof of concept, the artists keep 100% of the sales.  The pop-up store costs are being funded by the Edgewater Development Corporation.  If the store idea is successful, another arrangement would have to be worked out.

Sample of some of the old books made into journals.
More info at
My son and I walked by and in the store last week, and it's full of interesting work and really fun gifts, including handmade journals, photographs, jewelry, artwork, and even some furniture.  My son bought a handmade wooden yoyo.  I ogled a lot of beautiful handmade journals (including a set of them that takes old library books and uses the cover and then binds some of the pages into the book itself, to give a very arty feeling to the book.)

Many of the artists are local, although the definition of local is loose. For example, the book artist that I liked so much is a former Chicago artist now living in Portland, Oregon.

For more information about Holiday Remix, and the popup store, visit

For more information about the Edgewater Development Corporation, visit

Monday, December 5, 2016

REVIEW: Spymonkey's The Complete Deaths

I had the chance to see a great production recently at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.  It's only there through December 11, so if you want to see it, you need to hustle!

Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey
The show is by Spymonkey, a British troupe of clowns/physical comedians.  If you've been to Las Vegas, you may have seen their work, as they created all of the comedy numbers in the Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity.  They are known for their wacky physical theatre, their crazy costumes, and their off-kilter situations and characters.

 The show is directed by Tim Crouch, who performed earlier in the year the remarkable show I, Malvolio. I reviewed that show a couple of years ago when I saw it in NY for my other blog Clownlink.  In that review  I suggested that Crouch was great, but he could take the show from an 8 to a 10 by taking a clown workshop.  Apparently, he took my advice, as he is now working with Spymonkey.  I would very much like to know if it affected his own show.

This show has as its concept the idea that the company Spymonkey (composed of four members Toby, Aitor, Petra, and Stephan) will move away from comedy to create a Great Piece of Theatre by taking all  75 of Shakespeare's onstage deaths and putting them into one show.

Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey
It's a fantastic concept, even though one of the other performers wanted to do a bubble show instead. Toby, the rather bossy auteur, sets the tone, telling people that if they were there to see some slapstick buffoonery, they were going to be disappointed.  (Shortly after that he thanks a latecomer for bringing some new energy into the room)

As part of the set, there's a giant count-down timer, counting down each death, and every time somebody dies a buzzer goes off.  They actually have a judge/clock keeper on stage that does the honors, and as far as I know she never watches the show.  (This is part of Tim Crouch's influence-- in some of his other plays, there are random people cast in the show each night.)  There's also a number of set pieces, including a fantastic sausage making/machine that would look right at home at a production of Ubu Roi.

The death's continue apace, and luckily for us there is a fair amount of buffoonery in accomplishing them.  I don't want to spoil the show, but by the end of the first act over 50 people are dead, and there's a hilarious and quite bloody version of the classic clown gag The WasherWoman.

There's also some really powerful and moving moments, such as the death of Cinna the poet, who is murdered by a blood-thirsty mob for having the same name as one of the conspirators against Caesar.
The fly, as drawn by Chris Riddell for a very funny card game
that they sell as merchandise at the show.

Another great stage device was using a video camera to film a puppet show and they show the burning of the puppet.

In case you were wondering, those deaths include (according to the program) 23 stabbings, 12 sword fights, 5 poisonings, 2 throats cut, 1 smothering, 3 by natural causes, 4 by wounds, 2 explosions, 2 heartbreaks, 3 mob killings, 2 beatings, and 3 others through miscellaneous causes.

And one of them (and as it turns out a central one) is the death of a black, ill-humoured fly.  I was particularly amused by the Fly-Cam that appears throughout the show.

All in all the show is very funny, and I don't think you need to be so familiar with Shakespeare to enjoy it. There are moments of great absurdity, and there are moments of great importance, and sometimes they are at the same time!  I guarantee it is nothing that you have seen before.  I think it would make a great date night show.
Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey

On a completely side note, the views from the theatre of the city and of the water and of Navy Pier are astonishing.  Don't miss going to the restroom, which has a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline.

Tickets are available online at  or by calling the theatre box office at 312.595.5600 Tickets start at $42.

If you miss the show, Spymonkey's shows are available to stream at Vimeo On Demand, along with their other productions, including Stiff, Cooped, Moby Dick, and Oedipussy.

Audience Notice: Recommended for audience members ages 16 and up. Death is messy. This show features adult content, including brief nudity, profanity and (of course!) depictions of violence, from decapitation to death by lack of sleep.

Monday, November 21, 2016

REVIEW: Stomp in Chicago!

We saw STOMP last night.  It's going to be at the Broadway Playhouse in at Water Tower Place through January 1, 2017.

DISCLOSURE: I received free tickets to attend this event in order to write about it.  My review of the show is not influenced by the freeness of the tickets.  I take my credibility seriously, and so should you!

The show is stellar.  It's been performing on stages pretty much continuously since it opened in 1991. They currently have 4 productions of the show-- a NY show, a London show, a North American tour, and a European tour.  They've won numerous awards, been on lots of television shows, and have won the hearts of just about everybody who's ever seen it.

For those who have been living under a rock, STOMP is a percussion show that features 8 performers who bang, hit, slide, and otherwise play on just about everything on stage that ISN'T a percussion instrument.  A small sample of what they use in the production include matchboxes, brooms, wooden poles, Zippo lighters, hubcaps, mini-basketballs, plastic tubes, garbage cans, and shopping carts, just to name a few. The performers are immensely skilled, and can pull complex rhythms from just about anything.

Here's a video of the show.  PLEASE NOTE: The performers in the current show are different than the ones in the video.  Many of the acts/numbers however, are the same.

As you can see from the above video, not only are their rhythms great, their teamwork is also wonderful.  They are so in synch with one another that even though they are playing really complicated counterpoints and rhythms , they all manage to stop, start, and switch it up multiple times in one number without missing a (pardon the pun) beat.

The performances here are filled with virtuosity and humor.  It's clear these guys (and girls) have been doing the show for a long time, and are expert at it.  The interaction between characters and the audience is fantastic.

The show has virtually no words, although there is some grunting.  There is a fair amount of call and response from the audience. and our audience was so into it that there was an extended encore.

This is a definite crowd-pleaser kind of show, and I believe that your crowd will be pleased.

It's great for kids of all ages, although probably 6+, as there are LOTS of loud noises that might frighten or startle a less experienced child.  This would also make a great date night.

As we left the theatre and took the bus back, all the noises around us - the cars streaming by the bus stop, the little noise the bus stop makes, the horses clacking away in the background-- all started to organize themselves into an amazing STOMP-rhythm of their own.


Tickets for STOMP at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place are on sale now. A select number of premium tickets are available for many performances. Tickets range from $39-$84.

Group tickets for 10 or more are available by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710.
Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Best way I've seen a dad tell his kid about the election

I wish that I had the presence of mind to write this note.  It hits everything I wanted to say to my son.  (I said some of it.  I told him the world wouldn't end, and that we had to continue on.  )  

But I didn't say it so eloquently.

This was found on Pantsuit Nation, and I don't know who originally wrote it.  If you do, please let me know, and I will attribute it properly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

BOOK REPORT: Transmit Joy by Mark Binder (Audio Book)

Mark Binder telling a story.  Photo by Paul Porter
Let me start by saying that Mark Binder is one of my oldest friends.

I met him at the Trinity Rep Conservatory 
 in 1987 and we've been close friends ever since.  We've worked together on various projects,  I went to his wedding reception, I am the godfather to one of his children, he signed my wedding vows, and when we lived in the same state I averaged eating with him and his family twice a week.

 I ran a New Year's Eve festival for 10 years, and Mark ran the storytelling stage for me every year.  Put plainly, I love the guy. And I admit that bias.

Despite my clear bias, I think I can safely say that you will really enjoy his latest project, Transmit Joy.   (available on Amazon by clicking the title)

It's an audio book of about 65 minutes length that features 10 of Mark's signature stories.  

Listen to samples of the stories here.

The stories are varied, from a re-telling of the classic story of The Billy Goats Gruff to the first story ever told (by Og, Caveman) to a wonderful and personal telling of why he writes stories, which features a word portrait of a candy shop that almost makes you taste the chocolate.

The stories are sometimes silly and sometimes profound,  but they are all done with a sense of lightness and joy and a sense of humor that makes you glad you listened to them.

There's a German/Yiddish word that describes Mark's work well:  Haimishe, meaning homey and well-meaning and comfortable.  Mark's mission (indeed, the name of his website) is to Transmit Joy to his audiences, and I think that he succeeds quite well.

Photo of Mark and I making silly faces on Bright Night in 2011.
Mark has been a storyteller and author for almost 30 years, and his expertise shows through in how he crafts the story and tells the story details.  He uses minimal sound effects, and his simple but effective character voices bring us right into the heart of the story and of the character.

In short, I think this audio storybook makes a fine introduction to Mark's work as a storyteller and will entertain and entrance all of the members of your family.  You should definitely add it to your collection.

To find out more about Mark (and catch the flavor of his storytellingand lots of complimentary accolades), here's his introductory video from his website Transmit Joy:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

CHITAG Weekend coming up- November 19 and 20, 2016

One of my favorite events of the year, CHITAG, is coming up later this month  It's a wonderful event celebrating the latest in toys and games.

Not only do you get to find out about some of the latest and greatest toys that are coming out this season (just in time for the Holidays) - you also get to meet toy inventors, see cool and fun events (this year there is a Yo Yo championship and a giant bubble show scheduled, among others)

A couple of years ago we saw the coolest walkaround dragon/dinosaur I've ever seen.

But one of the things that I like most is that they host a school-based game invention contest, where kids can invent their own games, and then get judged by both professional game designers and the public.  I've seen some amazing creativity, and professional level artwork in the past, and I love to just hang around and talk to the kids who are so passionate about what they created.

The other thing is that not only do kids get in the action, but so do adults. There will be adults who are just starting out also, seeking representation, floating their labor of love ideas to see if they would work.  I love that ChiTAG gives these guys a chance to meet the public even if they are not quite ready for prime time (though many just need the break) It's the best of all worlds.

And readers of this blog can get $3 off entry! Register online here and use the promo code CHITAG3

You can get more information about the event at


  • One of the educational interactive games we found at CHITAG.
    Walk inside the World's Largest PomPomWow!
  • Super Power Sensory Hour 9:00 am – 10:00 am hosted by The National Lekotek Center providing early access to families of children with special needs 
  • Inventor Meet and Greet throughout both days!! Want to meet the inventor of BopIt? Operation? Jenga? Nerf? Twister? You can say “hello” and get inside knowledge from all – they’ll at the Fair. Also meet upcoming inventors and try their products out. You’ll be able to say you knew them before they were hot!
  • Yo-Yo Championship - Contestants from Coast to Coast
  • Attend the Star Wars Lunch
  • Enter the Young Inventor Challenge & Young Tech Challenge (free!) Amazing Prizes & Meet Toy and Game Executives and Inventors
  • Test drive vehicles from RazorPeg Perego and RadioFlyer Mini Tesla!! 
  • Mommy & Gracie Show Unboxing! Did you catch last year’s unboxing?? 
  • Ben's Bubble Show.  Photo courtesy Ben.
    IllumiCraft STEM-based Craft Party with Gift
  • Upon A Craft Line Holiday Project
  • Be entertained by Ben’s Giant Bubble Show
  • Test out New Products Before They Hit Retail Shelves
  • Shop for the Hottest New and Classic Toys for the Holidays 
  • Interactive Exhibits
  • Giveaways, Stage Events, Magic Shows, Contests, Laser Tag, Crafts, Characters, GameTruck, Knockerball and much more!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

This is a pyramid scheme...John Oliver

John Oliver has a GREAT episode about Multi-level marketing, including starting his own pyramid scheme to let people know not to get involved with pyramid schemes.


Please share this post with 5 people, and within 14 cycles, everybody on the PLANET will have seen it.  (Hi Tom Waits!)