Local theatre festival inspires activism


Courtesy Richard Paro

Krista D’Agostino, Kerry Sheridan and Christine Vrem-Ydstie perform “Olivia Approaching,” the audience choice selection in the Indie Boots Theatre Festival, which ran from April 28-30 at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

In an intimate, dark theater with a floor-level stage, small casts performed nine original one-act works the nights of April 28–30. They explored themes such as love, friendship and the human condition through comedy, drama and political commentary. With minimal sets and almost no costumes, the actors’ passionate performances brought the scripts to life.

Mudgeonsoul productions, a small local theater ensemble, presented the second annual Indie Boots Theatre Festival at Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. The 90-minute performances promoted activism by putting a focus on voices of people who are often not heard in mainstream media, such as women and the LGBTQ community. A competition judged by the Mudgeonsoul reading committee selected the scripts for the evening, which were written by local and national activist playwrights including Erin Hug, Michael Yichao and Joan Broadman. 

The scripts explored provocative questions about what types of stories are worth telling through plays about young female roommates, female honeybees, a bisexual high school student, a lesbian couple, vampires and ghosts. 

Each year, writers must incorporate a female name into their stories in some way. Last year’s chosen name was “Rebecca,” and this year’s female name was “Olivia.” Richard Paro, director of the festival, said they did this to encourage people to write more about women. Audiences voted on the overall winner, making the festival part performance and part competition. The winning play, “Olivia Approaching,” personifies a hurricane named Olivia who apologizes to three drunk women for the role she must play in their impending death.

Cyra Polizzi, a member of Mudgeonsoul Productions and longtime Chicago actress, said she thinks centering the festival around women has had a positive impact in regards to representing women.

“When people think about stories, they often place a male character as the center of the story,” Polizzi said. “I think it’s just because that is the tradition that has been set up in our culture. Often you have to make a concerted effort to write stories that feature underrepresented characters like women.”

The plays were each written and directed by different participants and rehearsed independently for several months leading up to the festival, according to Polizzi. 

Mudgeonsoul is one of Chicago’s many small, independent theater companies. Marc Chevalier, lecturer in lighting technologies in the Theatre Department, said he moved to Chicago specifically for its acting community because he sees Chicago as a hub for independent theater companies similar to Mudgeonsoul.

“I think [the independent ensemble scene] is the hallmark of Chicago theater,” Chevalier said. “Chicago’s been getting a reputation throughout the country of building strong ensembles.”