The "Surprise" Performance at Water Tower Place

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Took a walk in the rain over to Water Tower Place this afternoon, to see the "surprise flash mob" performance about which the media were alerted yesterday. If you've checked this blog in the last 24 hours, you were alerted, too.

And sure enough, the alerted were in evidence on the second floor of the mall: more than one camera crew, and a bunch of civilians looking around with an air of expectation. Led, probably, by agent provocateurs in their midst, they'd begun to form a ring around what would turn out to be the performance area.

At 2 PM, a pair of beautiful young people met in the middle of the ring and started dancing a sort of 50s modified jitterbug to "Do You Believe in Magic." Other beautiful kids joined them (severely depleting the beauty in the audience), and by the time they switched to robotic synchrony there was a mob on the dance floor, as anti-advertised.

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing—urban spectacles carried out gentle-guerrilla-style. A Redmoon instant opera at this year's ArtChicago opening had me entranced. I followed the troupe around the Merchandise Mart, hoping to see them do their nano-show over and over again. And I'll watch the Central Park dance sequence from the movie version of Hair as many times as you care to replay it for me. The fantasy of life disrupted by spontaneous harmony—which is basically the definition of a musical, now that I think of it—attracts me big time. I smile like an idiot in its presence.

So I was smiling like an idiot for a while. Then the mob of dancers took off their coats-sweaters-what-have-you. Underneath, they were wearing t-shirts that said "Steppenwolf" on the front and "Believe" on the back. Of course, I knew that the purpose of the surprise was to promote—or, as the media alert had it, celebrate—Steppenwolf Theatre's 2009-10 season and its theme, the power of belief. But the frankness of the gesture shot my willing suspension all to hell. No, I wasn't going to be believing in magic today.Those beautiful kids were all volunteers. I hope they got to keep the t-shirts.

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