Cabinet of Curiosity offers a walk on the hopeful side | Ghost Light | Chicago Reader

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Cabinet of Curiosity offers a walk on the hopeful side

A partnership with Little Red Schoolhouse brings art and nature together; plus a new home for Joel Hall Dancers and Collaboraction's virtual season

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Frank Maugeri knows something about picking himself up after a shutdown. When Redmoon Theatre, the spectacle-oriented company where Maugeri worked for 23 years (the last few as producing artistic director) folded in 2015 in the wake of the failure of the Great Chicago Fire Festival, Maugeri took some time to regroup (including a stint developing education and community engagement programs with Chicago Children's Theatre). Then in 2017, Maugeri unveiled his new company, Cabinet of Curiosity, which, in Maugeri's words, focuses on "this desire to investigate the spiritual, the sacred, and the supernatural through objects, devices, actors, and songs."

Cabinet of Curiosity had just opened The Farewell Fables: satellites, songs, and cereal, a piece conceived and directed by Maugeri about four "galactic gods" who decide to pack it in and leave humanity to its own devices, when the COVID-19 shutdown hit. Normally, the company would have been spending the months after their indoor show developing an outdoor ritual piece, as with Reflections on Fire: Extinguishing Old Ideas, created in collaboration with the Blu Rhythm Collective (a group of Chicago artists and dancers who focus on contemporary issues facing the city, particularly its younger residents) and performed last July at the Exelon Observatory.

The company is still collaborating on a ritual performance to be performed outdoors later this year, but where and when they can do so under the current state and city COVID regulations remains unclear. However, in the meantime, you can head out to the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in suburban Willow Springs to receive Messages of Hope—an ambulatory installation of over 60 dioramas created by artists from 15 Chicago neighborhoods and five additional states, all reflecting in some way on the concept of "hope." 

Maugeri says the impetus for the installation, which is up through September 30, came immediately out of the isolation and uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic. He and the Cabinet board "came up with the proposal to create an opportunity where people can make shrines and altars and create, that gives people a chance to be self-expressive, and we'll put them in a venue that's outdoors and obviously safe. So for people who are locked in or feel like 'I can't go see theater,' let's give them tiny theaters that they can go visit that have their own little narrative and their own experience." 

But there was also an earlier personal inspiration for Maugeri.

"I was in Mexico City even before Redmoon and I was studying ritual and local art and one of the things I saw that blew my mind were these old cigar boxes strapped to telephone poles full of detritus and oddity. I saw them all over Mexico City and I loved them. They were sort of filthy and strange and didn't make any sense. They were like working-class Joseph Cornell boxes. When I finally pursued a local about what they were, the local said 'Oh, the artists make those, so the businessmen are reminded to look up.'"

For those unable to attend Messages of Hope in person, the company offers virtual access to two live tours, guided by Maugeri and a Little Red Schoolhouse representative, on August 19 and September 16, 10 AM. Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, 9800 Willow Springs Rd, Willow Springs. The center is open 8 AM-4 PM daily, though exhibit buildings remain closed. Bathrooms on-site. For tour reservations (tickets $10, benefiting the center) email cabinetchicago@gmail.com.

Hoofing into a new Hall

After many years in Edgewater, Joel Hall Dancers & Center are on the move into a new place, called, simply and appropriately enough, the Hall, located at 2951 W. Montrose. They're celebrating with the "Fiercetival for Our Future," a fund-raiser with limited and socially distanced attendance (no more than 35), on Saturday, August 15, 5-7 PM. An anonymous foundation put up the seed money for the new space, and the company now seeks to raise $200,000 for the build-out.

Founded by dancer, choreographer, and teacher Hall and Joseph Ehrenberg in 1974 as Chicago City Theatre Company, Joel Hall Dancers have been through moves in the past. They lost an earlier studio space after a 1993 fire, and increased financial costs precipitated the move out of their North Clark Street venue. What remains behind is a street sign, Joel Hall Way, at Clark and Thorndale, honoring the 71-year-old founder, who stepped down as artistic director in 2018 in favor of then-assistant artistic director, Jacqueline Sinclair, who has been with the company for three decades. Hall is only the second openly gay Black man to have a Chicago street named after him (the first being the late house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles). His style of "urban jazz dance" has influenced generations of students and artists. Hall, who was raised in the Cabrini-Green housing projects, has always emphasized diversity and accessibility in the company's work, which Sinclair promises will continue with the Hall as "a space conducive to artistic development, incubation, and training."

Achieving "Transcendence"

Collaboraction made a commitment to focusing on social change in their work a few years ago, and also moved to a performance space at Kennedy-King College in Englewood last year. And though they, like almost every other company in town, remain in shutdown mode, they've gone ahead and announced their 24th season, built around the theme of "Transcendence." The season kicks off on Saturday, August 22, 7 PM, with a streaming presentationt of the company's The Light, a youth theater festival featuring ten short videos created by Antwon Funches, Aria Mallare, Chistina Aguilar, Collaboraction Peacemaker Ensemble, Daniella Mauleon, Graffiti Rhythms Dance, Smith, JJ Binion, June, and Teh’Ray Hale Jr. The videos were shot in "an isolated studio," and the streaming presentation will be followed by a discussion.

The pieces in The Light all reflect in some way on issues of racism and social justice. After the livestreamed event, they will be available through Collaboraction's subscription digital platform, the Together Network. Future offerings will include digital versions of the company's annual Peacebook Festival (October 2 and 3) and the youth-created All I Want for Chicago Is . . ., premiering in December.  v

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