This self-styled "convergence of Chicago artists," running through April 26, is presented by Performing Arts Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Boasting Chicago first lady Maggie Daley as honorary chair, the avant-garde festival features more than 100 multidisciplinary presentations. All shows take place at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; the sprawling arts complex is a hive of activity, with simultaneous performances and installations in its four studio theaters as well as lounges, hallways, stairwells, and other spaces. The fest also includes workshops and panels with participating artists at other venues as shown below. Prices for individual events range from $5 to $15, though workshops generally cost more and some events and installations are free; see listings for details. For tickets and more information, and to register for workshops, call Performing Arts Chicago at 773-722-5463. Tickets can also be purchased through Ticketmaster by calling 312-902-1500 or logging on to www.ticketmaster.com.
FRIDAY, APRIL 25
Bianco Veneziano Sandra Binion's video installation re-creates the sights and sounds of Venice. Athenaeum stairwell. 7-11 PM; free.
The Thought on the Stair (or What I Should Have Said) Local Infinities' site-specific piece explores "the phenomenon on the stairs." Athenaeum stairwell. 7-10 PM; free.
Chumpstrap: A Madras Parable and Refracting Rainbows The Curious Theatre Branch presents a double bill of world premieres. "The fourth in a series of 'parables' created since 1987 by Curious cofounders Jenny Magnus and Beau O'Reilly, [Chumpstrap] juxtaposes his relatively unadorned storytelling with her sly musical accompaniment. . . . O'Reilly tells of his struggles to fit into two male enclaves: first as a kid alongside his older, more athletic, more 'boylike' brothers, . . . and second as an adult with a pair of fearless, hard-drinking professional movers. . . . An imposing figure known for his larger-than-life performances, O'Reilly here adopts a quiet, gentle persona that lends his uncharacteristically bare-bones stories a refreshing naivete. . . . Chumpstrap is paired with a brief ensemble piece, Refracting Rainbows, created and performed by Marianne Fieber and KellyAnn Corcoran. While they talk and sing about the losses they've suffered . . . a choruslike trio of women play various incidental roles. [The] text is pared to the barest essentials. As a result some sections feel sketchy, but others have a poetic resonance," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Athenaeum Studio 2. 7:30 PM; $15.
500 Clown Frankenstein The troupe that skewered Shakespeare in 500 Clown Macbeth takes on Mary Shelley's creation in this world premiere. "[The] three cast members . . . perform with such synchronized nuance you'd swear they'd been working together for decades. . . . Adrian Danzig, Molly Brennan, and Paul Kalina are delightfully grotesque, dolled up in rapidly deteriorating costumes soaked with strategically placed bloodstains. Their generally edgy performances are enhanced by harrowing physical comedy that repeatedly brings the actors to the brink of injury. But while the group's utter inability to retell Frankenstein is charming for a while, their haplessness wears thin about halfway through, when it becomes clear the novel is merely an excuse for clowning," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Athenaeum Studio 1. 7:30 PM; $15.
The Palmer Raids: A Theatrical Construction Plasticene Physical Theater's historical drama recounts the response to a rash of terrorist bombings in New York and Washington in 1919. "Hacking a decided narrative path through a jungle of historical documents, [Plasticene] came up with the most rigorous, entertaining, and cogent work [they've] yet produced. The ensemble's tightly choreographed physical routines help amplify the political and moral chaos caused by the bombings, while their thoughtful readings of newspaper clippings, court testimony, and personal letters add layers of psychological complexity. The work's current relevance is unmistakable; after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer was nearly killed by a bomb blast, he sanctioned the incarceration of some 5,000 foreign nationals, declared a war on anarchists, and otherwise attacked civil liberties on a scale that would make John Ashcroft proud," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Athenaeum Studio 4. 7:30 PM; $15.
Spirits to Enforce Theater Oobleck presents Mickle Maher's new reworking of Shakespeare's The Tempest. "Various schools have viewed The Tempest as an allegory of the end of the Renaissance, the dawn of colonialism, and Shakespeare's own artistic twilight. Oobleck's treatment is largely tangential to the play, yet . . . Maher has homed in on a central theme often overlooked: the destruction of identity by time. In a twist on Maher's signature narrated method, the history of Prospero's isle following his return to Milan is recounted by 12 of his spirits, recast as superheroes defending Fathomtown, the nightmarish marine city built by Ariel and Caliban in the old man's wake. When the spirits finally defeat Caliban . . . they attempt a celebratory production of The Tempest. . . . Somehow the spirits' production is a success--though Ariel is nearly laughed off the stage. Apparently unable to play himself, his crisis of confidence lies at the heart of Maher's wry drama; if The Tempest is a magician's farewell to his hall of mirrors, Spirits to Enforce depicts . . . the slow decay of echo and reflection into nothingness. Guy Massey is marvelous as the wistful Ariel, and the other performers--undirected as always, here a supreme irony--aren't far behind," says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Athenaeum Lookingglass Theatre Company space. 8 PM; $15.
Thirteen Nights Sandra Binion and Lou Mallozzi collaborate on a multimedia performance piece. Athenaeum Studio 3. 8 PM; $15.
I Can't Explain the Beauty Writer-performer David Kodeski presents an episode of his "True Life Tales" series. "Scavenging the personal histories of strangers--in this case, the mid-1930s diaries of one Fred Nye--[Kodeski] makes mountains of obscure molehills, filling in the gaps with anecdotes and reflections. Kodeski's obsession with the everyday . . . is in part a laudable reaction to the self-involved performances of Spalding Gray and his ilk. But this effort proves that gazing at someone else's navel isn't necessarily any better. Kodeski is a magnificent storyteller . . . and the little laughs scattered throughout his looping travelogue are quiet genius. Unfortunately the life of Fred Nye, or at least the glimpse we're afforded, is a crying bore," says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Reader critic Justin Hayford says that Kodeski's "eye for telling detail is sharp [as] he stitches a string of seemingly insignificant episodes into a lush panorama of the banal." Athenaeum Studio 2. 9:30 PM; $15.
Screening of "And So I May Return" Plasticene Physical Theater presents an edited video of a show performed last year. Athenaeum Studio 3. 10 PM; free.
Interference Director Leslie Buxbaum-Danzig and her new theater company DOG based this production on The Birds by Aristophanes. "This playful, demanding, thrillingly hip conundrum . . . offers irrefutable proof of the fringe's continued fertility. . . . DOG eschews most theatrical conventions--character, scene, plot, and, some might argue, content--in favor of lyrically quotidian actions. [The performers] speak a beguiling, original, and highly cryptic theatrical language. [The] DOGs forgo meaning in favor of provocation, mystification, and intrigue, fixing a Fluxus-like eye on the beauty of everyday human interaction. . . . And thanks to this superb ensemble's exquisite clowning skills, everything's done with abundant humor," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Athenaeum Studio 4. 10 PM; $15.
SATURDAY, APRIL 26
The Body in Theatrical Space Jon Sherman and fellow members of DOG conduct a workshop on the human body as stage prop. Athenaeum Studio 4. 1-4 PM; $25.
The Brink Sessions: Dialogues on Performance, Session 2 A panel moderated by Performing Arts Chicago's executive director Susan Lipman debates "Authority and Responsibility in Contemporary Criticism." Athenaeum Studio 2. 4 PM; free.
The War Room Plasticene member Stephan Mazurek's video installation examines the concept of war. Athenaeum Studio 3. The 15-minute piece is screened every half hour between 6:30 and 9:30 PM; free.
Bianco Veneziano See listing for 7-11 PM Friday, April 25. Athenaeum stairwell. 7-11 PM; free.
500 Clown Stairwell Members of the troupe improvise a 15-minute piece on the stairs. Athenaeum stairwell. 7 PM; free.
Interference See listing for 10 PM Friday, April 25. Athenaeum Studio 4. 7:30 PM; $15.
365 Days Renamed Mark Booth presents an audio performance. Athenaeum Studio 1. 7:30 PM; $15.
Spirits to Enforce See listing for 8 PM Friday, April 25. Athenaeum Lookingglass Theatre Company space. 8 PM; $15.
500 Clown Frankenstein See listing for 7:30 PM Friday, April 25. Athenaeum Studio 1. 9:30 PM; $15.
I Can't Explain the Beauty See listing for 9:30 PM Friday, April 25. Athenaeum Studio 2. 9:30 PM; $15.
The Palmer Raids: A Theatrical Construction See listing for 7:30 PM Friday, April 25. Athenaeum Studio 4. 10 PM; $15.