Festival brings theater, activism inside homes

By Harry Huggins

For the next week, the Chicago Home Theater Festival will bring intimate performances opening up private homes throughout the city. Each performance, paired with a walking tour, showcases the neighborhood’s activists and artists in an effort to reshape conversations of social justice.

The first event, Thursday in Humboldt Park, began with a brief tour led by Melissa DuPrey, an actor and comic who grew up in the neighborhood. A small group of guests, mostly couples, gathered in the park outside the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

The tour began with a brief introduction to the Chicago Home Theater Festival.

“It’s about shared art and a safe space,” DuPrey said, “like going to your friend’s place.”

The guests introduced themselves with first names and preferred pronouns—event organizer Irina Zadov said that the Festival is pointedly inclusive.

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Melissa DuPrey led a walking tour of Humboldt Park to begin the night’s Chicago Home Theater Festival event. (Courtesy of Lucy Sutton)

Walking through the park, DuPrey gave a brief history of the Puerto Rican independence movement in Humboldt Park. She stopped at intersections along the way to explain the community’s connection to social justice and activism. DuPrey remembered how one particular corner was a hotbed of gang violence in her youth and one of the first to receive the “blue light” police surveillance cameras.

The tone shifted when the group turned onto the host house’s street.

“This street is a safe haven for artists who want to contribute back to the neighborhood,” DuPrey explained.

The tour ended in front of a traditional Chicago two-flat: a brown brick building with big front rooms and a backyard set up for bonfires. Zadov explained the goals that brought the festival from Berkeley, California to Chicago.

“Ideally, we want to deepen a sense of one another’s humanity, and a value of place,” Zadov said. “We want people to value what’s here and fight for it.”

Zadov connected the Festival to a long history of artists showing their works in homes.

“Intimate spaces allow for subversive discussions,” she said. Zadov and her co-organizers want to use “clandestine” places to host “brave conversations.” They hope guests will form bonds that get over people’s natural fear of each other.

Inside the Humboldt Park event, roughly 40 guests packed into the host’s two-flat. A central table held the night’s feast of sharable foods, with a range of takes on rice and beans. Each event looks a little different, but this one was BYOB.

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The intimate performance of “Frog Belly,” an art piece about hyper-empathy, used every inch of the small living room for dancing and music. (Courtesy of Lucy Sutton)

After a short time to chat and eat, the first performance began: DJ AfroQbano supported Khari Lemuel’s singing and cello for a few songs. After their show, the group moved downstairs to a more open space. Lily Be, a Moth GrandSLAM champion, shared a deeply personal story. Frog Belly, a symbolic performance that tells stories of “hyper-empathy” through movement and music, closed the night with a piece that used every inch and more of the crowded living room.

“We try to get as many different types of people together as possible,” co-organizer Laley Lippard said. “There’s a sort of alchemy that happens when people share a meal, get a tour, watch a performance and talk to each other. It’s rerouting our creative maps.”

Aaryanna Gariss, a guest, called the event “beautiful.”

“It’s a good sneak peak of this kind of art and a chance to talk and make connections,” Gariss said. “It’s a positive and safe way to look into something you might not see usually.”

Tickets are still available online for the Chicago Home Theater Festival’s events throughout next week in North Center, Kenwood, East Garfield Park, Portage Park and Austin.


Harry Huggins is a Medill MSJ student, specializing in social justice reporting. You can follow them on Twitter at @HarryHuggins.

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