Street Smart Chicago

Where the Boys Are: Backstage at the Burlesque Fest

Events, Lakeview, Love & Sex No Comments »

Miss Indigo Blue/Photo: Kriss Abigail

“Let’s be fabulous and fantastic,” announces Cyon Flare, host of the Windy City Burlesque Fest’s opening-night party. “And remember your burlesque etiquette: laugh, clap, scream and yell. Tell ‘em to take it off if you like what you see. And if you don’t—be respectful and shut the fuck up.” The St. Patrick’s Day crowd at Hydrate in Lakeview does exactly as instructed as dancers take the stage to tantalize and give a glimpse of what to expect throughout the festival.

The Burlesque Fest, at the Greenhouse Theater over the weekend, is produced by two Chicago troupes: Belmont Burlesque Revue and Vaudezilla. These local ensembles share a passion for paying homage to “old school” burlesque, as described by Jack Midnight, executive producer of Belmont Burlesque Revue and host of the festival. “Chicago has always been a big Burlesque town,” Midnight explains. He describes Chicago as “the birthplace of American burlesque and home to its biggest scandals.” Most notorious is Sally Rand’s “fan dance” at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair where she was publicly filmed and photographed dancing in the nude but hidden behind long white ostrich feathers, epitomizing the burlesque tease and causing a national rustle with her risqué technique. Not surprisingly, the art of burlesque has changed in the last eighty years, but it still holds true to certain conventions: choreographing clever ways to take one’s clothes off in front of a live audience without baring it all. Read the rest of this entry »

Constant Contact: Eating pi with the Chicago Nerd Social Club

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Humans, by nature, are social creatures. We literally cannot exist without each other. When it comes to human society, it’s true: no man is an island.

Nerds are human too. While sometimes confused with reclusive amoebae living vicariously through World of Warcraft avatars, “Nerds actually go out and do things too,” says Kevin Harris, who’s helping hand out slices of pie for The Chicago Nerd Social Club at the second annual Pi(e) Day. Held at Firkin and Pheasant in Lincoln Park, this event celebrates the mathematical symbol with the pastry that shares the same pronunciation.

Rachel Baker, co-founder and brainchild of Chicago Nerd Social Club, greets everyone at the door, distinguishing the nerds from the bar regulars with bright blue Hello-my-name-is stickers. “Did you bring a pie?” she asks her fellow nerds upon arrival. “I have two actually!” exclaims Brittany Zimmerman, who learned about the club at last year’s Pi(e) Day. “Pfff, over-achiever,” Baker jokes. Pies are given points for taste (1 point), presentation (1 point), crust (1 point) and nerdiness (0.14) with a total possible score of 3.14. This pie competition is no cutthroat tearjerker—a savory Moroccan pie wins. The “-off,” on the other hand, is taken very seriously, as four contestants take turns sounding off as many digits of pi as they can from memory, all in a quest to take home a $100 gift card to Read the rest of this entry »

411: Juicing the Pickle

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“STEP HIGH STOOP LOW LEAVE YOUR DIGNITY OUTSIDE.” That was the sign posted outside Chicago’s legendary “Dil Pickle Club,” a Bohemian club/speakeasy/cabaret/theater that played host to various radicals, artists, anarchists, authors and socialites throughout the twenties. It was a place for self-styled free thinkers and sexual libertines, one of the few public places in the city where it was okay to be openly homosexual. And while the original club faded into memory in the mid-thirties, its message of political and sexual expression and spirit of meeting high culture with lowbrow is gaining resurgence some ninety years later.

“It was a place where you had hobos next to housewives,” says Fred Sasaki, one of the co-founders of the revived Dil Pickle. “You had doctors and lawyers mingling with tramps and prostitutes.”

The fifth installment of this incarnation of the group, entitled “LOVE/DEATH,” takes place February 10 at The Hideout (1354 West Wabansia). More than just a simple art event, the evening promises live music (with the band weaving in and around the crowd, not on stage), a tattoo artist giving out temps, a Day of the Dead shrine complete with group ritual, a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-themed photo booth, talks on both serial killers and Precious Moments figurines, and algorithm-aided matchmaking. Read the rest of this entry »

Mani-a-Mani: Reporting from the Lady Arm Wrestlers title bout

Events, Sports 1 Comment »

Photo: Jonathan L. Green

As I make my way through the crowd I am accosted by a petite woman wearing a banana costume and thigh-high fishnets, shouting at me to put all my money on her. She is The Banana Split, and she has come to dominate.

“Potassium gives you strength,” she says, with steely determination. “And I’m full of potassium.”

The Banana Split (a.k.a. Nicole Richwalsky) has a hard night ahead of her. She’ll be competing against such dangerous adversaries as Malice in Wonderland, Babraham Lincoln and Gaga Gunshow to see who will be crowned champion in the eighth title bout of the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” says two-time CLLAW champion Strawberry Shivcake (or Ellen Wohlberg, 9 to 5). “Whether it’s illegal, stabbing someone, killing someone, bribing someone; bribes never hurt…”

Indeed, the matches haven’t even started yet when CLLAW 7’s reigning champ, The Killer Bee, gets shivved by Strawberry (natch) in the middle of the introductions.

“I’ve killed The Killer Bee’s manager a couple of times,” remarks Strawberry. “And The Bee ‘Nancy Kerrigan-ed’ The Cutting Edge last time.”

Started in 2009 as a satellite group of the original CLAW (Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers), the Chicago group has rapidly become one of the top Lady Arm Wrestling groups in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Too Many Pumpkins

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Two-hundred and sixteen children in Chicago were killed last year because of gun violence, a sad statistic that designer Aislinn Dewey wants to make sure isn’t ignored. To that end, she has organized flashLIGHT 10/30, a public light memorial to be held in Thompson Center Plaza in downtown Chicago Saturday night (8-9pm). 216 pumpkins, each one representing a child lost this past year due to gun violence, will be carved with the name and age of each victim, lit for one hour, and then symbolically blown out one by one. Dewey was inspired by a screening of the Chicago documentary on gun violence, “On the Frontline: Taking Back our Streets,” and the personal stories of the audience members who attended. “One woman forced herself to come [to the screening] a week after her daughter had been killed,” remembers Dewey. “All that emotion, you just can’t walk away after seeing that without some kind of response.” The pumpkins themselves will be made by the family and loved one of the victims; anyone wishing to volunteer should sign up at Says Dewey, “Connecting individuals to both the uncovered data and the scale of the loss to this violence is the purpose of this event.” (Jonas Simon)

411: New Antiques

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A new market—younger and more urban—is the target of the fourth annual Merchandise Mart International Fall Antiques Fair this upcoming weekend, with the introduction of “Emporium.” Emporium is a pavilion within the larger fair itself, which Mart spokesperson Lauren Finch describes as focusing “on dealers specializing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century style. The make-up of the dealers, the affordability of the antiques ($50-$5,000), and the expert dealers participating make the Emporium an un-intimidating area where no matter what a person’s experience is in collecting antiques, they can feel comfortable. It is designed to bring in newer and/or potential antiques collectors.” Typical dealers in this category include Chicago’s Broadway Antique Market, which specializes in Art Deco from the thirties up through mid-century pieces from the seventies. The fair runs October 1-4. (Brian Hieggelke)

411: A Day in the Park(ing) Space

Events, Green, Lakeview 2 Comments »

Two hours is all it takes to turn parking spaces into a temporary park. Motivated by both the PARK(ing) Day events in San Francisco, and locally by last year’s parking-meter deal, this is PARK(ing)’s second fourth year of bringing the urban park to the people.

Matt Nardella, principal architect for Moss Design and organizer of the event, says last year’s turnout lead to the growth this year. They are expanding their “oasis,” which is biker and pedestrian friendly.

“Last year we only had three spaces. This year, we’re trying to take as much of the block as possible,” Nardella says. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Big Top, Blue Skies

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A weekend stroll in the park will be transformed into something much more whimsical this month. Park-goers around the city will be treated to jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and musicians, bringing the circus outdoors and to the community.

“It’s very reminiscent of a European traveling circus,” Margaret O’Conor, chair of the event says.

Circus in the Parks began four years ago, in a very grassroots way, with just one park. O’Conor says that the district was slowly trying to renovate the parks by asking the community to contribute.

Eventually they bought a URL (, and with help from the Park District and volunteers, the circus expanded to include both Welles and Chase Parks, but this year is the greatest undertaking, with five parks involved. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Science of Open Source

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As it gains popularity, open-source software is changing the meaning of production and public use. But Sacha De’Angeli thinks that applying open-source ideas to science can solve problems often overlooked by big scientific research organizations.

“It is a great opportunity for citizen science and for bringing DIY and the open-software mentality to the world of science,” De’Angeli says.

The first experiment will take place this Sunday, September 12, at 4pm at Chicago Open Science’s inaugural meeting at Pumping Station: One, 3354 North Elston, Chicago’s only hackerspace and collaborative environment, which acts as a community workshop.

So far, the plans for the group are open to evolution. But what De’Angeli thinks would be interesting to look at are problems that aren’t profitable enough for larger corporations, such as niche questions. Because a problem might affect only a small number of people, it becomes a lower priority for big companies. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward: The Guide to the New Season 2010

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From the Dr. Harry Bakwin and Dr. Ruth Morris Bakwin Soviet Posters Collection, 1930-1932, at the Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library

In trying economic times, the American narrative goes, we band together and lend each other a helping hand. This spirit of collaboration seems to be a prevailing theme this fall season, whether it’s the Redmoon-MCA project “The Astronaut’s Birthday,” or the Dance Center-Harris-MCA teaming up to bring a seminal Butoh dance company, Sankai Juku, to Chicago for the first time. But most noteworth is The Soviet Arts Experience, a multi-year joining of a whopping twenty-five cultural institutions, spearheaded by the University of Chicago Presents, that covers a plentitude of disciplines, in showcasing art created “under (and in response to) the Politburo of the Soviet Union.” So that’s the theme this season: People setting aside self-interest for the larger good. Just don’t call it socialism. (Brian Hieggelke)

Click here to get started with our “big ten” fall events, or jump directly to one of the sections below:

Fall Art Preview
Fall Dance Preview
Fall Film Preview
Fall Lit Preview
Fall Music Preview
Fall Stage Preview