Chicago Humanities Festival - Upping the Ante

Written by: Jara Kern

Don't miss our Kindur Ticket Giveaway - Read below & enter to win!!! Winners will be selected on Friday April 22nd. AND a special ticket discount perk just for NPN Members.

My son’s infinite capacity for curiosity is thrilling and scary. He is constantly upping the ante in his exploration of the world: before I can catch him, climbing to the top of the tallest playground slide at 18 months. At two, running into Lake Michigan’s waves no matter how many times they knock him down.

It’s no surprise that one of my son’s main attributes is curiosity. I, too, have this thirst. Mine manifests itself in many ways, but in a large part through my job at the Chicago Humanities Festival.  While curating our spring festival Stages, Sights and Sounds, with performances for children and families, I’m driven to find companies who understand a child’s infinite capacity for curiosity and the ability to appreciate complicated ideas. I like to find companies who are the upping the ante of the art form. While this may seem like a no-brainer (who doesn’t want the best for their children?), this approach to the performing arts for young people isn’t always the case in the United States.

You know what I‘m talking about. When you hear the phrase children’s theater, I’ll bet you wince and groan inside.  Probably much of what you’ve seen that calls itself children’s theater has been very unsatisfying. This genre has a bad reputation and for good reason. At times, when this work is being created, the audience is not taken seriously.

At Stages, Sights, and Sounds, I take our audience very seriously because I am the audience! I want companies that up the ante. I want storytelling that is rich, complex, and takes risks. I know that good storytelling feeds the soul of both parent and child.

Good storytelling doesn’t have to be verbal to make a connection with the audience. T.P.O., a festival favorite from Italy returning this year for the third time, describes their work as paintings that come to life. I took my son to see them in 2009 when he was nine months old. It captured his attention in a way that television could not. Using complex technology to ‘paint’ extraordinary scenery via interactive digital images, TPO uses these images and dancers to tell a story about three Icelandic sheep in Kindur. Very few words are uttered, and the audience may participate and interact with the dancers and the digital images.  Watch a video clip of TPO’s Kindur!

Good storytelling can cross cultures. Theatre Motus from Quebec comes to the Festival with a story of an ancient African Baobab tree and a young boy who saves his community from drought. The company created this piece in collaboration with several African companies, utilizing different forms of puppetry and traditional music to set the scene.  Their clever use of basic everyday materials to create the puppets and scenes will fascinate the kid-engineer in your family.  Watch a video clip here!

I hope your capacity for curiosity will lead you and your family to this year’s Stages, Sights and Sounds. Great storytelling and terrific performances await you—it’s our festival’s job to present that. But what I hope you take home with you is something more. I hope you and your family take home the memory of a shared experience together, one that becomes more than the sum of its parts and that maybe, just maybe, sparks a love of performance, theater, and storytelling that you’ll all share.

By Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins

Ticket Giveaway - we have two family of 4 ticket packages - May 5th (7pm) & May 7th (7pm) shows at Museum of Contemporary Art!

Winners will be selected on Wed. April 27th (Just extended!), to enter: Email your contact information to and let us know if you want to see the May 5 or May 7 show!

Posted on April 18, 2011 at 9:36 PM