Cheap things to do in Chicago

What to do in Chicago when you're broke.

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Got limited funds but unlimited energy? Join the club. From comedy nights to museum exhibitions, here's everything going on in Chicago that won't require a payday loan.


The Teddy Bears' Picnic

  • Price band: 1/4

Mama Bear and Baby Bear invite young ones to a picnic in the woods in this interactive piece aimed at babies and toddlers ages 0–4.

  1. Emerald City's Little Theatre 2933 N Southport Ave
  2. Sun Sep 15 - Sun Aug 10
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Moral Hazard

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Comedy review by Matt Byrne This new "two-person one-man show" from local writer-performers Walt Delaney and Chandler Goodman has higher aspirations than most upstart sketch shows: It looks to educate as well as entertain, and succeeds at both. The show takes two different perspectives in looking back at the financial collapse that rocked the global economy in 2007, shifting between scenes from one person's experience working within an industry that contributed to our current fiscal situation and a series of fourth wall breaking, lighthearted looks at the myriad contributing factors to and causes of the recession.For Moral Hazard, Delaney—fresh off a long-running stint as Tom Cruise in The Tomkat Project, another well-loved genre bender—drew inspiration from his time spent working in an emotionally draining, repetitious job with an auto loan company, contacting clients who were behind on their payments. His eager, fresh-faced charm is almost immediately tested by the endless negotiations with the stressed out, foul-mouthed clients his job requires him to badger. Between “you’re hired” and “I quit,” Delaney’s physical and mental exhaustion with the job becomes overwhelming, leading up to a heartbreaking final conversation with a client that stings even more when you remember the show’s autobiographical. Goodman channels equal parts Good Eats–era Alton Brown and Mad Money’s Jim Cramer, spending most of his time breaking down the dense, overwhelmingly jargony world of subprime

  1. Chemically Imbalanced Theater 1420 W Irving Park Rd, between Southport and Janssen Aves
  2. Sat Jan 25 - Fri Aug 1
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Exit Strategy

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Jackalope Theatre Company at Broadway Armory Park. By Ike Holter. Directed by Gus Menary. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire A fiery new work by a Chicago playwright, set in a teachers’ area of a beleaguered Chicago public high school and concerning itself with the systemic limitations those teachers face in serving their students, has opened on a North Side stage. For the second time in a month. It speaks to our city’s collective civic anxiety about the problems facing Chicago Public Schools at this cultural moment that two plays fitting that description should hit in such quick succession: First Joe Zarrow’s excellent Principal Principle (a co-production of Stage Left Theatre and Theatre Seven that closes this weekend, but may will return later this year), and now Ike Holter’s equally passionate Exit Strategy at the young, ascendant Jackalope Theatre Company.Where Principal faces disparate frustrations over educational resources and the merits (or lack thereof) of standardization, Exit Strategy takes on the related concern of school closures. Holter’s piece focuses on a fictional CPS high school in a neighborhood where, as one teacher puts it, “there’s two gangs and a crepe place on the same street.” The play opens on the school’s stammeringly ineffective young assistant principal, Ricky (Patrick Whalen), informing a bullshit-resistant veteran teacher, Pam (Barbara Figgins), that the coming school year will be this s

  1. Broadway Armory Park 5917 N Broadway, at Thorndale Ave
  2. Fri May 9 - Fri Aug 29
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The Last Supper: A Murder Mystery

  • Price band: 1/4

pH Productions presents an hour of side-splitting comedy of biblical proportions. Enjoy $1 admission as a part of the theater's Wednesday Onesdays with a new comedic play within the Passion Play.

  1. pH Comedy Theater 1515 W Berywn Ave, at Clark St
  2. Wed May 21 - Wed Jul 30
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Invisible World

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

The Annoyance Theatre. Directed by Mick Napier. With Matt Barats, Devin Bockrath, Neal Dandade, Megan Johns, Irene Marquette, Jeff Murdoch, Tim Paul, Jo Scott. Comedy review by Matt Byrne In conjunction with the grand opening of the Annoyance Theatre's beautiful new space at Belmont Ave and Clark St, founder and creative director Mick Napier has unveiled Invisible World, a filthy, savage celebration of what makes his theater special. An exuberantly weird affair, this sketch show has a sinister streak a mile long, gaily referencing incest, bestiality and infanticide, but rarely coming off as overtly button-pushing or self-consciously outrageous. The Annoyance has long been a haven for the city's darkest, most subversive material, and Invisible World is a fabulous synthesis of many of the theater's core values.Napier's tremendous skills as a director are well-appreciated around town; he's also behind Depraved New World, the highly praised sketch revue currently occupying Second City's mainstage. While there's no sense in comparing the two, on opening night, glowing like a new father, he mentioned that Invisible World was "closer to what actually makes me laugh." Napier keeps the filth flying at a rapid clip, slowing down just long enough to let the already delightfully twisted scenes take a turn for the even darker.The show boasts some of the best up-and-comers from Chicago's underground comedy scene, including exceptional performances from Devin Bockrath and Matt Barats, who

  1. Annoyance Theatre 851 W Belmont Ave
  2. Sat May 24 - Sat Jul 26
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Gay is the New Black

  • Price band: 1/4

Things seem to be going well in the queer community, so what's next? Laugh along with pH ensemble members as they delve into a world of gay acceptance in everyday life in this new sketch show directed by Bev Bailey (Same Sex, Different Gays).

  1. pH Comedy Theater 1515 W Berywn Ave, at Clark St
  2. Sat May 24 - Sat Aug 2
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Messing With A Friend

  • Price band: 1/4

Each week, legendary improviser Susan Messing and a different friend segue from scene to scene, creating characters and situations along the way that are weird, wild and wonderful.

  1. Annoyance Theatre 851 W Belmont Ave
  2. Thu May 29 - Thu Aug 20
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TNT

  • Price band: 1/4

The name of this long-running weekly improv show stands for "Tuesday Night Thing," but the explosive abbreviation can be appropriate.

  1. Annoyance Theatre 851 W Belmont Ave
  2. Tue Jun 3 - Tue Sep 16
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The Raven & The Messenger: Jim Jones vs. Father Divine

  • Price band: 1/4

Only at the Annoyance: This dark musical comedy, conceived and directed by Irene Marquette and written by Charlie McCrackin with music by Lisa McQueen, looks at the 1960s meeting between Father Divine, a non-traditional spiritual leader of the early 20th century, and Jim Jones, the future Jonestown cult leader. Greg Hollimon and Paul Jurewicz star as Divine and Jones, respectively.

  1. Annoyance Theatre 851 W Belmont Ave
  2. Fri Jun 6 - Fri Aug 1
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Go, Improv, GO!

  • Price band: 1/4

Tickle your kids' funny bones at the Second City's all-ages improv show, with performers building everything on audience suggestions.

  1. UP Comedy Club 230 W North Ave, at Wells St
  2. Tue Jun 17 - Thu Jul 31
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Build-A-Tale

  • Price band: 1/4

Thorpedo Productions comes to the Gorilla Tango Theater in Bucktown every last Saturday of the moth to put on a family-friendly improv show. Afterward, the crew offers kids the opportunity to join the cast onstage for improv games. 

  1. Gorilla Tango Theatre Chicago 1919 N Milwaukee Ave, at Western Ave
  2. Sat Jun 28 - Sat Aug 30
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Seussical

  • Price band: 1/4

Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss characters get rolled together in Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 2000 musical. Scott Weinstein helms the summer family production at Shakes.

  1. Chicago Shakespeare Theater 800 E Grand Ave, at Navy Pier
  2. Sat Jul 5 - Sun Aug 17
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Impress These Apes

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

The comedy competition series, in which comics perform weekly challenges to be judged by a panel of superintelligent simians from the future, returns for its eighth season.

  1. The ComedySportz Theatre 929 W Belmont Ave, at Wilton St
  2. Mon Jul 7 - Mon Sep 1
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The Merry Wives of Windsor

  • Price band: 1/4

First Folio Theatre presents a new addition to their annual "Shakespeare Under the Stars" program in suburban Oak Brook. In Shakespeare's silliest of plays, the ladies of Windsor are swindled by traveling Englishman Sir John Falstaff, quickly developing into a battle of the sexes. Complete with music, comedy and kid-friendly content, the show is appropriate for all ages.

  1. First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate 1717 W 31st St
  2. Wed Jul 9 - Sun Aug 10
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The Gun Show

  • Price band: 1/4

EM Lewis reveals personal anecdotes and shocking tales of gun experiences in rural Oregon in this dramatic and telling solo show.

  1. 16th Street Theater at Berwyn Cultural Center 6420 16th St
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sat Aug 2
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A Small Fire

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Steep Theatre. By Adam Bock. Directed by Joanie Schultz. With Melissa Riemer, Robert Koon, Julia Siple, James Allen. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.Theater review by Kris VireEmily Bridges is the type of woman who once would’ve been referred to as a tough cookie. She owns her own construction company and prides herself on being seen as a tough boss, tied to her Blackberry and almost too eager to cut loose an employee who’s having family issues in order to shore up her authority. As vividly played by Steep stalwart Melissa Riemer, Emily brings her bluntness home as well, leaving her more sensitive husband John (Robert Koon) a tad cowed and her grown daughter Jenny (Julia Siple) almost estranged. “I don’t like it when she just says things,” says Jenny, who’s very much Team Dad, and we see what she means when Emily complains to John about Jenny’s unseen but apparently good-hearted fiancé—deemed snooty because he makes a living importing cheese—or when she tells Jenny that John will be fine dealing with a growing trauma because he has no imagination, so he can’t imagine how bad it could get.That upheaval is Emily’s own health crisis: One by one, Emily is losing access to her senses. First she can’t smell anything (which, combined with a minor kitchen incident, provides the piece’s title). As playwright Adam Bock moves his episodic scenes toward Jenny’s impending wedding, Emily loses taste and sight; finally, at the wedding reception, her hearing disappears.Doctors are

  1. Steep Theatre 1115 W Berwyn Ave, between Broadway and Winthrop Ave
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sat Aug 16
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Dead Man's Cell Phone

  • Price band: 1/4

A technology-averse woman picks up the ringing phone of a slumped-over stranger in a café and finds herself drawn into the dead man's life in Sarah Ruhl's twee dramedy. Toma Tavares Langston directs for The Enthusiasts Theatre Company.

  1. Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N Southport Ave, at Oakdale Ave
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sun Jul 27
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One Flea Spare

  • Price band: 1/4

A group of strangers are forced to overcome what separates them when the Black Plague confines them together in quarantine. Jeffrey Clark Stokes directs Naomi Wallace's 1995 drama.

  1. The Den Theatre 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, at Paulina St
  2. Sun Jul 13 - Fri Jul 25
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Principal Principle

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Stage Left Theatre and Theatre Seven of Chicago at Theater Wit. By Joe Zarrow. Directed by Scott Bishop. With Cassy Sanders, McKenzie Chinn, Elana Elyce, Barbara Roeder Harris, Arya Daire. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.Theater review by Kris VireKay is a young white woman who’s jumped into teaching via an accelerated certification program for “career changers.” When she arrives in the English Lit office for her first day of inservice at Chinua Achebe High School Academy somewhere on Chicago’s South Side, one of her new colleagues, eyeing her with a mixture of suspicion and amusement, asks where she’s from. “Oh, I have a studio in Logan Square,” Kay says. But her inquisitor didn’t ask where she lives—the question was where she’s from, and in Kay’s case, the answer is Naperville.In many depictions of inner-city educators, this early exchange would appear to mark Kay as one of two types: either the Michelle Pfeiffer White Lady Savior, here to help Achebe’s underperforming students and burned-out teachers reignite their spark, or the naïve suburban mark, who shows up to school only to get schooled on the harsh truths of teaching.Thankfully, playwright Joe Zarrow’s bracing new comedy respects the system and the audience too much to take any such easy route. Zarrow, who was himself an English teacher for several years, including a four-year stint with Chicago Public Schools, populates the fictional Achebe English office with an array of types: Kay (Cassy Sanders), the newbie

  1. Theater Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave, between Racine and Lakewood Aves
  2. Thu Jul 17 - Sun Aug 17
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Intimate Apparel

  • Price band: 1/4

Eclipse Theatre Company's Lynn Nottage season continues with a revival of Nottage's 2003 piece about a black seamstress in turn-of-the-20th-century New York. Steve Scott directs a cast that includes Kelly Owens, Eustace Allen, Brandon Greenhouse, Ebony Joy, Skye Shrum and Frances Wilkerson.

  1. Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N Southport Ave, at Oakdale Ave
  2. Thu Jul 17 - Sun Aug 24
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A Backyard Cabaret

  • Price band: 1/4

Gather on the patio at Ada St. for an old-fashioned variety show hosted by Kelly McGuigan and Mary Catherine Curran. Snacks and a few beers from Solemn Oath are included in the ticket price, with proceeds benefitting Humor for Hope.

  1. Ada St. 1664 N Ada St, between Concord Pl and Wabansia Ave
  2. Mon Jul 21
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Hellish Half-Light: Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett

  • Price band: 1/4

Jennifer Markowitz directs an evening of a half-dozen of Beckett's briefer works: Catastrophe, Come and Go, Play, Rough for Theater I and II and What Where.

  1. Angel Island 735 W Sheridan Rd, between Broadway and Pine Grove Ave
  2. Tue Jul 22 - Sat Aug 30
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Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat Exhibit

  • Price band: 1/4

The outdoor exhibit sheds light on endangered trees and what can be done to save them. Daily in July and August from 7am to sunset at the Conifer collection. 

  1. Morton Arboretum 4100 Illinois Rte 53
  2. Tue Jul 22 - Sun Aug 31
More info

Watch Us Grow: Monarch Butterflies

  • Price band: 1/4

Kids can experience the majestic, yet bizarre, metamorphosis of Illinois's state insect, the monarch butterfly. The beautiful insects start as chrysalises and emerge as beautiful butterflies, and kids can watch every step of the process.

  1. Kohl Children's Museum 2100 Patriot Blvd
  2. Tue Jul 22 - Mon Sep 1
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"Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo"

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

The extent of Frida Kahlo's influence in the art world, apart from her signature unibrow, is widely known. Her graphic self-portraits portray her psychological and physical self, usually accompanied by lots of blood and body parts. The MCA is honoring her memory by displaying several works inspired by Kahlo's style of rebellion and cultural reflection through four main themes: the performance of gender, issues of national indentity, the political body, and the absent or traumatized body.

  1. Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E Chicago Ave, at Mies van der Rohe Way
  2. Tue Jul 22 - Sun Oct 5
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