Cheap things to do in Chicago

What to do in Chicago when you're broke.

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.

Messing With A Friend

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.

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Annoyance Theatre, Lakeview Until Thursday August 20 2015


iO presents the long-running definition of late night comedy on their stage, full of big laughs and high energy.

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iO Harold Cabaret, Lincoln Park Until Friday February 13 2015

Amy's Candy Bar Pop-up Store

Amy's Candy Bar pops up at the Hyde Park Shopping Center for six months, just in time for holiday shopping, Valentine's Day gifts and just general chocolate needs.

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Hyde Park Shopping Center Until Wednesday April 1 2015

Young Playwrights Festival

The newly renamed Pegasus Theatre Chicago (formerly Pegasus Players) presents its 28th annual slate of competition-winning one-acts by Chicago high school students.

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Chicago Dramatists, West Town Until Saturday January 31 2015

Cookie Play

Trap Door Theatre. By Ken Prestininzi. Directed by Kate Hendrickson. With Lyndsay Rose Kane, Chris Popio, Mike Steele, Gage Wallace, Carl Wisniewski. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Ken Prestininzi’s world-premiere dreamscape addresses something or some things about our modern landscape of free speech, but it’s impossible to tell what exactly. In Kate Hendrickson’s production at Trap Door, Cookie Play takes on the surveillance state, Edward Snowden–style whistleblowing, Christianist religious superiority, federal and mass-media terror-forming and a number of other current concerns. But it applies a lamentable lack of specificity in its tale of a potential new Snowden-like young man, remanded to secret captivity in his parents’ Dearborn, Michigan home to be interrogated by a pair of cartoonish government agents while his mother helplessly looks on and bakes batch after batch of cookies. Prestininzi’s vision here comes across like an impressionist painting of a Michael Moore fever dream.Prestininzi squanders the first 40 of his 100 minutes on repetitive, aimless anti-authoritarian posturing before laying out his fantasia’s actual premise: An unintelligent pair of intelligence agents, both named Frank and more invested in getting ahead of their colleagues than serving any real security interest, propose to place young detainee Tommy (Gage Wallace, admirably committed to the abstract semaphore physicality that’s been assigned to him) in a

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Trap Door Theatre, Bucktown Until Saturday February 14 2015

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them

Critics' pick

Having lost their mother to cancer and their father to survivor’s guilt—he’s all but abandoned their isolated old farmhouse to throw himself into work and the arms of a new girlfriend—teenage Kenny and 12-year-old Edith are left to fend for themselves. Kenny manages the household budget, drawing from occasional bank deposits their dad makes for them, while Edith serves as self-appointed security detail, keeping constant vigil with a bow and arrow or taking target practice with her pellet gun. Both maintain strong grades at school, even as they’re increasingly falling asleep in class.Edith is suspicious when Kenny starts spending more and more time with his math study-buddy-with-benefits, Benji. But when Benji’s overintrusive mother finds a note he’s written to Kenny expressing his feelings and kicks him out of their house, both Edith and Kenny step up to invite him into theirs. Can the three kids make a go of their newly chosen family?The answer is probably, if the world will let them, in A. Rey Pamatmat’s awfully endearing fantasy/nightmare of adolescent wish fulfillment. Set in the early ’90s on “a remote non-working farm outside of a remote town in remotest middle America,” Edith Can Shoot Things takes a sympathetic look at Edith and Kenny’s isolation on the farm, as Filipino-Americans in the Midwest and as products of parental neglect; Kenny and Benji’s budding gay relationship and its role in Benji’s feeling of isolation within his own family are also explored with empat

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Collaboraction, Wicker Park Until Saturday January 31 2015

Lions in Illyria

Lifeline stages a new kid-friendly, anthropomorphic adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, in which young lioness Violet must disguise herself as a boy after becoming separated from her brother in a strange land.

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Lifeline Theatre, Chicago Until Sunday February 15 2015

Keys of the Kingdom

The pastor of an evangelical megachurch commissions a mural from an atheist lesbian artist (from New York City, even!) in Penny Penniston's new comedy. But the high-profile, politically connected preacher, Ed Newell (Don Bender), prominent enough to be called away from Des Moines for a Virginia photo-op with the president at a moment’s notice, takes a backseat to his outwardly confident, inwardly conflicted but fiercely loyal assistant, Arthur (Brian Plocharyczyk), in Penniston’s equally inspired and schematic setup. It’s Arthur, who survived addiction and tragedy to find Ed and Jesus in that order, who serves as the main opponent for the feisty artist, Irene (Kate Black-Spence), after Ed insists on hiring the caustically abrasive painter to decorate the ceiling of his outer office—Arthur’s main domain.Penniston essentially takes a number of hot-button social issues—gay rights, reproductive choice, addiction treatment and recovery, end-of-life decisions—and throws them in a pot to boil with a stock of megachurch morals and liberal assumptions. That’s not to say Kingdom isn’t engaging—Penniston’s moral arguments are often intellectually solid, even thought-provoking. But they remain arguments in service of the playwright’s needs more than fully realized characters, despite strong efforts by director Greg Werstler and a nicely attuned cast of actors who give it a solid go. Plocharczyk, who absolutely inhabits the look and mindset of the late-salvation youth-pastor type, imbues

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Theater Wit, Lakeview Until Sunday February 15 2015

A Map of Virtue

Critics' pick

Erin Courtney’s thoroughly intriguing 2012 play, receiving its Chicago premiere in an impeccably staged, richly acted Cor Theatre production, achieves something remarkable in its balance between the formal and the random. A Map of Virtue shows a fascination with form in its careful (and carefully pointed out) attention to symmetry, as well as its characters’ references to tightly constructed poetic forms like the terzanelle. Yet it employs these schematics with a not unwelcome amount of fancy, as in the handing over of narration to a small bird statuette that changes hands among multiple characters in the course of the story (played with compelling avian precision by Scottie Caldwell). And in portraying the series of unlikely events that leads strangers Mark (Will Von Vogt) and Sarah (Mallory Nees) to friendship—and eventually, along with Sarah’s husband Nate (Nick Mikula), to an unexpected and harrowing experience in the play’s middle third—it depicts how the most seemingly chance occurrences can most heavily shape our lives.Tosha Fowler’s atmospheric staging deftly navigates Courtney’s narrative quirks, hopping from Caldwell’s captivating bird narrator to brutal scenes of realism to confessional-style direct address monologues with ease. Tierra G. Novy’s set design and Eric J. Vigo’s lighting make the most of the largely blank space. And with finely tuned performances, Von Vogt, Nees, Mikula and Ruben Adorno (in a smaller role as Mark’s loyal boyfriend) craft nuanced, deepl

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Rivendell Theatre, Edgewater Until Saturday February 14 2015

Princess Mary Demands Your Attention

Bailiwick Chicago stages a new play by resident playwright Aaron Holland, directed by artistic director Lili-Anne Brown, that combines War and Peace with drag queens in the tale of Amari Bolkonski, a gay, black and aimless young man.

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Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Lincoln Park Until Saturday February 21 2015

The Book of Merman

Are a Book of Mormon parody and an Ethel Merman parody two great tastes that taste great together? Find out in this new lark from Leo Schwartz, whose previous Pride Films and Plays musical, Under a Rainbow Flag, got a Jeff Award for best new work. David Zak directs.

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Mary's Attic, Andersonville Until Sunday February 15 2015

Top Girls

Caryl Churchill's modern classic of social satire famously asks whether feminism and personal ambition can be reconciled. Mark Boergers directs this revival for the Arc Theatre.

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The Den Theatre, Wicker Park Until Sunday February 8 2015

Plastic Revolution

I’ve never seen a theater crowd so amped up before a show. The Den Theatre is the favorite venue of anyone who’s been there, and the New Colony produces such consistently creative and entertaining work that “up-and-coming” feels like an insult at this point. The Den has given them a permanent home for their seventh season, and Plastic Revolution is our first chance to see what our new favorite couple is capable of.The production is a reworking of TNC's 2009 show Tupperware: An American Musical Fable. In 1950s Florida, recently widowed Delores is adrift until the rather eccentric Brownie Wise recruits her to sell the ladies of the neighborhood on a miraculous new convenience: Tupperware. But even as they seduce the garden club, queen bee and homemaker supreme Lilah organizes against this distraction from womanly duties.The musical's songs are simple, funny affairs that flash rockabilly style and belt passion. They don’t have to be memorable, just colorful. “Two Hours”, the sweetly staged plea of the housewives for just a little personal time in their days, is the hummable exception that grabs our sympathies and keeps them for the night. But Julie Nichols’s score continues when the singing stops to provide a Looney Toons-like comedic beat that plays up the action. It’s a testament to the music that it becomes a vital part of the fun. There are a few growing pains in the new space though—the volume on the instruments and mics isn’t balanced very well, and can be too soft or loud

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The Den Theatre, Wicker Park Until Sunday February 22 2015

The Greatest Story Never Told

Kids can get in on the action in this weekly improvised show that begins with an empty storybook and ends with a real, purchasable illustrated book based on that day's story.

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iO Del Close Theater, Lincoln Park Until Saturday April 25 2015

Short Shakespeare! Macbeth

Director Kirsten Kelly compresses Shakespeare's drama of murderous ambition into a 75-minute, family-friendly edition (recommended for kids 10 and up).

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Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Until Saturday February 14 2015

Red Bud

Brant Russell will helm the U.S. premiere of Brett Neveu's play about a group of middle-aged friends on an annual pilgrimage to the Michigan motocross race. The Chicago-based playwright's drama was first produced in 2010 by London's Royal Court Theatre.

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Signal Ensemble Theatre, North Side Until Saturday February 28 2015

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

The Other Theatre Company makes its debut with a new staging of Anna Deavere Smith's documentary play about the Los Angeles riots that stemmed from the acquittals of the LAPD officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King. Jason W. Gerace directs a cast to include Toya Turner, Danielle Pinnock, Carolyn Molloy, Tanya McBride, Mary Winn Heider and Leena Kurishingal.

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Chopin Theatre, Noble Square Until Sunday February 22 2015

Mondays with Bella

This gloriously silly improv group not only makes you laugh but also donates a portion of its ticket sales to local charities.

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The Playground Theater, Boystown Monday January 26 2015

Ice Skating at Riis Park

Looking for somewhere to skate on the West Side of Chicago? Hop on a Fullerton bus and cart your blades over to Riis Park, where the Chicago Blackhawks Ice Rink awaits, complete with a warming trailer for frigid days. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rental $6.

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Riis Park, Belmont-Cragin Until Saturday February 28 2015

Ice Skating at Midway Plaisance Park

In the midst of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, the Midway Plaisance Park ice rink provides a scenic venue for skaters in Hyde Park. Facilities include a warming house, where you can heat up after an hour or two on the ice. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

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Midway Plaisance Skating Rink, Hyde Park Until Saturday February 28 2015

Ice Skating at McKinley Park

Located on Chicago's southwest side, McKinley Park's ice rink offers a slippery surface for skaters of all skill levels. When you're done skating, walk over to Bridgeport and get a hot pie from Pleasant House Bakery. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

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McKinley Park, Southwest Side Until Saturday February 28 2015

Ice Skating at Mt. Greenwood Park

Located near Berverly and Oak Lawn, the Mt. Greenwood Park ice rink offers a place for South Side skaters to gather. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

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Mt. Greenwood Park, Southwest Side Until Saturday February 28 2015

Ice Skating at Rowan Park

Just west of the Indiana border lies the Rowan Park ice rink, where you can skate and possibly catch a whiff of some fresh Zombie Dust being brewed. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

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Rowan Park, Chicago Until Saturday February 28 2015

Ice Skating at Wentworth Park

Watch the planes fly out of Midway while you glide across the ice on the rink at Wentworth Park. If you're looking for something to do after your fingers are frozen, consider heading south for a beer at the 5 Rabbits Cerveceria. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

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Wentworth Park Until Saturday February 28 2015

Ice Skating at Warren Park

For residents of Rogers Park, the Chicago Blackhawks ice rink at Warren Park is the ice skating venue of choice on the North Side of the city. It even has a warming house to keep you toasty on particularly chilly days. (See the park's website for ice rink hours.) Skate rentals are $6.

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Warren Park, Chicago Until Saturday February 28 2015
More cheap things to do