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.


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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The Midnight City

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

Firecat Projects at the Steppenwolf Garage. By Tony Fitzpatrick with Stan Klein. Directed by Ann Filmer. With Fitzpatrick, Klein, Anna Fermin, John Rice. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission. Theater review by Megan Powell “I’d rather have a memory than a dream,” goes the classic Sarah Vaughan track that’s sung near the end of The Midnight City, but this theater piece suggests that Chicago artist/raconteur/provocateur Tony Fitzpatrick would rather have both. The Lombard-born, longtime Ukrainian Village resident and internationally-known visual artist (and writer, actor, radio personality) is moving to New Orleans, where he wants to just “draw birds and be warm.” Despite that post–polar vortex declaration (and that he’s “done with dibs”), Fitzpatrick’s laments, rants and memories about a changing city, “a city that people made,” he declares his fierce love of Chicago still flourishes. Fitzpatrick’s longtime sidekick Stan Klein, who’s billed as a “smart traveler in the world of the arts,” thinks Tony should stay put. In steamy New Orleans, Klein tells him, “all your paper’s gonna curl.” Stein’s not just Fitzpatrick’s onstage foil, he’s his business partner in Firecat Projects, their Bucktown-based art project, and collaborator in this, their fourth stage show. It’s a fitting coda to follow the trilogy of pieces also staged at Steppenwolf and created with the same collaborators. As before, Midnight City takes the shape of a 90 or so minute, multi-arts storytelling night

  1. Steppenwolf Garage 1624 N Halsted St, between North Ave and Willow St
  2. Sat Sep 6 - Sun Oct 19
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Don't Pass Go

  • Price band: 1/4

Monopoly is a classic board game that everyone knows, so why not base a musical around it? Come to the show and roll the dice to determine which version will be in focus: poverty-stricken Baltic Avenue or millionaire mansions on Park Place? Anything is up for grabs.

  1. pH Comedy Theater 1515 W Berywn Ave, at Clark St
  2. Sat Sep 6 - Sat Nov 8
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Season on the Line

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

The House Theatre of Chicago at Chopin Theatre. By Shawn Pfautsch. Directed by Jess McLeod. With ensemble cast. Running time: 3hrs 20mins; two intermissions.Theater review by Kris VireIn a way, the House Theatre’s latest plays like an enjoyable American take on Slings and Arrows, the brilliant Canadian TV dramedy whose three seasons each tracked a season of on– and offstage drama at a Stratford-like festival. Playwright Shawn Pfautsch’s snapshot of a season at the fictional Bad Settlement Theatre Company follows the foibles of producing theater on a much smaller budget. Yet Pfautsch’s piece also does double duty as a kind of mirror of the season’s final production. Which means it’s a stage adaptation of Moby-Dick in the form of a comedy about a theater doing a stage adaptation of Moby-Dick. Got that?Don’t worry, it’s easy enough to follow. Our way in is an unnamed narrator—don’t call him Ishmael—who gets hired as assistant stage manager for the season despite being a total theater noob. Through his voyage, as relatably embodied by actor Ty Olwin with fresh-faced enthusiasm, we vicariously experience the highs and lows of creating theater and meet an assortment of loose Melville analogues as backstage types as the company embarks on productions of The Great Gatsby and Balm in Gilead. Using his characters as stylized archetypes the way Melville employed the crew of the Pequod, Pfautsch playfully, and largely successfully, conveys the joys of discovery in rehearsal and the adren

  1. Chopin Theatre 1543 W Division St, at Milwaukee Ave
  2. Fri Sep 12 - Sun Oct 26
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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Idle Muse Theatre Company at Rivendell Theatre. By Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Nathan Pease. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission. Theater review by Dan Jakes Impropriety is the ultimate taboo in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 horror classic, a concept that largely went the way of tailcoats and monocles somewhere along the timeline between its Victorian setting and today's personal information–overloading society. If the Twitterverse alone weren't enough to prove secrets and image-obsession just don't give the dramatic highs they used to, just look to the country's collective shoulder shrug upon seeing Edward Snowden's NSA leaks.Consider the hypothesis put forward by Jekyll, the socially elite, self-experimenting gentleman physician who untethers his inner demons for science: Inherent in every person is a morally-inverse doppelgänger whose urges are either given into or suppressed. Well, of course. In Nathan Pease's American Idol-free production for Idle Muse, Stevenson's gothic parable is taken a step further by divvying up Mr. Hyde to be portrayed by a rotating cast of four opposite Dr. Jekyll (Gary Barth). It's a potentially interesting challenge, one that's been capitalized on a handful of times for excitement and laughs by the likes of former Hypocrites artistic director Sean Graney. Jeffrey Hatcher's self-serious 2008 adaptation seems headier, as it fragments Hyde into more nuanced and varied incarnations. It doesn't follow, then, that just about e

  1. Rivendell Theatre 5779 N Ridge Ave, between Edgewater and Ardmore Aves
  2. Thu Sep 18 - Sun Oct 19
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The Monster in the Hall

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Filament Theatre Ensemble. By David Grieg. Directed by Julie Ritchey. With Molly Bunder, Lindsey Dorcus, Christian Libonati, Andrew Marchetti. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas The Monster In The Hall is a cacophony of enthusiasm, anxiety and Scottish accents. David Grieg’s free-flowing script presents an unprocessed, rapid-fire coming-of-age story wrapped around a small nugget of pain and sadness. Filament Theatre Ensemble chose an ambitious project, but one that was within its means. Though it's occasionally rough and careens through its blocking like the show needs to finish up so it can get to the bathroom, it’s an enthusiastic ride whose color, noise and surprises serve the story well.It wasn’t crazy enough that Duck Macatarsney (Lindsey Dorcus) is the daughter of two bikers. And it wasn’t crazy enough that her mom died years ago in an accident, and that her Ducati Monster motorcycle remains permanently parked in the house as her legacy. Her lovable father Duke (Andrew Marchetti) has developed MS, and Duck has become both caregiver and her own parent in an attempt to keep their ramshackle life going—until an impending visit from social services threatens to strip all that away.The production takes place in the round with cabaret seating, on a stage resembling a 1960s music program complete with microphones and a piano. Real-life high jinks are interwoven with songs, game show sequences, and late-night hosts who expand upon Duck’s

  1. Filament Theatre Ensemble 4041 N Milwaukee Ave, between Irving Park Rd and Belle Plaine Ave
  2. Fri Sep 19 - Sun Oct 26
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A Kurt Weill Cabaret

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

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at No Exit Cafe. Directed by Fred Anzevino. With Jordan Phelps, Jill Sesso, Christopher Logan, Kellie Cundiff, Michael Reyes. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission. Theater review by Megan Powell Theo Ubique’s latest, finely crafted revue opens with “Bilbao Song,” an ode from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 1929 musical Happy End that recalls the headiness and hangovers that transpired in Bill’s Beer Hall, a good-time dump where chairs and bottles fly but the fun was “fantastic.” The fun eventually ends, once the beer hall is cleaned up into a middle-class joint, “just another place to put your ass.” That trajectory mirrors that of Weill, who was barely out of his 20s when he collaborated with Brecht on the songs so intensely rendered in the first act of A Kurt Weill Cabaret.  Comprising most of the act, their six-movement “Mahagonny Songspiel” salutes, then denounces Mahagonny, another debauched and dreamlike place. Its premiere in 1927 in Germany was so electrifying that, according to a biography of Weill, he soon after entertained offers to promote its “Alabama Song” as a “pop-song in America.” While that dream didn’t come to fruition at the time (though decades later “Alabama Song” was covered by avant-pop stars; both The Doors and David Bowie performed versions), the rise of the Third Reich eventually pushed Weill to the U.S. and to collaborations in the 1930s and 1940s with the best and brightest playwrights and lyricists of Broadway, incl

  1. No Exit Cafe 6970 N Glenwood Ave, between Morse and Lunt Aves
  2. Mon Sep 22 - Sun Oct 19
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John Doe

  • Price band: 1/4

Trap Door Theatre presents a new adaptation of The Madam and the Nun by Stanislaw I. Witkiewicz. John Doe is a mysterious tragedy searching for and accepting the beauty in madness.

  1. Trap Door Theatre 1655 W Cortland St, between Marshfield Ave and Paulina St
  2. Thu Sep 25 - Sat Oct 25
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Ching Chong Chinaman

  • Price band: 1/4

Lauren Yee's comedy satirizes stereotypes of Chinese-American identity via an ultra-assimilated California family that acquires an indentured servant from the People's Republic. Giau Minh Truong directs A-Squared Theatre Workshop's Chicago premiere.

  1. Raven Theatre 6157 N Clark St, between Hood and Granville Aves
  2. Sat Sep 27 - Sun Oct 19
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The Clean House

  • Price band: 1/4

Bluebird Arts makes its debut with Sarah Ruhl's whimsical 2004 Pulitzer finalist about a cleaning lady dreaming of a careeer in stand-up comedy.

  1. Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N Southport Ave, at Oakdale Ave
  2. Mon Sep 29 - Sat Oct 25
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Dead Accounts

  • Price band: 1/4

A prodigal son returns to his Midwestern family home in Theresa Rebeck's 2012 play. Jason Gerace directs the Chicago premiere for Step Up Productions.

  1. The Den Theatre 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, at Paulina St
  2. Fri Oct 3 - Sun Nov 2
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Take Me Out

  • Price band: 1/4

Eclectic Full Contact Theatre stages a timely storefront revival of Richard Greenberg's 2003 Tony winner, which imagined what would happen when the first male athlete in one of the big pro leagues (in this case baseball) came out as gay.

  1. Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N Southport Ave, at Oakdale Ave
  2. Fri Oct 3 - Sun Nov 2
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Red Death

  • Price band: 1/4

This new play from The Runaways Lab Theatre looks at Gaston LeRoux's Phantom of the Opera from the perspective of an inspector who reopens the case years later.

  1. Chopin Theatre 1543 W Division St, at Milwaukee Ave
  2. Thu Oct 9 - Thu Oct 30
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Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe

  • Price band: 1/4

ColorBox Theatre stages Eric Coble's play, which comprises adaptations of four of Poe's best-known works: The Raven, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Telltale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum.

  1. Royal George Theatre 1641 N Halsted St, at North Ave
  2. Fri Oct 10 - Sun Oct 19
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Impenetrable

  • Price band: 1/4

Clockwise stages a new production of Mia McCullough's 2012 play, first seen at Chicago's Stage Left Theatre, about the controversy that's sparked by a spa billboard featuring an attractive, scantily clad young woman with arrows pointing at potential imperfections and cosmetic methods to change them. Judy Blue directs.

  1. Clockwise Theatre 221 N Genesee St, between Grand and Clayton
  2. Fri Oct 10 - Sun Nov 2
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Snorf!

  • Price band: 1/4

The Noah Ginex Puppet Company presents this monthly all-ages variety show featuring comedy sketches, improv and special guests.

  1. The Playground Theater 3209 N Halsted St, at Belmont Ave
  2. Sat Oct 18 - Sat Jan 10
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Chicago Ideas Week

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Lasting change begins with new ideas, which is what organizers are hoping to spark during Chicago Ideas Week. The series of more than 80 talks, conversations and summits invites artists, engineers and industry leaders to share their thoughts with attentive crowds at venues all around the city. Featured speakers include actress Joan Cusack, country singer Naomi Judd and former Meet the Press host David Gregory.

  1. Cadillac Palace Theatre 151 W Randolph St, at LaSalle St
  2. Sun Oct 19
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Bechdel Fest 2

  • Price band: 1/4

Broken Nose Theatre brings its festival of new ten-minute works featuring all-female casts who talk to each other about something other than men back for another round. This edition features works by Karen Kessler, Kristiana Rae Colon, Shepsu Aakhu, Brooke Allen, Calamity West, Bilal Dardai, Mikala Hansen and Emily Dendinger.

  1. Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N Lincoln Ave, between Webster and Belden Aves
  2. Sun Oct 19 - Wed Oct 22
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Chicago Children's Museum Halloween

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Chicago Children’s Museum serves up the Halloween fun with no-scare entertainment like DIY face painting, costume-making and an accessory workshop led by costume designer Anna Glowacki. A frolic and a jump through the leaves serves as the coup de grâce for this small kid event.

  1. Chicago Children's Museum Navy Pier, 700 E Grand Ave, at Lake Shore Drive
  2. Sun Oct 19
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Kinky Friedman

  • Price band: 1/4
  1. The Promontory 5311 S Lake Park Ave, 60615
  2. Sun Oct 19
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"Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections"

  • Price band: 1/4

Collecting 63 artworks from the early Christian and Byzantine eras, "Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections" presents a selection of mosaics, architectural fragments, manuscripts, silver and painted icons. The exhibit features newly restored pieces on loan from various Greek collections, some of which are being exhibited in the U.S. for the very first time.

  1. Art Institute of Chicago 111 S Michigan Ave, at Adams St
  2. Mon Oct 20 - Sun Feb 15
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The Frozen on the Square (1982)

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

Akvavit Theatre. By Lucas Svensson. Translated by Chad Eric Bergman. Directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission. Theater review by Megan Powell For a play set during the filming of Ingmar Bergman’s most expensive and opulent film, Svensson’s dark, offbeat comedy is positively austere, clocking in at a mere 80 minutes. Fanny and Alexander (in its four-part TV version) stretched to over 300. Trim as it is, this U.S. premiere of De Frusna på Torget (1982), translated from Swedish by Akvavit’s Chad Eric Bergman, is replete with emotional riches.I’ve seen neither the five-hour version nor the shorter theatrical release of Bergman’s 1982 film, which follows the Eckdahl family saga in early 20th-century Sweden. Does that matter? It doesn’t seem so, for this is a compelling story that follows ordinary people that is at equal turns droll and distressing. Clearly, visual elements of the film are integrated into Akvavit’s production, particularly a miniature theatre, which is replicated life-size in the proscenium arch built into the Den’s cozy theatre space. And within that framework—both the theatrical arch and the setting on the fringes of Bergman’s masterpiece—is seen the impact of the extraordinary film on ordinary lives.“The Frozen” are extras that are being filmed in an outdoor scene for Fanny and Alexander in the frigid winter weather of Uppsala. It’s a big deal for the Swedish city; an effusive news reporter covers the scene

  1. The Den Theatre 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, at Paulina St
  2. Mon Oct 20 - Sun Nov 9
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100 Proof Comedy and the Chaser

  • Price band: 1/4

Get your stand-up fix with this night of local comedy founded by Jamie Campbell. "Chase" it at 9:30pm with an open mic for the newbies.

  1. The ComedySportz Theatre 929 W Belmont Ave, at Wilton St
  2. Mon Oct 20 - Mon Dec 29
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The Second City's Improv All-Stars

  • Price band: 1/4

It's the same old improv games we've seen a hundred times before, but played to perfection by a whip-smart team of pros who manage to create laughs out of thin air and aren't afraid to go off-color when appropriate. The legendary Mick Napier directs (and it shows).

  1. UP Comedy Club 230 W North Ave, at Wells St
  2. Mon Oct 20 - Mon Dec 29
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"Simon Starling: Metamorphology"

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Simon Starling emerged from the Galsgow art scene in the early 1990s, creating memorable films, photographs and installations that repurpose existing materials to impart new stories and insights. "Metamorphology" is the first large-scale survey of Starling's work to be hosted by a major American museum. The exhibition will include complex multimedia installations, photographs and some of the artist's recent film work.

  1. Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E Chicago Ave, at Mies van der Rohe Way
  2. Tue Oct 21 - Sun Nov 2
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