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
More info

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
Buy tickets

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
More info

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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The Submission

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Pride Films and Plays at Apollo Studio Theater. By Jeff Talbott. Directed by Jude Hansen. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 50mins; one intermission. Theater review by Dan Jakes Ask any actor of color earnestly if theater, one of the enduring bastions of progressive discussions about equality, is free from the racial discord many of its plays depict, and you might deservedly receive a stunned glare not unlike those liberally tossed back and forth in Jude Hansen's production for Pride Films and Plays as a response. Of course it isn't, and you don't have to look hard for examples to the contrary; cultural appropriation, curious casting choices, representation (or the lack thereof) in new work selection, "whitesplaining" and stereotypes still find their way on and behind the scenes of contemporary stages, no matter how good the big picture intentions of its community.Arguably, though, for a more revealing answer—a more cringe-inducing one, in the case of amateur playwright Danny (Nicholas Bailey)—ask a white artist the same question. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many in the industry share a pervasive thought that the professional experience for minority artists is somehow inherently easier, as if ethnicity alone is a shoo-in factor for grant money, roles and slots. Jeff Talbott's 2011 drama baits anti-affirmative action sentiments by asking a fairly absurd question: Can the theatre industry embrace a powerful and race-focused work about a black family if it kn

  1. Apollo Theater 2540 N Lincoln Ave, at Lill St
  2. Sun Oct 12 - Tue Nov 25
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Devil's Day Off

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Signal Ensemble Theatre. By Jon Steinhagen. Directed by Ronan Marra. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission. Theater review by Dan Jakes Jon Steinhagen's new slice-of-life play reminded me a bit of HBO's 2007 multimedia Voyeur Project, in which an apartment is cross-sectioned to reveal brief but telling moments in the ordinary lives of the nameless tenants within. By design, it seems, Ronan Marra's world premiere for Signal Ensemble Theatre feels like a living art installation itself, for better and worse.Several days into a blistering heatwave, a power outage interrupts the days and nights of 100 or so urban characters in 50 micro-scenes. Cell phone battery life becomes a precious resource, arguments between couples boil over, and a Waldorf and Statler pair pop in and out to comment on the heat.The term experimental gets tossed around a lot in the non-equity scene, but Steinhagen is legitimately manipulating form and character conventions here, giving them a twist, and seeing what shakes out. As one of the play's few constants, guitarist Craig Winston provides an ambient, meditative soundtrack off to the corner of the action, and it complements Buck Blue's modern and romantic set. For a nearly empty stage that's required to be repurposed every few minutes or so, the ambiance Marra creates aurally and visually have a serene and fantastical quality that pairs well with some of Steinhagen's magical realism twists. Despite able performances, the stories

  1. Signal Ensemble Theatre 1802 W Berenice Ave, Ravenswood Ave
  2. Thu Oct 16 - Sat Nov 22
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The Anyway Cabaret (an animal cabaret)

  • Rated as: 1/5
  • Price band: 1/4

TUTA Theatre Chicago at DCASE Storefront Theater. By Martin Marion. Directed by Jacqueline Stone. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas The Anyway Cabaret: An Animal Cabaret, was a cabaret, anyway, that’s what I’ll say.But as a play, any plot it shuns, and I needed more than rhymes and puns,in TUTA’s cabaret cliche, and I’m not writing a whole review in verse either.At first glance the stark red-and-black runway adorned with creepy costumes suggests the production will be a twisted-comedy musical revue. The minor-key opening number is confidently and comfortably ironic: Animals don’t do cabarets, but they’re animals, and they’ll do one anyway, because they have to. Also, everybody dies.But the performances that follow are straight out of Raffi—and not Raffi’s best work either. Innocent songs like “Kangaroo Poo” and “A Fish with a Wish” clash with stylistic attempts at a more adult, sinister purpose. And when every song is in rhyme, based on a pun, the lyrical range becomes limited over 17 numbers. It’s not that I didn’t laugh, because I did, and it’s not that the performances weren’t fun, because they were. It’s that if a single neuron fired in my brain, the experience was ruined. At this point you know about as much as I do as to why the animals put on a cabaret in the first place, and the puns don’t even make sense. Who cares if the fox has no socks?There’s happiness in a production of pure cotton candy, but The Any

  1. Storefront Theater, Gallery 37 Center for the Arts 66 E Randolph St, at Garland Ct
  2. Fri Oct 17 - Sun Nov 16
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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
More info

Nosferatu

  • Price band: 1/4

Step aside, Vlad: Silent Theatre bites into the other iconic vampire with an original adaptation of F.W. Murnau's 1922 film.

  1. Prop Thtr 3502–4 N Elston Ave, at Troy St
  2. Sun Oct 19 - Sun Nov 23
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Pseudo-Chum

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Neo-Futurists. Written and directed by Sean and Carolyn Benjamin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kevin Thomas The Neo-Futurists smoothly execute a complicated premise with their usual energy in Pseudo-Chum, even if the play itself ends up lost in a problem of its own creation.Pseudo-Chum is actually three stories told side-by-side about an alcoholic playwright’s pandering new play, Chum. One is a Sartre-esque, unending interview between the man himself (Sean Benjamin, also the actual playwright) and a hyperactive, omniscient journalist (Carolyn Benjamin, also the actual playwright). Another is the terrible play Chum, about a fishing family lost at sea while hunting shark bounties for the Australian government. The final story is about the disgruntled, competitive actors stuck rehearsing Chum despite their hatred of the play and its author.Much of Pseudo-Chum is an amusing abstract play about how what you ask for isn’t what you end up getting. The playwright is desperate to have his work appear deep and topical, but instead of grand philosophy, the interviewer finds his alcoholism and crippling insecurities revealed on the page. The actors want to be famous and successful, but their only path to glory is through a horrifically stupid play. Rapid-fire bickering dialogue keeps it fun while the show dives into its central metaphor: Are you the shark, or the chum?  It’s both the playwright’s grand idea and the topic of Pseudo-Chu

  1. Neo-Futurarium 5153 N Ashland Ave, between Winona St and Foster Ave
  2. Mon Oct 20 - Sat Nov 29
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Roald Dahl's The BFG

  • Price band: 1/4

David Wood's adaptation brings Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant and his young friend Sophie to life onstage.

  1. Apollo Theater 2540 N Lincoln Ave, at Lill St
  2. Sat Oct 25 - Sun Jan 4
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Twin Peaks

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Okay, let's get this out of the way: Twin Peaks is a Chicago band. These are not suburban kids, as we erroneously claimed in a Pitchfork Festival preview, forcing the dudes (that's their Twitter handle: @twinpeaksdudes) to rightfully call us out. Not that it matters much, as disenchantment and the urge to party are pretty universal feelings. With tunes about smoothies, breakfast and wiping brain cells, the buzzed about garage act takes a big leap on new album Wild Onion, which kind of splits the difference between the Rolling Stones' Aftermath and the first Poison record.

  1. Lincoln Hall 2424 N Lincoln Ave, between Fullerton Ave and Montana St
  2. Thu Oct 30
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St. Paul and the Broken Bones

  • Price band: 1/4

Where on earth does that voice come from? If ever there were a compelling case for reincarnation, it would be bespectacled frontman Paul Janeway, who looks like Drew Carey but sings like Otis Redding. Janeway's spine-tingling wail propels St. Paul and the Broken Bones ahead of the retro-soul pack, creating an electrifying—if utterly unexpected—experience. The "Half the City" tour of the seven-member Alabama soul group includes a club gig at Chicago's Metro on October 30.  

  1. Metro Chicago 3730 N Clark St, between Waveland and Racine Aves
  2. Thu Oct 30
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Stacked & Pitch, Please!

  • Price band: 1/4

This double bill features two musical improv groups. The ladies of Stacked provide four-part harmony based on an audience suggestion and Pitch, Please! features three character stories combined into one a capella musical event.

  1. MCL Chicago 3110 N Sheffield Ave, between Belmont Ave and Barry St
  2. Thu Oct 30
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Ménage-A-Hah

  • Price band: 1/4

An evening of sex-positive comedy, stories, music and more.

  1. Mary's Attic 5400 N Clark St, at Balmoral Ave
  2. Thu Oct 30
More info

Generationals

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Alix, the new album by indie duo Generationals, is an odd mix of scratchy indie pop, ’90s slacker rock, hip-hop and the blues of their hometown New Orleans. It shouldn't work, but luckily Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer have the songwriting chops to hold it all together. One of the more quietly underrated acts of the last half decade.

  1. Thalia Hall 1807 S Allport St, at 18th St
  2. Thu Oct 30
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Chicago College Class Clowns

  • Price band: 1/4

Comics AJ Lubecker, Kevin Lobkovich, Sean Parker and Patrick Reilly present a comedy showcase for students, by students, showcasing local Chicago stand-ups and special guests. Not a bad deal for $5.

  1. The Playground Theater 3209 N Halsted St, at Belmont Ave
  2. Thu Oct 30
More info

Booka Shade (DJ set)

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Set your Halloweekend off right, get down to some ace German house and call in to work on Friday. The Frankfurt duo has been balancing brainy studio tricks with body jacking club moves for over a decade. Being German, their brand of house leans harder, colder and more digital than our local soulful stuff, but it bangs with the best of them.

  1. The Mid 306 N Halsted St, at Wayman St
  2. Thu Oct 30
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Cursed!

  • Price band: 1/4

An audience suggestion kick-starts a 50-minute musical improv ghost story.

  1. The ComedySportz Theatre 929 W Belmont Ave, at Wilton St
  2. Thu Oct 30
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Great Expectations

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Strawdog's stirring new adaptation of Dickens's novel earned the number three slot on Time Out Chicago's list of the best plays of 2013. Director Jason Gerace returns for a remount this fall.

  1. Strawdog Theatre Company 3829 N Broadway, between Grace St and Sheridan Rd
  2. Fri Oct 31 - Sat Dec 13
More info

"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. Fri Oct 31 - Sun Nov 2
More info

"Earthly Delights"

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

As modern art continues to embrace minimalism, the MCA presents an exhibition of work from its permanent collection that explores the inherent pleasure and aesthetic beauty of art. Collecting paintings, sculptures, and installations by eight artists, "Earthly Delights" includes pieces that use decoration and design to confront social issues like gender and racial politics. The exhibit includes work by Swiss Balthus, Lynda Benglis, Carol Bove, Nick Cave, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Michaelangelo Pistoletto, Lari Pittman, and Yinka Shonibare.

  1. Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E Chicago Ave, at Mies van der Rohe Way
  2. Fri Oct 31 - Sun Nov 30
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"Chicago Works: Sarah and Joseph Belknap"

  • Price band: 1/4

Longtime collaborators Sarah and Joseph Belknap draw their inspiration from the skies, creating pieces inspired by distant planets and craters on the moon. Composed of sculptures, photography and videos, the MCA's latest Chicago Works exhibit delves into the otherworldly essence of the Belknaps' art.

  1. Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E Chicago Ave, at Mies van der Rohe Way
  2. Fri Oct 31 - Tue Feb 24
More info
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