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

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
More info

Challenger

  • Price band: 1/4

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

  1. iO Harold Cabaret 1501 N Kingsbury St
  2. Fri Jun 13 - Fri Oct 3
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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
More info

Take the Cake

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4

The Factory Theater at Prop Thtr. By Stacie Barra. Directed by Timothy C. Amos. With Laura McKenzie, Barra, Corrbette Pasko, Cheryl Roy, Anthony Tournis. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission. Theater review by Dan Jakes CBS and Chuck Lorre's gentle-humor empire notwithstanding, multi-camera sitcoms have largely gone the way of movie review shows and The Weather Channel: once ubiquitous television staples that became outmoded with audiences consuming media in different, increasingly sophisticated ways. The one place they seem to be riding it out the best, oddly, is the stage—if the frequency of ’80s– and ’90s-style prime-time sitcom parodies were a usable indication of what was actually on TV, you'd think laugh tracks still punctuated every punchline. Not unlike infomercials and buzz-in game shows in sketch comedy, they're on the way to becoming comments on a form that exists little elsewhere than its own parody.In Stacie Barra's one-act girlfriend comedy—which, to be fair, is less a straight spoof than a perhaps influenced-to-a-fault sendup—the bid for relevance is "Bridesmaids meets Breaking Bad." Caroline (Laura McKenzie), a recently laid-off corporate-minded mother, struggles to make ends meet while raising her daughter amongst a competitive and judgmental community of parents. With the help of her velour-tracksuit–and–Bluetooth-wearing megamom friend Holly (Barra)—she has a blog!—and confidante Margo (Corrbette Pasko), Caroline sets out to make things work.A sinist

  1. Prop Thtr 3502–4 N Elston Ave, at Troy St
  2. Fri Jul 25 - Sat Sep 6
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Miles Away

  • Price band: 1/4

Christine Whitley's drama follows a pair of pool hustlers living on the road. Scott Weinstein directs the Chicago premiere.

  1. the side project 1439 W Jarvis Ave, between Greenview Ave and Sheridan Rd
  2. Mon Aug 4 - Sun Aug 31
More info

Painting Molly: Two One-Act Plays

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Found Objects Theatre Group at Prop Thtr. The Art of Painting by Mark Chrisler. Directed by Tim Racine. With Chrisler. Notes to Molly by Chris Bower. Directed by Kevlyn Hayes. With Andrew Schoen, Becca Gerroll. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission. Theater review by Dan Jakes It's no secret to art historians that even the most acclaimed paintings can be eclipsed by the story of their creation. That's arguably the case with The Art of Painting, Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer's masterpiece depicting an unnamed painter at work with his historical muse. But who is doing the painting? An abstract figure signifying all artists? Vermeer himself? Or Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, whom the artist modeled himself after figuratively and, in some cases, literally? In a solo piece written and performed by Mark Chrisler that share's the painting's name, theories about the work are explored in the style of a college lecture. What interests the disheveled professor the most has little to do with the work's acclaimed composition or creation, but instead the hysteria surrounding its subsequent imitations by master forger Hans Von Meegren. What follows a brief biography about the two artists is a sordid and complicated tale of Nazi theft, parental disappointment, and the head-scratching economic logic of the art collector world. Originally presented at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival, there's some enigmatic characterization of the professor—he may or may not have killed

  1. Charnel House 3421 W Fullerton Ave, between Bernard St and Kimball Ave
  2. Fri Aug 8 - Sun Aug 31
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Coraline

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Black Button Eyes Productions at City Lit Theater. By Stephin Merritt and David Greenspan. Directed by Edward Rutherford. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Neil Gaiman’s 2002 novella for young readers falls square in the subgenre of be-careful-what-you-wish-fulfillment. Young self-dubbed explorer Coraline is bored to tears in her family’s new home, a large old house that’s been chopped into flats. There are quirky adult neighbors—a squabbling pair of retired actresses on one side, an odd trainer of circus mice upstairs—but no one her own age around, and Coraline feels both hemmed in and neglected by her workaholic parents. Her wished-for attention comes when the ominously bricked-up door to the empty flat is suddenly unbricked. On the other side, Coraline finds an eerie mirror image of her own home, complete with a smothering Other Mother and Other Father. But when things get too creepy—and Coraline discovers the souls of Other Mother’s long-previous adopted children, still trapped in this invented world—it’s up to Coraline and the local cat, who can move between worlds, to “be wise, be brave, be tricky,” and escape.This 2009 sort-of-musical adaptation, by musician Stephin Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields and many other monikers) and playwright David Greenspan, has its moments of inventive charm, much of which comes from Merritt’s plinky, plaintive score. The music, which mostly comes in wispy snippets rather than full

  1. City Lit Theatre 1020 W Bryn Mawr Ave, at Kenmore Ave
  2. Fri Aug 8 - Sat Sep 6
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Medea

  • Price band: 1/4

Dream Theatre Company artistic director Jeremy Menekseoglu reimagines Euripedes' tragic tale of unconscious uncoupling. It's the company's first production in its new Lincoln Square home.

  1. Dream Laboratory 5026 N Lincoln Ave, at Winnemac Ave
  2. Fri Aug 8 - Sun Sep 14
More info

Infiltration

  • Price band: 1/4

Salonathon curators Jane Beachy, Joseph R. Varisco and Malic White worm their way into the Neo-Futurarium for this series before Friday night performances of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

  1. Neo-Futurarium 5153 N Ashland Ave, between Winona St and Foster Ave
  2. Fri Aug 8 - Fri Sep 26
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Witch Slap!

  • Price band: 1/4

Witches join together to overthrow a colonial witch hunt but end up with their brooms at each other's throats in Jeff Goode's new comedy, the winner of Babes With Blades' "Joining Sword & Pen" playwriting competition.

  1. Raven Theatre 6157 N Clark St, between Hood and Granville Aves
  2. Sat Aug 9 - Sat Sep 20
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Home of the Gentry

  • Price band: 1/4

On the Spot Theatre Company's Mike Brayndick adapts Ivan Turgenev's 1859 romantic novel of doomed love.

  1. Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N Lincoln Ave, between Webster and Belden Aves
  2. Thu Aug 14 - Sun Aug 31
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Some Men

  • Price band: 1/4

Pride Films & Plays mounts the Chicago premiere of Terrence McNally's 2007 collection of sketches skipping jauntily across eight decades of gay male archetypes.

  1. Rivendell Theatre 5779 N Ridge Ave, between Edgewater and Ardmore Aves
  2. Thu Aug 14 - Sun Sep 14
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The War Zone is My Bed

  • Rated as: 2/5
  • Price band: 1/4
  • Free

Halcyon Theatre. By Yasmine Beverly Rana. Directed by Dani Snyder-Young. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission. Theater review by Dan Jakes The Bosnian War sets the backdrop for romance between Peter, an acclaimed conflict reporter, and Dahlia, one of his Sarajevan interview subjects, in Yasmine Beverly Rana's 2007 drama. And I really do mean backdrop: In 1994, holed up in a battle-torn hotel room the night before Peter's return to the United States, neither nearby mortar explosions nor journalistic ethics nor the general libido-killer that is mass slaughter are enough to distract the clandestine lovers from squabbling over their the ins-and-outs of their relationship triangle. Peter has a wife back home, he argues, and Dahlia is destined for bigger things, like carrying on his truth-telling mission after he's left.For a play that presumably seeks to highlight the emotional manipulation of international conflict experience, there's not much context outside of the bedroom to hang on to. In Dani Snyder-Young's production for Halcyon Theatre, that narrow and limiting framing device works better once Peter (Brendan Murphy) is out of the picture, and when Dahlia (Laura Stephenson) moves on to 2001 Kabul to collect stories from locals. One of her subjects, a prostitute named Leila (Rasika Ranganathan), describes an affair she's having with an extremist member of the Taliban religious police (Sameehan Patel). In flowery speeches delivered by Leila while bl

  1. Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church 3253 W Wilson Ave, at Spaulding Ave
  2. Thu Aug 14 - Sun Sep 7
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Stupid Fucking Bird

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

Sideshow Theatre Company at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. By Aaron Posner. Directed by Jonathan L. Green. With Katy Carolina Collins, Matt Fletcher, Nina O'Keefe, Cody Proctor, Stacy Stoltz, Nate Whelden, Norm Woodel. Running time: 2hrs 10mins; one intermission. Theater review by Kris Vire Con (Nate Whelden), the frustrated young playwright at the center of Aaron Posner's cheeky update of Chekhov's The Seagull, is like his Russian counterpart obsessed with pushing theater into "new forms." Unlike in any translation of Chekhov I've read, however, Con's conciliative pal Dev (Matt Fletcher) asks him, "Like this? This play we're in right now. Is this the kind of new work you mean? New forms?" To which Con replies, "No no no. Fuck no! Better than THIS!" Posner's take, if not a "new form," is a bracingly fresh take on Chekhov's "comedy" in which everyone ends up dead, crazy or at the very least compromised. Yes, all of his characters are aware they're in a play; they frequently pause the action to address us directly, in speech and in song. But (and this is crucial) they're not aware they are characters in a play; even when Con breaks in mid-sentence to accuse an audience member of checking his playbill to see if Whelden has any bigger credits on his résumé, it's really not a wink-and-nudge ironic hedge. These are real, full people who just happen to acknowledge that their emotionally messy lives happen to exist within the confines of a theater piece. To be sure, it's a dev

  1. Victory Gardens Biograph Theater 2433 N Lincoln Ave, between Fullerton Ave and Montana St
  2. Sat Aug 16 - Sun Sep 21
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Ecstasy

  • Price band: 1/4

The newly established Equity company Cole Theatre presents its inaugural production, helmed by Shade Murray. Six people find themselves caught between despair and joy, facing personal tragedy and struggle in a London flat in Mike Leigh's 1979 work.

  1. A Red Orchid Theatre 1531 N Wells St, between Schiller St and North Ave
  2. Thu Aug 21 - Sun Sep 28
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The Yellow Wallpaper

  • Price band: 1/4

Theatrical experimenters The Mill return after a four-year hiatus with this adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story, about a bedridden woman who begins to hallucinate others trapped in the "sickly sulphur tint" of her bedroom walls.

  1. Chopin Theatre 1543 W Division St, at Milwaukee Ave
  2. Fri Aug 22 - Sun Sep 14
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Chicago Fringe Festival

  • Price band: 1/4

The fifth annual Chicago Fringe Festival features 48 different performing groups (several of whom seem to have managed permanent status in the fest's lottery-based selection system). Performances take place in five venues in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, with Fischman's Liquors serving as "Fringe Central," a.k.a. the main box office and hangout space for performers and audience members alike.

  1. Fischman Liquors and Tavern 4780 N Milwaukee Ave
  2. Thu Aug 28 - Sun Sep 7
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The Last Cadillac

  • Price band: 1/4

A young man named Isaac breaks into an auto shop one night and finds himself at the beginning of a journey that puts him in contact with exiled African gods in Reginald Edmund's new play, produced appropriately enough by the company American Demigods. Samuel G. Roberson Jr. directs.

  1. Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N Southport Ave, at Oakdale Ave
  2. Fri Aug 29 - Sun Sep 21
More info

Cirque Shanghai: Warriors

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Impressive acrobatics paired with kung fu make an exciting and daring show. Vibrant costumes and traditional martial-arts moves make this show perfect for your inner Jackie Chan. Shows happen regularly Wednesdays at 2, 6 and 8pm; Thursdays at 2 and 8pm; Fridays at 2, 7 and 9pm; Saturdays at 2, 6; and 8pm and Sundays at 2 and 4pm.

  1. Navy Pier 600 E Grand Ave, at Streeter Dr
  2. Sun Aug 31
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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. Sun Aug 31
More info

Theatre-Hikes at the Morton Arboretum

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Follow a roving performance of Alice in Wonderland through the woods in July, and in August visitors can witness a day in the life of Charlie Brown and the others of the Peanut gang in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Hikes suited for strollers, walkers and wheelchairs take place on July 6 and August 8. Bring a chair or blanket, water and, of course, insect repellent. 

  1. Morton Arboretum 4100 Illinois Rte 53
  2. Sun Aug 31
More info

North Coast 2014: MK

  • Price band: 1/4

The headliner tonight is Marc "MK" Kinchen—the seminal producer behind such enduring house tracks as "4 You" and the Dub of Doom remix of Nightcrawlers’ "Push the Feeling On." After a short absence, in the past few years he has returned to the scene with a vengeance. K Saunderson & J Philip will also be making an appearance.

  1. Transit 1431 W Lake St, at Ogden Ave
  2. Sun Aug 31
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North Coast 2014: Ookay

  • Price band: 1/4

The American trap artist Ookay got big in dance music in 2013, and he has gotten endorsements from mainstage artists like Steve Aoki and Diplo. The guy even played a set in Massachussetts with a broken arm, which sounds insanely painful. Hopefully we won't see any damage during his aftershow, and just listen to crazy beats. 

  1. Bottom Lounge 1375 W Lake St, between Ada St and Ogden Ave
  2. Sun Aug 31
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North Coast 2013: The Nth Power

  • Price band: 1/4

The City Winery will be bringing wine and the jazz-funk group the Nth Power along with Van Ghost to their NorthCoast Afterparty on Sunday Night. This may be the one to go to if you want to finish off your weekend with something that isn't trap music.

  1. City Winery 1200 W Randolph St, at Racine Ave
  2. Sun Aug 31
Buy tickets
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