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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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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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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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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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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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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A Cole Porter Songbook

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Theo Ubique's new revue of Cole Porter tunes, assembled by director Fred Anzevino and music director and arranger Aaron Benham, amply highlights the Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate composer's range and gift for lyrical wordplay. The duo dutifully includes well-known standards like "Too Darn Hot," "You're the Top" and "It's De-Lovely" while also weaving in a few lesser-known numbers, such as "The Physician" and "Experiment," both from 1933's Nymph Errant, and the unapologetically Orientalist "Come to the Supermarket (in Old Peking)," written for a 1958 TV version of Aladdin but better known for appearing on Barbra Streisand's debut album.Benham's arrangements get an impressive level of variety out of three musicians (he leads on piano, with a bassist and percussionist rounding out the onstage band), and he finds some interesting counterpoints in interlacing songs, turning "Let's Do It" and "Let's Not Talk About Love" into a tug-of-war for a trio and mashing up "It's Bad for Me," "You Do Something to Me" and "I've Got You Under My Skin" into a climactic medley for Christopher Logan, the standout among the show's quartet of young performers. Particularly in his execution of David Heimann's exuberant choreography, Logan's performance bears a Danny Kaye–like quality.All four cast members are in fine voice; each song or medley is an individual pleasure. Those who like their revues with a through line, however, won't find one in A Cole Porter Songbook. The actors' personas reset to

  1. Berger Park Cultural Center 6205 N Sheridan Rd, at Granville Ave
  2. Wed Jul 23 - Sun Jul 27
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The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Price band: 1/4

Oscar Wilde's famous satire on the rigid rules of Victorian society is brought to life outdoors this summer. Kevin Theis directs.

  1. Oak Park Festival Theatre Austin Gardens, Forest Ave, between Lake and Ontario Sts
  2. Thu Jul 24 - Sat Aug 23
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Me, My Mom and Sharmila

  • Price band: 1/4

Fawzia Mirza performs an autobiographical solo piece about growing up in small-town Canada as a gay Pakistani Muslim, striving to see eye-to-eye with her mother, and their mutual love of Bollywood star Sharmila Tagore.

  1. Theater Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave, between Racine and Lakewood Aves
  2. Thu Jul 24 - Sat Aug 9
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First Look Repertory of New Work

  • Price band: 1/4

The lineup of Steppenwolf Theatre Company's ninth annual First Look Repertory of New Work includes three new plays in rotation this summer. Tanya Saracho's dramedy Hushabye explores the ups and downs of a family dynamic in the face of tragedies. Martyna Majok's Ironbound is an eye-opening discussion of one Polish immigrant's past relationships, and how she will move forward in love. Joshua Conkel's Okay, Bye chronicles a new friendship budding between two old high school classmates after reuniting at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

  1. Steppenwolf Theatre Company 1650 N Halsted St, between Willow St and North Ave
  2. Sat Jul 26 - Sun Aug 24
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Wicker Park Fest

  • Price band: 1/4

The Crotch hosts this hipster-friendly fest that features three stages of Pitchfork-quality tunes on the cheap. This year's larger fest blocks off more streets for additional arts, crafts, food and family fun. On Saturday, neo-Neko Lydia Loveless belts her soulful bar tunes, Cap'n Jazz spin-off Owls blow the dust off, Mad Man theme man RJD2 drops breaks, and cool throwback Nick Waterhouse rips through '50s-ish rock. Day two bring garage rockers Jeff the Brotherhood and Diarrhea Planet, the Grateful Deadish lo-fi darlings Woods, and post-Promise Ring troopers Maritime. And many more, of course. Saturday, July 26 North Stage8:30 - TBA7:15 - Lydia Loveless6:00 - Laura Stevenson4:45 - Hop Along3:30 - Foxing2:15 - TBA1:00 - Trails & Ways Center Stage8:30 - Owls7:00 - Pet Symmetry5:45 - The Felix Culpa4:30 - Dr. Manhattan3:45 - Mutts3:00 - Space Blood South Stage9:00 - RJD28:00 - Nick Waterhouse7:00 - Jarell Perry6:00 - Miner5:00 - Bonzie Sunday, July 27 North Stage9:00 - JEFF The Brotherhood7:45 - Diarrhea Planet6:30 - July Talk5:15 - Gavin Turek4:00 - TBA2:45 - Sidewalk Chalk1:30 - Girl Group Chicago Center Stage8:45 - Woods7:15 - Santah6:00 - Milo & Otis5:00 - TBA4:00 - TBA3:00 - TBA South Stage8:30 - ODESZA7:15 - El Ten Eleven6:00 - Kodak To Graph4:45 - Young Widows3:30 - Maritime2:15 - Honeyblood1:00 - Exit Verse

  1. Milwaukee Ave Milwaukee Ave at Higgins Rd
  2. Sun Jul 27
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Jeff Fest

  • Price band: 1/4

Grab your djembe and head to Jefferson Park, where a drum circle is just one of the many highlights of this annual community festival. Munch on grub from local food trucks, sip on a craft beer or peruse the juried art show.

  1. Jefferson Memorial Park 4822 N Long Ave, at Lawrence Ave
  2. Sun Jul 27
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