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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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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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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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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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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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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Black Milk

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice
  1. Reggie's Rock Club 2109 S State St, at 21st St and cermak road
  2. Fri Oct 24
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We Were Promised Jetpacks

  • Price band: 1/4

Scotland's We Were Promised Jetpacks delivers impassioned indie-rock bombast. Led by Adam Thompson, these youngsters are like a rowdier version of Fat Cat labelmates the Twilight Sad. They arrive to Vic Theatre on October 24. 

  1. Vic Theatre 3145 N Sheffield Ave, at Belmont Ave
  2. Fri Oct 24
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Dum Dum Girls

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Simultaneously sunny-and-gothy L.A. surf-rockers Dum Dum Girls play riffy, colorful rock behind the vocals of lead singer Dee Dee on their latest Sub Pop release, Too True. Siouxsie Sioux casts a long, lacy shadow over the gritty gloss of the new material.

  1. Metro Chicago 3730 N Clark St, between Waveland and Racine Aves
  2. Fri Oct 24
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Fat White Family

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Anyone remember the Metros, England's straggly, sub-Libertine punk 'n' roll group? Well, through a strange alchemical process—via stints as the Saudis and Meat Divine, and gaining and losing members along the way—they've turned into one of London's most exciting young bands. Tonight Fat White Family perform from their totally screwed up debut album Champagne Holocaust and drag their weird and wonderful dark psychedelia, which takes in Butthole Surfers and the Birthday Party, into the light of a live stage.

  1. Schubas 3159 N Southport Ave, at Belmont Ave
  2. Fri Oct 24
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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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Randolph Street Market Festival

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

More than 200 vendors hawk their antique housewares, furniture, ephemera, clothing and more at this indoor-outdoor festival. Stop in for vintage clothes and jewelry, a vinyl swap meet, a fancy food market and global goods bazaar or bring your own items for appraisal. This event typically occurs on the last weekend of each month, beginning in April.

  1. Randolph Street Market 1340 W Washington Blvd
  2. Sat Oct 25 - Sun Oct 26
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Modern Vintage Chicago

  • Price band: 1/4
  1. Randolph Street Market 1340 W Washington Blvd
  2. Sat Oct 25
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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. Sat Oct 25 - Sun Nov 2
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"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. Sat Oct 25 - Sun Nov 30
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