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Karen Marie Richardson performing onstage during Too Hot to Handel
Photograph: Kristie Kahns

The best things to do in Chicago this week

Find the very best things to do in Chicago this week including cultural events, festivals and art.

Emma Krupp
Edited by
Emma Krupp
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Looking for the best things to do in Chicago this week? You’ve come to the right place. With Thanksgiving officially behind us, the holiday season is now in full swing—and there’s no shortage of Christmas lights, concerts, holiday pop-ups and other festive events to keep you busy over the next few days. Plus, check out a pre-Kwanzaa marketplace, a new indoor iteration of the Wicker Park Farmers Market and an annual rendition of Handel’s Messiah. There’s even more in our list below, so scroll through our roundup of the best things to do in Chicago this week and start planning your calendar. 

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Chicago right now

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Comedy
  • Stand-up
  • West Loop

Legendary comedy club Zanies is getting a time out...at Time Out Market Chicago, that is. This winter, Tony’s Rooftop Bar will transform into a pop-up comedy club as Zanies brings some of its funniest comics to the Market for an evening of totally off-base comedy. On November 30, comedian Calvin Evans emcees with stand-up sets from Olivia Carter, Steven Haas and headliner Jim Flannigan. 

  • Time Out Market
  • West Loop

Get in a holly jolly mood as Time Out Market Chicago welcomes a series of musical acts to perform classic holiday songs throughout the month of December! From lively jazz to multi-genre bands, you’ll find music to keep you feeling merry all month long. Check out a full schedule of performances below: 

December 4: Verzatile, 2-4pm
December 5: Holiday jazz with The John Fournier Quartet, 5-8pm
December 12: Holiday jazz with The John Fournier Quartet, 5-8pm
December 17: Marlow, 1-3pm

Best events and things to do in Chicago this week

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Loop

The iconic German-inspired holiday market at Daley Plaza brings just over a month of Christmassy celebrations to the Loop. Browse stalls stocked with handmade gifts, German food and plenty of hot beverages to keep you warm while you wander around and soak in the festive atmosphere. Don't leave without trying spiced glühwein, a German hot wine concoction that's best enjoyed in the market's famous boot mugs

  • Music
  • Jazz
  • Loop

You've probably heard a rendition of George Frideric Handel's Messiah (especially around Christmas), but this annual concert at the Auditorium Theatre puts the famed German composer's work in a new light. Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah brings together vocalists Rodrick Dixon, Alfreda Burke, and Karen-Marie Richardson as well a chamber orchestra, jazz combo and members of Detroit’s Rackham Symphony Choir for an evening blues, jazz and gospel variations on Handel's classic compositions. Normally held the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the concert returns for its first-ever holiday season run this year, taking over the Auditorium Theatre for two performances. 

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  • Things to do

Get ready for a festive ride—the CTA Holiday Train and Bus are coming to town! The train is decked out in twinkling holiday lights, with Santa and his reindeer riding outside to wave at families—you can spot the festive locomotive in CTA stations throughout the city from November 25 through December 19. The CTA Holiday Bus, on the other hand, will hit the road on November 29 and make its rounds through December 23. Santa prefers to pop up through the roof when he rides the decked-out bus, so be sure to look up. Check out the full schedule below: 

Train schedule

  • Green Line: November 25, 26, 29
  • Brown Line: November 30; December 1-3
  • Orange Line: November 30; December 1-3
  • Red Line: December 6, 8 and 10
  • Purple Line: December 7 and 9
  • Pink Line: December 13 and 14
  • Blue Line: December 15-17
  • Yellow Line: December 20

Bus schedule

  • November 29, 30: #56 Milwaukee
  • December 1: #91 Austin/#92 Foster
  • December 2: #22 Clark
  • December 3: #22 Clark/#97 Skokie
  • December 6: #74 Fullerton
  • December 7, 8: #66 Chicago
  • December 9: #126 Jackson
  • December 10: #12 Roosevelt
  • December 13: #62 Archer
  • December 14, 15: #49 Western/#X49 Western Express
  • December 16, 17: #3 King Drive
  • December 20: #79 79th
  • December 21: #28 Stony Island
  • December 22: #29 State
  • December 23: #J14 Jeffery Jump
  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Streeterville

Too cold outside? Navy Pier brings all of the winter fun indoors during the holiday season, filling its gigantic 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall with a regulation-size Alpine ice skating rink, kiddie train rides and a 600,000-bulb light show made up of themed sculptures. This year, guests can also check out new attractions like a lit-up maze of birch trees, interactive light sculptures and a reflection pond for resting and photo ops. Each Light Up the Lake ticket also  includes a ride on Navy Pier's 200-foot Centennial Wheel—don't worry, all of the gondolas are fully enclosed and heated!

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  • Shopping
  • Kenwood

Africa International House’s annual celebration of Kwanzaa is returning for in-person festivities this year, bringing live music, food, workshops, dancing and a marketplace full of handmade goods and memorabilia (designed to highlight the Kwanzaa principle of Ujamaa, which represents cooperative economics) to Harris Park. 

  • Shopping
  • East Village

Make some progress on your holiday gifting list during West Town Winterfest, an annual event where patrons can hop aboard the “Jolly Trolley” for guided shopping tours along different commercial corridors within the neighborhood. Trolley tix are $20, but it’s free to build your own shopping tour on foot—and don’t forget to stop by Homestead on the Roof, where you can check out a holiday market and photo ops with Santa and Mrs. Claus. 

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  • Art
  • Film and video

Projecting a 25-story-tall video installation on the side of the Merchandise Mart, Art on theMart's winter program showcases moving images from the Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, as well as a tribute to Chicago design history spanning the last 100 years. Art on theMART's array of 34 digital projectors display the programs at 7:30pm and 8pm every evening. The show is best viewed from the section of the Chicago Riverwalk between Wells Street and Franklin Street.

  • Music
  • Suburbs

Longstanding cappella group Pentatonix heads to the Allstate Arena as part of its multi-city Christmas tour, during which the group will perform classic tunes alongside numbers from its sixth holiday album, Holidays Around the World. Folk trio Girl Named Tom, who won Season 21 of The Voice, opens the show. 

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  • Things to do
  • Talks and lectures
  • Pullman

Learn more about culture, community and history in Pullman during this talk hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art, in which Pullman artists F.A.B.L.E., Joe Nelson, Steve Soltis and Nailah Stevenson will gather for a conversation about their work for the Voice of the City arts alliance project “Pullman: Laboring Together.” Show up starting at 4pm for refreshments, and hang around afterwards for a reception sponsored by the MCA’s community engagement team. 

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Wicker Park

Chicago farmers market season is well past its peak, but you can still get in on the fresh produce action during this winter edition of the Wicker Park market, which is popping up inside The Robey’s lobby on select Sundays from December through April. Browse goods from vendors like River Valley Ranch, Star Farm and Zeitlins Delicatessen—and you can always grab a coffee from The Robey’s espresso bar to sip while you stock up. 

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  • Theater
  • River West/West Town

The American Blues Theater has brought the humble story of George Bailey to life in various Chicago venues for more than 20 years, transforming Frank Capra's classic film into an interactive, 1940s-style radio broadcast production. Arrive 15 minutes early to make the most of interactive audience engagement and prepare for original music, holiday carols and plenty of Christmas cheer. 

  • Attractions

Rosemont's Impact Field (home to the Chicago Dogs) hosts the inaugural Sparkle Light Festival, which will house millions of holiday lights among winter attractions like train rides, themed mazes, tubing and tons of other wintry attractions. Wander through five themed "villages" of lights and visit a kids zone filled with interactive activities for little ones. Older attendees can also spring for the fest's $70 Rivers Stadium Club Tickets, which include access to a premium buffet, drinks and unlimited tubing rides on the Alpine Slide. 

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Wrigleyville

You might not ever get the chance to throw a pitch at Wrigley Field, but you can lace up your skates and hit the ice inside the iconic baseball field starting this winter. Winterland at Gallagher Way, the annual holiday experience that normally offers programming (like Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville) beside the field, is officially moving some of its wintry attractions inside the ballpark for the 2022 season, including the 12,000-square-foot Gallagher Ice Rink. Rent a pair of skates and take a spin before checking out on-field games, carnival rides, an ice slide and a miniature train, or grab tickets to ride around on the rink’s ice bumper cars. You can grab drinks at The Lodge, an après-ski style pop-up bar inside the park complete with cozy firepits. 

  • Things to do
  • Millennium Park

Every year, Millennium Park is adorned with an epic Christmas tree that remains on display until the beginning of the new year. The larger-than-life attraction is festooned with twinkling lights and crowned with an illuminated star. Spectators can check out the festive tree near Washington Street and Michigan Avenue through Sunday, January 8. Want to see the tree light up for the first time this season? The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony returns this year on Friday, November 18 starting at 6pm.

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  • Art
  • Contemporary art
  • Streeterville

What does “Caribbean art” look like? This new group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art takes a diasporic approach to answering that question, using weather—and all its changeability and unpredictability—as a metaphor for exploring artistic practices and identity-making within Caribbean art communities across the world. With the tumultuous geopolitical climate of the 1990s as its backdrop, the exhibit highlights work from 37 international artists; it’s also the first major MCA exhibition to presented in both Spanish and English. 

  • Things to do
  • Late openings
  • Lincoln Park

To see one of the largest displays of holiday lights within city limits, you need to head to Lincoln Park Zoo, where the annual ZooLights display strings up millions of LED blubs. While most of the animals will be keeping warm inside, visitors are free to wander through the park, snapping photos of the various displays and taking part in a variety of activities throughout the holiday season.There are some new ticketed features to look forward to this year—including a Ferris wheel for ogling the lights from a bird's eye view—and as always, guests will also be able to enjoy hot beverages and snacks at stands throughout the park.

Just like last year, a $5 admission fee will be charged throughout most of the week, with free admission tickets on Mondays. Check out the Lincoln Park Zoo website for information on special ticketed events during ZooLights, including the BrewLights beer festival and a musical tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

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  • Music
  • Woodlawn

The city’s premiere youth choir (formerly known as Chicago Children’s Choir) will perform a series of winter concerts in neighborhoods throughout the city this holiday season, showcasing original musical, choreography and multimedia presentations. Tickets are available for purchase in-person at each venue. 

  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Millennium Park

Skate under the Chicago skyline and within eyeshot of the Chicago Christmas Tree at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Plus, take advantage of free skating lessons on most Saturdays and Sundays from 9–10am, where you can learn both beginner- and intermediate-level skills. Note that you'll need to make a free online reservation for both regular skating and lessons this year, and if it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 5, weather permitting.

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  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Millennium Park

Situated in the heart of downtown Chicago with the city's sweeping skyline as a backdrop, the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is a winter attraction unlike any other. Skaters can lace up and wind around a winding ice-covered path that's twice the length of a lap around a traditional rink. Reservations for the popular ice rink should be made in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly.

Admission to the Skating Ribbon is free Monday through Thursday and for 11am sessions Friday through Sunday (and $5 for other time slots Friday through Sunday, as well as holidays) if you bring your own skates. No skates? Entry is $16–$22 if you need to rent a pair. The Ribbon stays open through March (weather permitting) and even offers limited hours on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

  • Nightlife
  • Pop-ups and food events
  • Lower West Side

Tack Room, the piano bar inside Thalia Hall, transforms into a cozy, reindeer-themed holiday bar complete with seasonal cocktails, Christmassy decor and plenty of piano tunes. Visit Thursdays through Saturdays up until New Year.  

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Hyde Park

Every year, the Museum of Science and Industry puts up its four-story Grand Tree and surrounds the towering pine with more than 50 trees that represent Chicago's various communities and their respective holiday celebrations. Visitors will be able to take in even more seasonal cheer at the accompanying "Holidays of Light" exhibit, which recognizes the traditions of Chinese New Year, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Visakha Puja Day and St. Lucia Day. Admission to "Christmas Around the World" and "Holidays of Light" is included with a regular Museum of Science and Industry ticket.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Suburbs

Ready to get into the holiday spirit? The Morton Arboretum's annual holiday light show returns for its 10th anniversary this year as a mile-long, walk-through spectacle of LED lights and music, featuring a blend of new and returning light displays set amid 50 acres of trees. New features for 2022 include "Electric Illumination," a series of late-night parties with DJ-curated playlists that will synchronize progressive and trance house beats with the light shows, as well as a special finale exhibit in the arboretum's new Grand Garden. Timed entry tickets for Illumination, which will run from November 19 through January 7, go on sale October 1—keep an eye out for 20 percent off deals on select Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from event sponsor ComEd.  

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  • Theater
  • Drama
  • Loop

The Goodman Theatre’s annual holiday production of the Charles Dickens classic returns to the stage, with Larry Yando taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The play has been a staple of the Goodman's calendar for more than 40 years, allowing returning attendees and new generations to see the quintessential Christmas story unfold before their eyes. Prepare to be visited by three spirits—and don't be suprised if A Christmas Carol's touching tale of redemption makes you shed a few tears.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Loop

Pullman has long been recognized for its history as one of the country’s first industrial company towns, and a nexus for the burgeoning U.S. labor rights movement at the turn of the 20th century. Yet while South Pullman receives investments for architectural preservation and revitalization, North Pullman—though built around the same time as its southern counterpart—features neglected buildings in need of restoration. In this new exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago-based architect Armel Sagbohan maps both sides of the neighborhood using photos and sketches to propose a plan to address that divide, envisioning a new future for North Pullman that considers the unique needs of the neighborhood and its residents. 

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  • Art
  • Digital & interactive
  • Old Town

This 30-minute immersive adaptation of The Nutcracker pairs footage of professional ballet dancers alongside animated characters across more than 500,000 cubic feet of projections, guiding the viewers through an abbreviated version of the iconic tale. Tchaikovsky’s famous score, including numbers like “The March of the Toys” and “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” provides a soundtrack. 

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Wrigleyville

Don't feel like going to the Loop for your glühwein fix? The smaller-scale Wrigleyville outpost of Christkindlmarket returns to Gallagher Way this year with just as much holiday cheer as its downtown counterpart. Plus, Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville remains open through the end of the year, so you can extend the spirit of the season to the week after Christmas. 

  • Things to do
  • Loop

See Christmas lights without leaving your car at Shine Light Shows, a pandemic-era innovation that allows visitors to drive through a gleaming tunnel of more than one million LED lights synchronized with holiday music. This year, the show will offer locations in Northbrook (Northbrook Court, 1515 Lake Cook Rd) and Schaumburg (Wintrust Field, 1999 S Springinsguth Rd). 

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  • Theater
  • Children's
  • West Loop

Pinkies up! Little ones and their families are invited to ring in the holiday season in style during The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party, an annual trunk and puppet show at the Chicago Children's Theatre that brings Potter's beloved stories to life with whimsy and humor. The play's young viewers get to interact with characters like Tom Kitten, Simpkin the Cat and Peter Rabbit throughout the 60-minute production, which features live music alongside narration and puppetry. Afterwards, audience members can meet the cast while enjoying juice, cookies and chocolate milk for a proper tea party celebration. 

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Suburbs

The Chicago Botanic Garden hosts this annual (and quick to sell out) display of festive lights, giving guests a host of shimmering reasons to visit the forest preserve during the holiday season. Set along an illuminated path, the after-dark experience features a series of installations to explore, including a 110-foot tunnel made up of 100,000 lights and a group of trees festooned in bulbs that "sing" holiday songs. This year, check out new exhibits like Starscape, a series of more than 700 handmade acrylic stars lighting up a 130-foot-long tunnel.

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Streeterville

Yer a wizard, Harry! Or at least, you can pretend to be one at this immersive Harry Potter experience that’s popping up at Water Tower Place through May 2023. Visitors are invited to step into Harry’s life at Hogwarts with interactive features like Quidditch lessons, Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, sipping sweet drinks at the Butterbeer Bar, Patronus-seeking in the Forbidden Forest and learning their Hogwarts house via the Sorting Hat, among other magical experiences. FYI: In addition to regular operating hours, the exhibition is open on “select” Tuesdays and Wednesdays and may offer different hours around holidays. 

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Hyde Park

Tap into feelings of childhood nostalgia at the Museum of Science and Industry’s newest exhibit, a colorful glimpse into the world of Mold-A-Rama™ machines. Explore a collection of popular, rare and experimental souvenirs, learn about the history of the machines’ production and breathe in the iconic scent of their plastic toymaking—you can even take home a few new Mold-A-Rama™ souvenirs if you’re looking to expand your collection. 

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  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Museum Campus

Delve into the often-mystifying process of death in this surprisingly life-affirming exhibit at the Field Museum, which explores dying through a variety of natural and cultural processes. Attendees can explore highlights like a full-sized ofrenda made by Chicago artist Norma Rios-Sierra, a replica of a whale's body on the ocean floor and check out a variety of interactive media and soundscapes to help ponder some of life's big questions about death. 

  • Theater
  • Interactive
  • Streeterville

Immerse yourself in the world of tabletop roleplaying games at The Twenty-Sided Tavern, an interactive theater show that guides audiences through a story that "might involve dungeons, and might involve dragons." In addition to audience engagement (like the type you might find at an improv show), The Twenty-Sided Tavern uses Gamiotics, a browser-based software that guests use to vote to make decisions on where the story will go. The result is an ever-changing, fantastical show, so come prepared for an adventure. 

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  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • Loop

The Broadway smash hit Wicked arrives in Chicago for an extended stint at the James M. Nederlander Theatre as part of its North American tour, chronicling the unlikely friendship of the green-skinned outcast Elphaba and popular blonde Glinda (who would go on to become the "wicked" and "good" witches, respectively, of The Wizard of Oz). This production is directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello. 

  • Art
  • Arts centers
  • Humboldt Park

Working in partnership with the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture is bringing a stunning selection of paintings to Chicago—some of which have never been shown outside of Puerto Rico—for an exhibition highlighting several of the island's most important artists. Centered around three curatorial themes (“My Home,” “My People” and “My Island”), the works span from the 18th century to the first half of the 20th century, showcasing artists like José Campeche, Francisco Oller, Miguel Pou and Myrna Báez, among others. Tickets to the exhibition are free, but you might consider a small online donation to the Museo de Arte de Ponce, which is still recovering from damage sustained in a 2020 earthquake.  

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  • Things to do
  • Magnificent Mile

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to say that a purple-hued world has opened up on Michigan Avenue, thanks to the arrival of a new Prince-themed immersive exhibition inside the sprawling Shops at North Bridge complex. Step inside to experience everything from a lilac-scented imitation of the bathroom in the “When Doves Cry” music video to a realistic version of Prince’s Paisley Park studio, painstakingly recreated with details like a shelf stocked with the 5-Hour Energy shots Prince kept on hand for recording sessions. And because this is an immersive experience, many of the rooms are equipped with some kind of interactive element, whether you prefer to experiment with sound mixing “Let’s Go Crazy” in the studio, take a personality quiz to get a custom playlist of Prince’s deep cuts or pose for photos atop a replica of the famous “Purple Rain” motorcycle.  

  • Art
  • Digital & interactive
  • Grant Park

Using his iPad and a custom app, renowned British painter David Hockney captures the technicolor emergence of spring in Normandy, France—observed en plein air during a trip to the region in early 2020—in this new exhibition of 116 works, including digital "paintings" and two animated videos. Completed amid the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns across the world, Hockney’s vividly rendered works provide a cheerful, celebratory contrast to the loneliness and grief experienced by many people in the early days of the pandemic. 

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  • Art
  • Sculpture
  • Hyde Park

Want to see recreations of Van Gogh's “Starry Night,” Da Vinci's “Mona Lisa” and Michaelangelo's “David”  constructed with Lego bricks? The Museum of Science and Industry's latest exhibition collects the work of Nathan Sawaya, a former lawyer who turned his passion for tiny plastic bricks into contemporary art. “The Art of the Brick” include more than 100 of his creations, include a 20-foot-long T.rex skeleton and a life-sized sculpture of a man pulling his chest apart. The traveling show is the first major museum exhibition to use Lego bricks as its sole medium—and a testiment to the creativity that can be achieved with hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of plastic.

This Museum of Science and Industry exhibit rquires a seperate ticket for entry, in addition to regular museum admission.

  • Comedy
  • Sketch shows
  • Lake View

Bye Bye Liver combines two robust Chicago traditions: comedy and heavy drinking. The show opened a decade ago for a three-week run, then kept getting extended. A cast of four to six performers portray characters at the fictional "Franks Bar," telling stories that explore the city's robust drinking culture. Each show incorporates interactive audience drinking games, allowing you to sip a cocktail or beer while taking cues from the cast. And if you're up for a nightcap after the performance, you can stick around for the official after party and mingle with the cast.

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  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Museum Campus

Explore the colors of the natural world in the Field Museum's latest exhibition, which examines the meaning and function of some of the brightest hues in the world. “Wild Color” explores how plants and animals use color to ward off predators or attract maters, and how the color of gems and minerals can offer clues about their formation. The 7,000-square-foot exhibition is filled with specimens from the Field Museum's extensive collection, including a platypus that fluoresces under UV light and birds in every color (including "super black").

  • Theater
  • Experimental
  • Uptown

For more than 30-years, the Neo-Futurists have been delighting late-night crowds with performances that pack 30 miniature plays into a 60-minute show. Returning to in-person programming (attendees must be vaccinated and masked) after more than a year spent in the virtual realm, the company's signature show is more unpredictable than ever, with a handful of compact new plays premiering every week. Within the span of 10 minutes, you may be treated to a poignant monologue about everyday life or an irreverent diatribe delivered by a pantsless member of the cast—all inspired by the experiences of the performers on stage. Always changing and evolving, it's the rare show that truly offers something different everytime you show up to see it.

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  • Art
  • Sculpture
  • Suburbs

See eight towering sculptures by South African artist Daniel Popper at the Morton Arboretum's new outdoor exhibition, which spreads the 15- to 26-foot-tall works throughout the natural area. Made of glass-reinforced concrete, wood, fiberglass and steel, the one-of-a-kind pieces in "Human+Nature" depict human figures that evoke the natural landscape they're set amid, including a pair of 36-foot-long hands reaching out from a grove of oak trees and a maternal figure that springs up amid magnolia trees.

Access to "Human+Nature" is included as part of timed-entry admission to the Morton Arboretum, and there's a map that will allow you to easily plan your visit and spot all eight  sculptures along the way.

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