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The Best Things to Do in Chicago in October

Oct. 2


The well-coiffed French producer and drummer was behind some of the coolest disco hits of the ’70s and ’80s. Now in his late 60s, he’s playing a set for a rare weeknight installation of Queen! — Smartbar’s long-running dance party.

Details:Smartbar. Wrigleyville. 8 p.m. $12–$20. etix.com

Oct. 2–19

The Brothers Size

Set on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, this moving one-act about responsible auto mechanic Ogun and ex-con Oshoosi incorporates elements of West African Yoruba mythology. The Brothers Size was part of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s introduction to Chicago audiences a decade ago, when Steppenwolf presented his Brother/Sister Plays trilogy; now Size returns as a standalone in the Steppenwolf for Young Adults series.

Details:Steppenwolf Theatre. Lincoln Park. $20–$30. steppenwolf.org

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates (Chicago Humanities Festival) Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Oct. 2–Nov. 10

Chicago Humanities Festival

Continuing its “Year of Power” theme, the fall portion of this now year-round fest is still where you’ll find the strongest concentration of highlights. Must-see speakers include former Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates, who will discuss his debut novel, The Water Dancer; George R.R. Martin, the septuagenarian author whose novels inspired HBO’s Game of Thrones; and Alicia Garza, activist and cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Details:Various locations. Free–$50. chicagohumanities.org

Oct. 2–Mar. 8

Mika Rottenberg: Easypieces

This media artist’s solo show presents videos and installations that examine labor structures and other capitalism-related subjects, from the obvious (Chinese pearl harvesters) to the unlikely (Tuvan throat singers).

Details:Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Streeterville. $15. mcachicago.org

Oct. 3–5

Eternal Rhythm

Nothing in the adamantly unvisual field of classical music is more fun to watch than a percussion concerto. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its principal percussionist, Cynthia Yeh, hammering under the baton of the young and in-demand conductor James Gaffigan, deliver the U.S. premiere of a recent specimen by the Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman. And that’s not to minimalize the other, bigger half of the program, Shostakovich’s sprawling Symphony No. 8.

Details:Symphony Center. Loop. $32–$222. cso.org

Oct. 3–Nov. 17

Sundown, Yellow Moon

Twin sisters return to their hometown to deal with a crisis in this Southern family drama by Rachel Bonds (Five Mile Lake). What distinguishes it from the hundreds of other plays that could fit that description is its soundtrack. The family of musicians puts into practice the subtext of musical theater: When something is too hard to say, say it in song. Written for this play by husband-and-wife songwriters the Bengsons, the folk tunes will be performed by a cast of dual talents, including Liz Chidester, Diana Coates, and Will Casey.

Details:Raven Theatre. Edgewater. $15–$43. raventheatre.com

Ciara Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Oct. 4


Atlanta’s princess of club-ready R&B has been cranking out contemporary classics since the ringtone era, not to mention setting the bar for choreographic showmanship. (Revisit the video for 2010’s “Ride” and try to deny that the woman deserves an honorary Olympic medal.) Ciara’s best-known crunk hits like “Goodies” and “1, 2 Step” might be 15 years old, but her recent material, like this year’s Beauty Marks album, is subtler, softer, and even more empowered.

Details:Park West. Lincoln Park. 7:30 p.m. $30. ticketfly.com

Oct. 4

Sir Babygirl

This gender-nonbinary former hardcore kid turned DIY pop star balances bits of standup comedy with serious songwriting chops, channeling TRL-era bubblegum through a surrealist lens and an underground budget. They’ve been known to incorporate chopped-up renditions of Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton bangers into their live show, occasionally while wearing a strap-on harness.

Details:Empty Bottle. Ukrainian Village. 9 p.m. $12. eventbrite.com

‘American Catracho’
American Catracho Photo: J. Alice Jackson
Oct. 4, 18

American Catracho

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre kicks off its 20th season with a performance broadly confronting the current animus toward Latin American migrants, material mined from founding artistic director Wilfredo Rivera’s personal story as a Honduran immigrant.

Details:Oct. 4: Auditorium Theatre; Oct. 18: Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center. Loop; Hermosa. $5–$68. cerquarivera.org

Oct. 5

Bad Gyal

Spain isn’t exactly known as a dancehall hub, but that’s not stopping native Catalonian Bad Gyal, the 22-year-old singer whose breakthrough 2016 cover of Rihanna’s “Work” introduced the world to her next-level blend of global club sounds. Last year’s slept-on Worldwide Angel album spanned dancehall, reggaeton, and slinky R&B, with beats from cutting-edge producers like Dubbel Dutch and Florentino and lyrics that switch from English to Spanish to Catalan in a single song.

Details:Sleeping Village. Avondale. 9 p.m. $18–$20. etix.com

Oct. 5, 7

Forces & Fates

The Chicago Sinfonietta, an ensemble known for its sampling of culturally diverse traditions under the banner of the symphony orchestra, turns its attention to the planet. Clarice Assad’s Nhanderú musically channels a rainmaking ritual of Amazon tribes, and a world premiere called Earth Triptych, in three movements, each by a different composer, envisions Earth’s past, present, and future.

Details:Oct. 5: Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College; Oct. 7: Symphony Center. Naperville; Loop. $10–$99. chicagosinfonietta.org

Oct. 5–25


The time seems right for an immersive, in-your-face staging of Kander and Ebb’s classic musical. Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company turns the upstairs of Chief O’Neill’s into the seedy Kit Kat Klub; storefront theater stalwarts Kevin Webb and Caitlin Jackson play the insinuating Emcee and tragic chanteuse Sally Bowles.

Details:Chief O’Neill’s. Avondale. $29–$31. cowardlyscarecrow.com

Oct. 5–26

Colleen Keihm: Holding Site

First came the phenakistoscope and the stereoscope, and now there’s the vortoscope, a wearable viewing instrument made of mirrors. Local photographer Keihm created one of her own to generate optical illusions of her immediate environment, and for this show, she’ll present vortoscope-produced images of the gallery space.

Details:Roman Susan. Rogers Park. Free. romansusan.org

Oct. 7
New Music

MusicNow: Community Acoustics

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new-music series, which always caps the evening with no-additional-charge pizza and beer in the lobby, gets cooking on the second season of composer-in-residence Missy Mazzoli’s curatorship. The concert climaxes with a newly commissioned chamber arrangement of LJ White’s Community Acoustics, an ecology-inspired exploration of sonic ecosystems where different sound makers coexist by not crashing into each other’s pitch or timing.

Details:Harris Theater. Loop. 7 p.m. $9–$29. cso.org/musicnow

Oct. 10–Dec. 22

Third Realm

Since 2007, the small but scrappy Shanghai-based organization FarEastFarWest has been acquiring and commissioning contemporary Asian photographs, videos, and installation pieces. Nearly 40 works from its holdings will be highlighted in this exhibition, from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film stills to Birdhead’s photographs of Shanghai’s changing landscape.

Details:Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago. South Loop. Free. mocp.org

Oct. 11

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble

A chamber orchestra presents the chamber within the chamber — an even smaller ensemble drawn from its ranks — for a concert of string music. The double string quartet (not including the orchestra’s head, violinist Joshua Bell) performs Mendelssohn’s famous octet, a sextet by trendy E.W. Korngold, and an octet by the academy’s composer-in-residence, Sally Beamish.

Details:Mandel Hall, University of Chicago. Hyde Park. 7:30 p.m. Free–$38. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

Oct. 11–12

Oh Sees

John Dwyer has been the guiding force behind various noise- and garage-rock bands for more than 20 years, but he’s best known for this project, a galvanizing carnival ride of psychedelic hard rock and one of the sure-fire live acts on the planet. A preview of what this iteration might be like: Oh Sees’ latest album, released in August, is called Face Stabber and has a closing track that’s over 20 minutes long.

Details:Thalia Hall. Pilsen. $26–$40. eventbrite.com

Oct. 12

Chicago Shakeout Art Run

This 5K race, held the day before the Chicago Marathon, traces a West Town route that’s dotted with colorful street art. You’ll likely pass murals such as an abstract landscape by Philly artist Cera and floral backdrops by Detroit-based Ouizi — each worthy of Instagram, if you need a moment to catch your breath.

Details:Chicago Truborn. West Town. 10 a.m. $25. runstreet.com

Oct. 12

Hunters Moon Dance Happening

Since moving to a farm in northwest Indiana, choreographer Kristina Isabelle has been cultivating performances there. The third installment of this harvest-time gathering near the end of the South Shore Line includes notable figures like burlesque luminary Jenn “Po’Chop” Freeman and Precious Jennings, a vulpine veteran of Chicago’s modern dance scene. Plus, it all ends with a bonfire.

Details:Tryon Farm. Michigan City. 5 p.m. $10–$20. kristinaisabelledance.com

Oct. 12

Pop-Up Magazine

Few events encompass magazines, podcasts, theater, and live music as well as this traveling variety show, where writers, photographers, actors, and various other creative professionals are commissioned to assemble an evening-length performance around a single theme. This time around it’s “The Escape Issue,” and participants include comedian Jo Firestone (Shrill), photographer Lucas Foglia, and Tribune reporter Lolly Bowean.

Details:Athenaeum Theatre. Lake View. 7:30 p.m. $27–$32. athenaeumtheatre.org

Oct. 12
New Music

Third Coast Percussion

A full slate of 21st-century music, banged out by the city’s top percussion quartet, culminates in a world premiere by one of the foremost spectralist composers, Georg Friedrich Haas. For the uninitiated: Spectralism explores the physical properties of sound, such as overtones or timbre, while not necessarily tethering itself to the familiar conventions of tonality or equal temperament.

Details:Logan Center, University of Chicago. Woodlawn. 7:30 p.m. Free–$15. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

Oct. 12–17

Chicago Ideas Week

For little more than the cost of a movie ticket per event, you can hear from the biggest names in art, business, and media. This year’s edition notably features three prominent locals: scholar and poet Eve Ewing, artist Hebru Brantley, and feminist rocker Liz Phair.

Details:Various locations. $15–$45. chicagoideas.com

Oct. 12–19

Lit & Luz Festival

This cultural fest, hosted by the literary magazine Make, brings Mexican and American writers, visual artists, and musicians together  through dozens of free readings and exhibitions across the city.

Details:Various locations. Free–$15. litluz.org

Oct. 12–31

Luisa Miller

Lyric Opera, once nicknamed La Scala West for its penchant for Italian repertoire, launches a multiyear initiative to visit early Verdi operas. From the school of tragedy, this one revolves around the unhappy love life of the title character, sung by soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, whom local audiences have seen dive into Verdi in Simon Boccanegra at Lyric.

Details:Lyric Opera House. Loop. $39–$299. lyricopera.org

Oct. 12–Jan. 19

Extended Self: Transformations and Connections

This group exhibition seeks to foreground the physical and emotional experiences of motherhood through works made during various stages of parenthood. Don’t miss a group of intricate beaded medicine bottles by Noelle Garcia — who used only materials she could easily carry in a diaper bag — or Jessica Labatte’s collaged photographs of light and shadows, shaped by her relationship with her baby during pregnancy.

Details:Hyde Park Art Center. Kenwood. Free. hydeparkart.org

Oct. 13

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Months of early wake-up calls, careful dieting, and skipped happy hours culminate in more than 45,000 people putting on their running shoes for this 26.2-mile trip around the city. Friends and family can cheer on their loved ones along the race route and meet up at the postrace party in Grant Park, where participants can enjoy a massage and everyone can enjoy a pint of Goose Island.

Details:Sheridan to 35th. 7:30 a.m. Free. chicagomarathon.com

Oct. 13

Spooky Pooch Parade

The Chicago area’s most precious pups dress to the nines for this Halloween parade just outside the city limits. Good boys and girls of any breed can partake in the costume contest, which includes awards for best dog and owner combo outfit, best puppy, best senior dog in costume, and, most curiously, best horticultural interpretation.

Details:Chicago Botanic Garden. Glencoe. 11 a.m. Free; $15–$28 to participate. chicagobotanic.org

Oct. 13–Nov. 23

The Effect

The British playwright Lucy Prebble has a knack for using unexpected imagery to make big ideas accessible. Witness the velociraptors and lightsaber battles she employed in Enron to illustrate the complex financial schemes that brought down the energy company. See how she tackles love itself in The Effect, in which budding romance is complicated by the setting of the couple’s meet-cute: They’re participants in a clinical trial for an antidepressant.

Details:Strawdog Theatre. North Center. $15–$55. strawdog.org

Oct. 13–24


She’s 61 years old, looks 41, and still records and tours like she’s 21. While other aging celebrities and pop stars are enviously eyeing her, Madonna just continues to do the work and crank out hits. In support of her recently released Madame X, the queen of pop graces mere mortals with six local shows.

Details:Chicago Theatre. Loop. $98–$2,400. ticketmaster.com

Pinball Expo
Pinball Expo Photo: Courtesy of Pinball Expo
Oct. 16–19

Pinball Expo

The longest-running gathering for lovers of whiz-bang games returns. You can take a tour of the Stern factory (where many of the world’s finest bumper-filled machines are manufactured), participate in a weekend-long tournament, or play machines that are more than 50 years old.

Details:Westin Chicago North Shore. Wheeling. $30–$210. pinballexpo.com

Oct. 17–18


Project Bound Dance premieres a new evening-length work steeped in the anxiety and fatigue of media oversaturation. The appetizer: a gaggle of one-minute dance films created in an hour and shot in compelling locations all over the city.

Details:Hamlin Fieldhouse. Lake View. $20–$25. projectbounddance.com

Oct. 17–Nov. 16


Japanese American playwright Leah Nanako Winkler spent part of her childhood in Kamakura, near Tokyo, before moving with her family to Kentucky. That state is the setting of this adventurous 2016 work, presented here by the Gift Theatre, about a tightly wound New Yorker who returns home to try to stop her born-again Christian sister from getting married. Don’t expect anything too naturalistic, though — Winkler breaks the fourth wall with confessional monologues and musical numbers, and the large cast of characters includes a talking cat.

Details:Theater Wit. Lake View. $25–$42. thegifttheatre.org

Oct. 18

Jay Som

Bay Area multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte and her bandmates are beloved for their super-chill, expertly crafted bedroom-pop jams. Duterte says that “Superbike,” a jangly standout from the group’s latest album, Anak Ko, was meant to sound like Alanis Morissette collaborating with the Cocteau Twins.

Details:Lincoln Hall. Lincoln Park. 8 p.m. $17–$20. lh-st.com

Oct. 18

Our Community, Our Art

Banks Performance Project is a rising star in the blossoming South Side dance scene, with founder Elysia Banks committed to promoting cultural vitality in her community. Neighborhood youths from the Mayfair Performing Company and Kenwood School of Ballet, plus the West Side’s RhythmWerks, perform alongside BPP.

Details:Hamilton Park Cultural Center. Englewood. 7 p.m. Free. banksperformanceproject.org

Oct. 18

Richard Goode

Now in the later phase of a distinguished career, best known for understated, eloquent versions of Germanic composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann, this 76-year-old pianist takes a sharp turn to play a recital dominated by Debussy, about as un-Germanic as you can get. The program also sprinkles in some Chopin, a Bach partita, and Janacek’s In the Mists — similarly not the Goode old stuff, but you can kinda see the connection in the mists.

Details:Galvin Recital Hall, Northwestern University. Evanston. 7:30 p.m. $10–$30. music.northwestern.edu/events

Oct. 19

Chicago Home Movie Day

The movies shown at this annual fest do not have narrative arcs, tidy endings, or high production value. Instead, you’re treated to something much more compelling — the lives of real Chicagoans, projected from home movies in 16 mm and Super 8 film. What ensues is a nostalgic and intimate look at bygone eras through footage of birthday parties, vacations, and graduations.

Details:Chicago History Museum. Lincoln Park. 1:30 p.m. Free. chicagofilmarchives.org

Oct. 19

Ciel, Galcher Lustwerk

Cindy Li, a.k.a. Ciel, has established herself as one of the most exciting names in Toronto’s electronic scene, throwing women-focused parties and playing dreamy sets that drift from house to headier fare. But don’t miss Galcher Lustwerk, whose laid-back take on dusty hip-house ushered in the current “lo-fi house” wave. It’s part of a celebration for electronic label Ghostly International’s 20th anniversary.

Details:Smartbar. Wrigleyville. 10 p.m. $20–$30. etix.com

Oct. 19

Koyotl Portraits: Rostros Indigenas

For this exhibition, photographer Miguel “Akira” Martinez breaks the colonial gaze in his black-and-white portraits of young individuals of indigenous descent, capturing his subjects in the clothing, poses, and settings of their choice, subtly celebrating their identities.

Details:Agitator Co-operative Gallery. East Ukrainian Village. Free. agitatorgallery.com

Oct. 19

Max Richter and ACME

Even if you didn’t know this British composer created it, you likely recognize at least one of his pieces, which have appeared everywhere from movie trailers to The Leftovers. Genre experts tend to bristle at Richter’s popularity, but if you’re looking to dip your toes into contemporary classical music, here’s an ideal way to start, with a premiere of new works backed by the American Contemporary
Music Ensemble.

Details:Harris Theater. Loop. 7:30 p.m. $35–$140. harristheaterchicago.org

Oct. 19–20

Open House Chicago

One weekend every year, more than 250 of Chicago’s most storied buildings open their doors to the public. This Chicago Architecture Center–hosted event lets you explore the Romanesque-style Glessner House in the Near South Side, get a glimpse of how the trains run at the CTA’s 9,000-square-foot control center on the Near West Side, and examine the arabesque design work of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette.

Details:Various locations. Free. openhousechicago.org

Oct. 19–Dec. 29

Meleko Mokgosi: Bread, Butter, and Power

In this exhibition of recent paintings by the Botswana-born artist, scenes of civilians in southern Africa fill giant panels. The realist and delicate portraits, which are based on photographs, are quotidian — children in the schoolyard, a mother and child embracing — but they convey a sense of malaise that alludes to the hardships of postcolonial democracy.

Details:Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. Hyde Park. Free. smartmuseum.uchicago.edu

Oct. 21–May 31, 2021

American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago

Since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which brought the first mosques to the United States, thousands of Muslims, both American- and foreign-born, have called Chicago home — so many that the city is often known as the American Medina. Through photographs, videos, artworks, and historical garments, this exhibition explores the intricacy of Islamic faith, culture, and identity in Chicago.

Details:Chicago History Museum. Lincoln Park. $17–$19. chicagohistory.org

Oct. 23–Nov. 10

New Stages Festival

The Goodman’s annual fest offers free sneak peeks at works in progress by established and emerging writers — a mix of “developmental productions” (fully staged with minimal sets) and readings. This year’s lineup features performances of In the Sick Bay of the Santa Maria by Pulitzer finalist Rajiv Joseph and Incendiary by spoken-word poet and playwright Dave Harris, along with readings of works by Calamity West, Zayd Dohrn, Charlayne Woodard, and Cheryl West.

Details:Goodman Theatre. Loop. Free. goodmantheatre.org

Oct. 24

Chelsea Wolfe

This L.A. singer-songwriter’s haunted blend of woodsy folk and heavy doom metal is a jump-start for a Halloween state of mind. Her latest album, Birth of Violence, might sound extreme, but there’s plenty of rustic acoustic guitar and gorgeous melodies woven into the surrounding darkness. (If you liked Midsommar, Wolfe’s probably up your alley.)

Details:Metro. Wrigleyville. 9 p.m. $21–$26. etix.com

Oct. 24–26


Jonathan Meyer and Julia Rae Antonick, artistic directors of the ingenious dance company Khecari, step away from performing to choreograph a magical new duet for Kara Brody and Amanda Maraist, who’ve been improvising together for a couple of years. As they tangle their limbs into inconceivable snarls, the two women engage in everyday body language, both celebrating and revolting against ossified gender roles. If that sounds inelegant or unexciting, rest assured that it will confound your assumptions — everything this company makes is sumptuous and gorgeous.

Details:Links Hall. Lake View. $10–$100. khecari.org

Oct. 25–Dec. 8

Laura and the Sea

How well do we really know our coworkers? That’s the question at the heart of Kate Tarker’s “unhappy comedy” about a travel agent who commits suicide on the day of a company outing and how her colleagues try to make sense of her death.

Details:Rivendell Theatre. Edgewater. $18–$38. rivendelltheatre.org

Oct. 26–Jan. 26

Direct Message: Art, Language, and Power

This exhibition demonstrates the various ways media can be used to send powerful, pointed messages. On display are works by artists like Jenny Holzer, Lorna Simpson, and Robert Rauschenberg, whose uses of language illustrate how subverting standard communication can produce acute critique.

Details:Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Streeterville. $15. mcachicago.org

Oct. 27

Silent Noon with Fretwork and Iestyn Davies

In some provinces of the classical music world, an appearance by the illustrious viol consort Fretwork gets people giddy with anticipation. In other provinces, the promise of the countertenor Iestyn Davies (who played the tatted-up Polinesso in Lyric’s Ariodante this past spring) triggers euphoria. This is where those provinces overlap, the stuff of baroque fantasy.

Details:Mandel Hall, University of Chicago. Hyde Park. 3 p.m. Free–$38. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

Oct. 27, 29

The Dragon of Wantley

Haymarket Opera Company, the good-humored local champion of baroque opera, stages the 18th-century megahit of John Frederick Lampe, a broad tale of a knight who heads into battle, drunk, against a fearsome dragon to win the affections of a woman he deems better than his previous girlfriend. Some of the comedy mocks the stuffy conventions of contemporaneous Italian operas such as Handel’s; some of it is literally butt jokes.

Details:Studebaker Theater. Loop. $10–$95. haymarketopera.org

Oct. 29–Nov. 3

Latin History for Morons

Colombian-born, Queens-raised actor and comedian John Leguizamo’s autobiographical solo performances (Mambo Mouth) are famous for the ways they dismantle Latino stereotypes. This latest monologue, Leguizamo’s sixth, was inspired by a distinct lack of Latin American names in his son’s American history textbook; he sets out to correct the record in a performance that earned him a special Tony Award in 2018.

Details:Cadillac Palace Theatre. Loop. $22–$147. broadwayinchicago.com

Oct. 31–Nov. 3

SOFA Chicago

Seeking to adorn your home with some one-of-a-kind pieces? You’ll want to head to this fair, where galleries from around the world present statement furniture and decorative sculptures made of materials from glass to gold. It’s not all shopping, though — check out the robust program of artist demonstrations and lectures.

Details:Navy Pier. Near North Side. $20–$80. sofaexpo.com

Oct. 31–Dec. 7


Scott Bradley is best known to local audiences for writing and performing in punky and hilarious pop culture parodies like Alien Queen and Carpenters Halloween. He will get (slightly) more serious for a presumably inventive solo performance for About Face Theatre, in which he weaves his own personal narrative as a “genderqueer vagabond” from middle-of-nowhere Iowa into the bigger picture of LGBTQ history in the United States.

Details:Theater Wit. Lake View. $15–$38. aboutfacetheatre.com

Through Nov. 2

Adela Goldbard: The Last Judgment/El Juicio Final

The Mexican artist worked with craftsmen from Tultepec, Mexico, to create large-scale scenery that Little Village residents collaborated on, expressing their opinions about issues like gentrification and immigration, for an exhibit at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gallery 400. The exhibit concludes with an event where Goldbard will put on a pyrotechnic show, setting all the sculptures on fire — a searing purge of social ills in the Mexican tradition.

Details:La Villita Park. Little Village. 6:30 p.m. Free. gallery400.uic.edu


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