With a week until Redmoon's Great Chicago Fire Festival, the East Pilsen theater company is in crunch mode. Ahead of its high-stakes closing ceremony at new home Northerly Island September 26—which the company hopes will amend last year's fizzle on the Chicago River—Redmoon has taken to crowd-funding the final chunk of its $900,000 budget.
As of this posting, the company had raised $3,679 of its $25,000 funding goal (which, per Kickstarter's rules, the company would need to give back if not fully backed by Wednesday, September 23 at 5 p.m.). To get a sense of the worst-case scenario, Chicago called Redmoon artistic director Jim Lasko. An edited transcript follows.
Why did you decide to crowd-fund the festival this year?
We’ve never tried that before, and it feels to us like there’s likely to be a lot of enthusiasm for a populous spectacle on Northerly Island—a free event in a public space. It was a new means [of fundraising] we thought we should try around this event.
From what I glean, the crowd-funding is gravy on what you’ve already raised. Where will the extra $25,000 go?
We’re really hoping to be able to provide for our performers—to have a greenroom, to be able to bus people instead of asking them to get there by mass transportation. That kind of thing.
What happens if you fall short of your goal?
We’re not planning to fall short of our goals. But if we do, there are certain things we won’t be able to do.
What have you done so far to push the crowd-funding campaign?
Like I said, this is a new effort for us, so I’m not sure that we’re all that sophisticated or good at it. What we did most recently was ask everybody we knew to post it onto their Facebook pages and try to get it out a little bit. I’m not sure, to be honest, that we really know how to do this all that well. So maybe press like yours will help us out.
How much did you raise independently, before the Kickstarter?
The festival is about a $900,000 event this year, and we’ve raised almost all of that. We have about $800,000.
How much did the City of Chicago kick in?
City Council approved a $100,000 commission to us for the second year of the event, and the Chicago Park District paid us $75,000 to participate in their Night Out in the Parks event. [Ed. note: That's about a nickel a Chicagoan.]
Is that more or less than last year, when the festival was on the river?
That is less.
Is that related to the move to Northerly Island? I know the mayor wasn’t thrilled about that.
No, I don’t think so. From the beginning, when we talked about making this an annual event, the city was clear that participation would decline over time. I think the mayor is now pretty excited about it being on Northerly Island, given that [he] just opened the whole south end of the island. It’s this incredible green space [that] I think he does really want to draw some attention toward.
Who are you expecting to be there?
People from all over the city. We’ve been in over 25 different neighborhoods over the course of the summer, and we’ve got different collaborators from the the South Side, the West Side, the North Side, everywhere. I expect a wide span of Chicago.
Do you have an estimate on a number?
10,000 is the round estimate.
Has the mayor himself RSVP’d?
That’s interesting, I don’t know the answer to that. He was certainly there last year. I expect that he’ll be there. I hope he’ll be there…
What can people expect to see this year?
The great thing about being on land is we’re able to provide greater access to the collaborative nature of the event. Last year, when you came down to the river, you could only see [what] we could get onto the river. It was really difficult to get performers onto the river, to get the community organizations with whom we partnered onto the river. This year, we have four stages throughout the space featuring amazing performances, Bomba Con Buya playing live music while break dancers break. We’ve got this great singing duo IDYLL playing on one side of our double forklift while members of the Civic Orchestra play on the other side. We’ve curated a number of unlikely collaborations among our partners that are happening all around the island, and in addition to that, there are the kiosks with people vending hand-crafted items—carrot cake muffins or comic books or knit hats.
The biggest thing, of course, is the house, and the shingles. We asked people what they wanted to overcome, and the thing they wanted to overcome was written onto a shingle that is placed onto the house. So when the house burns—and it will burn—it’s literally burning away the obstacles of the people we worked with during the summer.
What sort of rain provisions do you have in place?
First, if it’s really inclement weather, we can postpone to the next night. But it would have to be really terrible. In terms of keeping the house dry, it’s entirely wrapped in plastic until we’re sure that the weather’s ready for it, then we’re gonna cut that plastic off.
You can donate to to Redmoon's Great Chicago Fire Festival through Wednesday at 5 p.m. here.