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Celebrated writer-performers headline Wirtz Center Chicago fall lineup

Works by Roger Guenveur Smith, Shane Shambhu, and Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp debut in Chicago
wirtz center chicago
Wirtz Center Chicago in association with the Physical Theater Festival Chicago present the U.S. premiere of “Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer” by U.K. performer Shane Shambhu Oct. 26-28. Photo by Martin Dewar

Northwestern University’s Wirtz Center for Performing and Media Arts in Chicago will host three innovative productions this fall including “Otto Frank” Oct. 5-7 and a reading of “In the Beginning There Was House” Oct. 20-21. Wirtz Center Chicago in association with the 10th annual Physical Theater Festival Chicago also will present the U.S. premiere of “Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer” Oct. 26-28.

“All three of these fall offerings are by celebrated writer-performers who are drawing on important historical figures or cultural traditions to tell intimate personal stories that resonate across time and place,” said Tanya Palmer, assistant dean and executive artistic director for Northwestern’s School of Communication. “Each performance is distinct, but all of them grapple with art’s ability — in the face of real damage and devastation — to heal us.”

“Otto Frank”

Obie Award-winning collaborators Roger Guenveur Smith and Marc Anthony Thompson have devised the new work “Otto Frank,” inspired by the father of diarist Anne Frank. Smith’s intimate meditation, scored live by Thompson, illuminates our present moment through a rigorous interrogation of our not-so-distant past. Smith’s version of Otto Frank addresses his daughter beyond her time and his own, navigating his loss as the only survivor of his immediate family and negotiating his subsequent service to the living and the dead as the steward of her work.

Created and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith, with sound design by Marc Anthony Thompson, shows run Oct. 5-7.

“In the Beginning There was House”

Inspired by the life and work of Chicago house music legend Frankie Knuckles, genre-fusing duo Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp will present a reading of “In the Beginning There Was House,” a new work originally commissioned by the Goodman Theatre. Obie Award-winning director Chay Yew directs. Sapp and Ruiz-Sapp are the founders of Universes, a collective founded to create moving, challenging and entertaining works for the stage. They will serve as the School of Communication’s inaugural Astere E. Claeyssens Artists-in-Residence, teaching and mentoring students during the 2023-24 academic year.

Written by Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and directed by Chay Yew, shows run Oct. 20-21.

“Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer”

In the funny and visually stunning one-person show “Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer,” Shane Shambhu reveals the secret life he kept from his school friends while growing up in the cultural melting pot of East London and training in the Indian performing art of Bharatanatyam. Combining physical theatre, spoken word, Indian dance, film and an original score, this coming-of-age story draws on Shambhu’s lived experience, capturing the multiple identities that the children of migrants growing up in the U.K. develop to show one face at home and another to the outside world.

Conceived, created and performed by Shane Shambhu — and presented in association with the Physical Theater Festival Chicago — shows run Oct. 26-28.

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