If you’re looking for a special art experience before returning home for winter break to places where theater is ridiculously expensive or virtually nonexistent, you'd be interested in Sit & Spin Productions’ FAIR GAME: A Chicago Spectacle.
The immersive show, which looks into the world of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, takes place in Cahn Auditorium. There, the production uses various rooms, allowing audience members to choose from multiple storylines and characters to follow throughout the building.
“Making the impossible possible” was the daily goal while working on the show for Communication senior Eli Newell, FAIR GAME's writer and director.
Producers and performance spaces were chosen in the spring of last year, and shortly after, directors petitioned for the various slots. By the time Newell joined the team, Gracie Brakeman and Austin Manross, both Communication juniors, had already been assigned to the project as co-producers. The next step was deciding what story they wanted to tell, following Sit & Spin’s sole requirement of using the space in an unconventional way.
“We had a lot of interesting ideas, but the big stipulation that all three of us had was that we wanted whatever we chose for this piece to not only be good in an immersive, unconventional, interactive setting, but to have a necessity to be in an unconventional setting,” Newell said. “So basically our foolproof rule was if this show could work with the audience sitting in the seats and it happening onstage, we'd nix it.”
Eventually they decided to explore the stories of the Chicago World’s Fair after Newell remembered a novel he’d read, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The literary nonfiction book tells the story of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect of the fair, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who victimized fairgoers. But Newell, Brakeman and Manross seized the opportunity to look beyond the main focus of the book, into the rest of the “palpable, tense, magical, spectacular” stories of the fair.
“It became pretty much immediately clear that it would be more interesting to widen the lens from Devil in the White City and not just to be about these two men, but to be about the actual ecosystem of the World's Fair,” Newell said. “I think that opened up a ton of interesting possibilities.”
The show’s creators look forward to the audience participation that will be needed for the performance to fully work. Brakeman noted that people often distract themselves with other stimuli while consuming art.
“Most forms of entertainment are so passive, you do a lot at once,” Brakeman said. “[The show] hands over such agency to the audience.”
The creators hope that aside from physically moving through the various rooms and stories in Cahn, audience members will be moved by curiosity to research the fair further after seeing the performance, as the show’s format presents the possibility of the audience leaving with unanswered questions. Even though the fair is so deeply imbedded in Chicago history, it is something young people may not know much about.
“One of the things that I really wish I'd done in my Northwestern experience is experience the culture of Chicago, not just Evanston,” Brakeman said. “So I think it was really exciting to have something so nearby that we didn't really know much about, and to be able to lean into that.”
Whether you’re entirely new to the world of theater or are a seasoned spectator matters not, because FAIR GAME is vastly different from most other theatrical experiences.
“Everyone gets to take a leap of faith,” Newell said. “It puts everyone on an even field.”
FAIR GAME: A Chicago Spectacle will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, with shows at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. each night. An optional soiree will be held 15 minutes before each performance, but no late entries to the show will be allowed. Tickets are available at the Norris Box Office website.