Last of the Red-Hot Dadas
- by Kerry Reid
- Preview article for Rhino Fest in the Chicago
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- From the Fringe
- Rhino Fest still going strong after 14 years
By Jack Helbig Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted August 29, 2003
- The New York Fringe Festival has been getting a lot of press recently,
mostly because one of the hits from the 1991 Fringe, "Urinetown,"
is now a hot show on Broadway.
- But Chicago has its own annual fringe festival, the Annual Rhinoceros
Theater Festival, and even though it is not nearly as large as the New
York Fringe, it is large enough to give audiences a cross section of Chicago's
"fringier" performers and theater companies.
- Even more remarkable is that the festival has been going strong for
14 years. The fest was the brainchild of Beau O'Reilly and Jenny Magnus,
co-founders of the Curious Theatre Branch and fellow performers in the
late, lamented cabaret band, Maestro Subgum and the Whole.
- At the time the festival began, the Curious Theatre was in a storefront
in the then-edgy Wicker Park neighborhood, at a place that is now a bike
shop. Back then, Wicker Park and Bucktown, neighborhoods bounded by Ashland
to the east, Western to the west, Division to the south and North Avenue
to the north, was a hotbed of theatrical activity, with no fewer than six
theaters going at any given time.
- The first festivals were spread among these Wicker Park theaters, though
they also included participants from other companies, most notably the
often homeless Theater Oobleck. As an audience member in those early festivals,
I clearly remember the heady feeling that these companies were onto something
- It really seemed like they all were "changing the world one imagination
at a time," to quote the motto on the Curious Theatre's home page.
- Change did come, but not in the way they envisioned it. Wicker Park
became too hot and expensive for artists and marginal theaters. Some companies
folded, others pulled up stakes. The Curious Theatre moved into a building
in a totally different neighborhood on Lincoln Avenue near Diversey, taking
with it the Rhino, as it was sometimes affectionately called.
- Curious Theatre was a part-time tenant of a funky music venue called
the Lunar Cabaret, a beat little storefront space with a small stage in
back and a tiny coffee bar in the front. When the Curious folks weren't
doing theater or hosting the Rhino, the Lunar Cabaret hosted various odd
and interesting musical acts.
- Throughout the early '90s, I remember O'Reilly announcing that each
year's Rhino was going to be the last, that it "took too much work,
too much time, too much planning," and that it was always done with
less money than they needed. Remarkably, the Rhino Fest continued being
done every year. Some years, there were even two Rhinos, one at the end
of summer, and a smaller one after the holidays, dubbed "The Rhino
- When asked by Perform Ink, Chicago's theater industry newspaper, why
he continued to put the Rhino together year in and year out, O'Reilly could
quip dryly, "A foolish heart." An equally valid answer might
be Magnus's observation that "Amazing and brilliant artists live here."
- O'Reilly and Magnus are known for their amazing soft touch. A surprising
number of writers, performers and directors with little more than a good
idea and a modicum of enthusiasm have found a place on The Rhinoceros Festival
- The list of past Rhino participants reads like a who's who of Chicago's
fringe and performance scene, among them David Kodeski, Frank Melcori,
Sue Cargill, Jeff Dorchen and Julie Laffin.
- This year, Curious Theatre moved yet again, this time to a storefront
in Rogers Park, near the Morse el stop on the Red Line. Once again, the
Rhino traveled, too, and much, but not all, of this year's Rhino will be
performed in the new space. The rest of the fest will be staged at the
nearby No Exit Café and in the Chicago Loop, at the Chicago Cultural
- This year's six-week long festival will include a new play by Shawn
Reddy about the Lincoln Assassination, called "My Name is Mudd;"
something new from the hilarious performance clown troupe, 500 Clown, "500
Clown Frankenstein;" and a solo piece by Kerry Reid, "Last of
the Red Hot Dadas," which garnered great reviews earlier this summer
at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
- As noted above, the festival has never allowed itself to become just
a celebration of recognized artists. Also on the bill is a three-person
group, the Casual Family, presenting short plays with music; a new dark
comedy by an obscure writer Paula Gilovich, "The Rat Bush: A California
Gothic;" and something called the O Theater, doing a play called "With
Love in Your Arms and a Knife in Your Heart" by Joe Meno.
- Finally, for those who like to talk about theater there will be panel
discussion Oct. 6 on the timeless fringe subject, "Theater and Resistance."
- These few paragraphs have only scratched the surface of this remarkable
and eclectic festival. For a full schedule, check out the Web site (www.rhinocerostheaterfestival.com)
or drop by the Curious Theater, at 7001 N. Glenwood, and pick up a copy
of the brochure.
- 14th Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival
- Where: The new Curious Theatre Branch, 7001 N. Glenwood; the No Exit,
at 6970 N. Glenwood; and the Chicago Cultural Center, at 78 E. Washington
Blvd., all in Chicago.
- When: Friday through Oct. 26
- Admission: varies, see schedule
- Information: (773) 274-6660 or www.rhinocerostheaterfestival.com
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