Chicago Humanities Festival Blog

Under the Sea . . .
The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is set in a bleak future; the seas have risen, billions have died, and humans live on farms atop skyscrapers and mountains. Enter the unassuming and reluctant explorer, Alvin Sputnik! Photo by Michelle Robin Anderson In the wake of losing his wife, Alvin lives up to his name* by volunteering for a perilous quest to the depths of the sea. What follows is a charming journey in which the audience accompanies Alvin on his adventure to save... Continue Reading >>
Fiercely Imaginative Children’s Literature
You might not recognize the names Jon Scieszka and Timothy Basil Ering, but there’s a good chance you’re familiar with their award-winning children's books. Jon Scieszka is perhaps best known for his book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales—a sidesplitting, self-aware spoof that introduced a generation to postmodern storytelling. His latest book, Battle Bunny, is similarly tongue-in-cheek and off-the-wall. It is presented as a banal, predictable... Continue Reading >>
It's a hat . . . It's a snail . . . It's Animales!
Animales is a dynamic, wordless show that captivates children. To the delight of young audience members, master puppeteer Pablo Vergne playfully guides everyday objects into surprising shapes on stage. Even adults in the audience will experience child-like wonder as objects such as hats and foam tubes charmingly transform into animals, letters, and more. Photo by Eva Soriano No need to worry if younger children cannot stay quiet for the duration of the show. Their shouts of... Continue Reading >>
Once upon a crescent moon . . . Kaguya: The Bamboo Princess
Acclaimed puppeteer Nori Sawa returns to Stages, Sights & Sounds with the US premiere of his new show Kaguya: The Bamboo Princess, his distinctive take on a tenth-century Japanese folktale. But what is the origin of this beautiful bamboo princess? And what makes her legend unique in the history of literature? Photo by Shozo Kajiwara Kaguya is a beautiful girl, found as an infant in a glimmering stalk of bamboo by the childless bamboo-cutter, Taketori no Okina. He adopts Kaguya into his... Continue Reading >>
Fluff is a Quirky Celebration of Lost Toys
Photo by Sean Young The stage is covered in toys: dozens of teddy bears, toy cars, and ragdolls are carefully perched atop colorful shelves. Each one is unique and seems to have a story to tell. Even before Fluff begins, the audience wonders about these toys. Where did they come from? To whom do they belong? Photo by Sean Young Enter the Ginghams: a traveling trio of plaid-patterned siblings whose mission in life is to rescue lost or forgotten toys and give them a home and a new lease on life... Continue Reading >>
Welcome to Stages, Sights & Sounds 2014
Stages, Sights & Sounds is Chicago’s only international children’s theater festival. This year we celebrate our 15th year of presenting fresh, original performances from around the world with 48 programs from May 6–24 at three Chicago venues.  Stages, Sights & Sounds brims with possibilities, offering lively theatrical and hands-on experiences for every age. You can see performers from faraway countries and also discover Chicago gems. You can find inspiration in... Continue Reading >>
The Wondrous Junot Díaz
One of the most memorable events from the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival was Junot Díaz in conversation with Peter Sagal. We asked Dara E. Goldman, associate professor of Spanish and director of the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to share her insights into what makes Díaz so readable and so memorable. Junot Díaz is arguably the writer who put Dominican Literature on the map. That is, he is probably the... Continue Reading >>
When Science Meets the Humanities or Why You Should Never Sing Wagner at the Zoo
The next time you are caught in a lull in a dinner party conversation, try throwing out this tidbit: “Hey, did you know that spiders masturbate?” You can be sure that once the dropped jaws recover, the conversation will be buzzing again. And, that sexy, spidery fact is just one of numerous startling parallels between human and non-human animal behaviors that cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, and her co-author, Kathryn Bowers, a staff editor at The Atlantic, draw out in their... Continue Reading >>
Animal Studies Takes Center Stage in Academia
The Chicago Humanities Festival’s exciting focus this year on Animal: What Makes Us Human brought together academics, artists, journalists, scientists, public intellectuals, and the wider public to explore how non-human animals come to have meanings in our and other societies. This is a key question, and a crucial one right now. And it is one that several disciplines in academia are newly taking up with a vigorous appetite. Questions about “the animal” currently animate not... Continue Reading >>
Animal Sketchblog
All drawings are done on site during the event. Most of the time, I'm pretty far from the speaker and drawing in the dark, so I apologize to all my subjects for the resultant wild inaccuracies. Sherman Alexie Of all the speakers I saw at this year's Festival, no one was more elemental than Sherman Alexie. I hesitate to say it that way, as it seems to go straight for the "Indians are More Authentically Natural than White People" idiocy that Alexie mocks so thoroughly. Yes, he's utterly... Continue Reading >>
Hyde Park Day Sketchblog
All drawings are done on site during the event. Most of the time, I'm pretty far from the speaker and drawing in the dark, so I apologize to all my subjects for the resultant wild inaccuracies. Paul Sereno: Dinosaurs True Confession: I teach anatomy, and I've been a dinosaur nerd since I was a leathery egg myself. So there I sat, watching this vibrant, brilliant guy explain the evolution of quadrupeds, and the wonder of clavicles and scapulae, and how the coffee-table sprawl of a crocodilian... Continue Reading >>
Changing the Rules of the Economic Game
"If the American dream is that your children will do better than you . . . we have dimmed the lights on that dream for this generation." These alarming words came from Heather McGhee, vice president of public policy center Demos, which works on reducing political and economic inequalities in America. At the 2012 Chicago Humanities Festival, McGhee revealed why—for the first time in American history—people of her generation are economically worse off than their parents.  (Image... Continue Reading >>
"Terriers Take Wolves!" Holly Hughes on the Tough and Tiny
Holly Hughes is a true terrier. The seminal performance artist's career launched in the 1980s and gained notoriety through the 1990 NEA 4 culture wars. Hughes's fighting spirit earned her multiple Obie Awards, a Lambda Book Award, and most recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her bold exploration of sexual politics in the face of taboo has created a legacy of performance pedagogy that spans 30 years. A professor of fine arts at the University of Michigan, Hughes's latest projects include the... Continue Reading >>
Cognitive Connections: Dolphins, Dogs, and Us!
Ken Ramirez, executive VP of animal care and training at the Shedd Aquarium, will speak at the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival on Saturday, November 2. As humans we are fascinated with the topic of animal intelligence. How smart is a dog? How smart is a dolphin? These are questions asked frequently by visitors to Shedd Aquarium, but these questions do not have easy answers. Generally speaking, I have always suggested that animals are as smart as they need to be to survive in their world.... Continue Reading >>
James Kennedy on Lemony Snicket (or rather, VICE VERSA)
Friday, November 1 will be the LAST PUBLIC APPEARANCE of Lemony Snicket, a.k.a. Daniel Handler—and, I am frankly relieved to add, MYSELF. After Mr. Handler finishes his presentation for the Chicago Humanities Festival about his latest (indeed last) book in his “All The Wrong Questions” series, and I follow up with my own presentation while he autographs books, Mr. Handler and I will both be WHISKED BY ARMORED AMBULANCE to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where a... Continue Reading >>
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Not Deke Weaver
From his world-shaping monologues to his immersive, cinematic performance productions, one thing is clear: no one can tell a story like Deke Weaver. (Photo by Valerie Oliveiro) I had the joy of attending Elephant, Weaver's second installment of his Unreliable Bestiary series, at the stock pavilion in Urbana, Illinois in 2010. As I was ushered into the dimly lit barn and asked to take a seat on a hay bale, I knew this wasn't going to be any typical theater-going experience. Emerging from that... Continue Reading >>
Northwestern Day Sketchblog
All drawings are done on site during the event. Most of the time, I'm pretty far from the speaker and drawing in the dark, so I apologize to all my subjects for the resultant wild inaccuracies. Deborah Cohen: Shame's History One of the remarkable things about Deborah Cohen's talk (watch it on YouTube) was the way she gave a sense of the actual lives of cognitively-impaired children who had grown up in pre-war British psychiatric institutions. So often, disabled people just appear as examples... Continue Reading >>
Frans de Waal and the Evolution of Morality
This year's festival will feature primatologist Frans de Waal in two separate events, a panel discussion on Saturday, Nov 2, and a solo lecture on Sunday, Nov 3. We invited Rebecca M. Stumpf, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to share some background on de Waal and his work. As I sit here typing this, I am trapped in a small seat surrounded by 350 people in a large metal cylinder 32,000 feet in the air. I am en route to my research site in Uganda... Continue Reading >>
Hyde Park Day 2013 - A Hyde Park State of Mind
Every October when the leaves start to change, I find myself in a Hyde Park state of mind. The crisp autumn air makes me want nothing more than to throw on my University of Chicago sweatshirt, wander the gothic campus, and be challenged by new ideas. That's why I'm excited for Hyde Park Day of the Chicago Humanities Festival on Sunday, Oct 20.  For those of you who didn't spend the better part of the last decade on the UChicago campus, let me lay out how to spend the perfect Sunday... Continue Reading >>
The Age of Living Alone?
An extraordinary social change is taking place. In 1950, only 22% of American adults were single, and only 9% lived alone; in 2012, nearly half were single and 27% lived alone. Speaking at the 2012 Chicago Humanities Festival, sociology professor Eric Klinenberg called this “the biggest modern social change that we've yet to name or identify.” “If you look at the record of how we have lived as a species… until the 1950s, you literally cannot find a single society in... Continue Reading >>