1. The captioning screens explaining their relationship to the audience in Red Theatre's Little Red Cyrano. We need more of this please! Anything that makes inclusion and adaptive measures into "a feature, not a bug" of a performance fills me with joy, as a disabled performer who constantly has to hear how much trouble accommodation is and how distracting it’s going to be. Little Red Cyrano let the audience know right away, "this is the elephant in the room, we're going to talk about it, we're going to immerse you in it, we put it here because it needs to be here." We shouldn't have to apologize for inclusion and accessibility, and there are also ways to work it into performances without it being an afterthought.
2. Pride Arts' SheFest morphing into WeFest. Gender diversity and inclusion is a big hot topic, and instead of drawing a circle to keep people out, Pride Arts drew a circle to let folks in. Cisgender women aren't the only marginalized gender and this showcase expanded its scope to include more folks. And every performance I saw was absolutely unique and outstanding. Well done.
3. Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge in Chicago Shakes' Red Velvet. Gorgeous performance. Gorgeous production, really-- it was my first time seeing a Chicago Shakes show and I was pleased to be able to see one with a black protagonist, and one that dealt with the historical "first" of Aldridge's Othello. But Johnstone completely stole the show and owned every inch of the stage...utterly alive, utterly honest and utterly larger than life all at once. I was in awe and riveted every second.
4. Every single harrowing, horrifying, heartbreaking moment of Welcome to Jesus at American Theatre Company. This theatre outdoes itself with every production. This play was utterly necessary and fearless to produce in the here and now. I was struck by the depth and breadth of social commentary in it, and how people can commodify and dehumanize others while still considering themselves good people with strong moral centers.
5. The casting of ATC's Picnic, while we're at it. Will Davis has a gift for seeing into the essences of people and marrying them beautifully to parts in ways other people wouldn't think of. I love how ATC took what's traditionally seen as a story about white small-town America and just made it about people, how they saw themselves and how they wanted to be seen by others. This is another example for me, as well, about treating inclusive casting as an opportunity instead of a problem or inconvenience.
6. Ike Holter's Lottery Day at the Goodman's New Stages play festival. Everyone should be producing Ike's work. I really loved how strong and unique all the characters were (this is the first of Holter's plays I've seen but I understand this brings in characters from other works who exist in the the same storytelling universe) and the themes of chosen family, what counts as "the last straw" for different people, and how it also spoke frankly about the realities of gentrification.
7. Pass Over at Steppenwolf is another piece so good that I can't distill it down to a moment. Relevant, painful, incredible. The thematic layering of Waiting for Godot over the lives of two young black men thinking and hoping that life will change and afford them some new opportunity or way out of the limbo they're in is brilliant. The performances were electric and there should just be more work like this.
8. Martasia Jones's performance in Eclipse Theatre's Megastasis. It’s not often that I see an actor cast in multiple roles and do a double take upon realizing it’s the same person. Jones plays a mother and, later, her daughter as a young adult, and each performance is full, solid and real and utterly different. I don't know when I last saw someone do that so effectively on stage. I'd love to see more of Jones's work.
9. Rasaka Theatre's casting of the outstanding Richard Costes in Vanya (or, That’s Life!), in a role not written for a deaf actor, without the usual hand-wringing about how casting inclusively will 'distract the audience' or 'take away from the story'. People with diverse levels of ability exist in all areas of life, and not all of our stories are about hyperfocusing on what our abilities are or aren't. We are a part of the everyday world...include us in your vision of it.
10. The short play Exposure by Cynthia Hines, which was a part of Broken Nose Theatre's Bechdel Fest. It's a story we usually see from other perspectives than those centered here, and is raw, compelling and real. When we talk about war and its aftermath, and the lasting effects thereof, those stories typically belong to white men. Seeing this play about a black woman’s life as an army photographer and her return home from that experience was just so refreshing. I think people often forget that we can tell a wide variety of stories about people of all demographics that are informed by (but not necessarily focused on) the non-cis/white/male/straight aspects of their identities. I really hope it gets full-length development.
Terri Lynne Hudson is an actor, improviser and performance artist living and working in Chicago.
She has spina bifida.