Special show brings high-achieving Chicago artists to low-income areas

CHICAGO (SCS) — COVID has hit Chicago’s performing arts industry hard. Dancers, choreographers and set designers suddenly found themselves out of work; and communities suddenly no longer had the ability to enjoy live performances.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us inside a company that started tackling both issues amid the chaos of COVID. The goal now: to bring art back to – and directly to – an audience.

Choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams was creating on location when CBS 2 visited a rehearsal at a South Loop studio. She was testing moves that could hit the stage in a few weeks during the show “UNTOLD”, presented by PARA.MAR Dance Theater.

The company was born as COVID-19 raged. It was a time when many dancers and their careers were sidelined.

“I was just stuck at home and I thought, you know, ‘What are you going to do when things die?’ Like, ‘present an opportunity, even if it’s going to be really difficult,'” said Stephanie Martinez, who founded PARA.MAR in 2020.

It was hard. PARA.MAR’s first show, “Kiss”, was in a parking lot in Avondale. Martinez had to get creative with social distancing — and his budget.

“There were design elements involved, and just things that I had never done before and always had a team do for me,” Martinez said.

The performers wore masks and practiced most of their parts for “Kiss” on Zoom. They are happy that this chapter is behind them. The company’s next challenge: to stay afloat while bringing their beauty to underprivileged neighborhoods.

Accessibility is an integral part of PARA.MAR’s mission. The next show will be at a warehouse in East Garfield Park, so community residents won’t have to pay to travel downtown to a theater.

“Some people may have $5 to give, some people may have $25 to give, some people have given $100,” said Adrianna Desier Durantt, executive director of PARA.MAR, explaining the other element of accessibility: a “pay what you can” model for tickets. It keeps costs low for those in need while providing cash to cover the cost of production which will run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“The decor, the lighting, the catering, the licenses – all of those things come at a pretty high cost, so every little bit counts,” Desier Durantt said.

Donations are also encouraged outside of live shows. The funds help burgeoning nonprofit non-fuel movement classes, like the one they’ve offered at Rogers Park in recent months, and will offer again after UNTOLD performances.

“We are a very small team, and we produce a little at a time, and we would like to stay,” said Desier Durantt.

Making an impact across Chicago, Step by Step, you can catch the PARA.MAR show on May 26-27. The next free dance workshop follows these performances on May 28 at Garfield Park Conservatory. It is open to all ages and abilities.


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