William Peterson, who played Gil Grissom on CSI: Las Vegas, once said, “Chicago theater will always be my first love.” What keeps Peterson, a Steppenwolf Theatre alum, devoted to his hometown theater scene is no great mystery, but you’ll have to make an effort and get out of Hyde Park to solve it. Don’t worry—with a bit of research and your student I.D., you’re bound to find great deals on great shows.
The latest and greatest innovation in theatergoing for UChicago students is the oft-praised UChicago Arts Pass, which took effect last spring. The “pass”—there’s no actual pass, usually you just show your UC I.D. at the box office—will get you tickets at About Face Theater for half off, Hyde Park’s Court Theater for free on Wednesdays and Thursdays (and $5 other days), the New Leaf Theater for $12, and the Plagiarists and the Steppenwolf Theatre for $15. You can also get rush tickets to the Goodman Theater for $10.
In fact, if you’re interested in seeing big productions for cheap, you should take advantage of the student “rush” tickets offered by many of the larger theaters. These heavily discounted tickets are available on the day of the performance, sometimes only an hour or two ahead of time. For example, many rush tickets for Broadway shows run around $30—not cheap, but a lot less expensive than the normal tickets, which often start at $70 and go way up from there.
Rush tickets can be frustrating, so you can use a few tricks to avoid the stress that comes with waiting until the last minute to secure your seats. Call the box office the day of the performance to get a rough estimate of availability. Also try going through the initial steps of purchasing tickets online to see which seats are still available. That way, you avoid the shows that have sold every seat but the nosebleed section. Aim to go on less popular performance days, such as Thursday and Sunday, to improve your odds of landing prime seating, especially if the show is nearing the end of its run.
Chicago’s premier theater companies have vast resources and incredible talent at their disposal—and they charge accordingly. Places like the Chicago Shakespeare Theater only offer student discounts if you book group tickets for a matinee performance ahead of time. Try checking out smaller theaters for experiences that are rewarding, budget-friendly, and spare you the hassle of rush tickets.
Theaters like the Lifeline, which specializes in “original literary adaptations,” offer unique productions. There’s also the Victory Gardens Theater, which stages only original works, and the Annoyance Theatre, which specializes in parodies.
There are also even more experimental venues, like the Redmoon Theater, which puts on both outdoor spectacles and more traditional stage performances. Their shows mix performance art, elaborate puppetry, interpretive dance, traditional narrative, and acrobatics.
Fourth-year Ethan Dubin says that his favorite theater is the Chopin, where he has seen some of his favorite performances.
“The Chopin follows the essential, but little-known, formula for the best theater ever, which is one-block proximity to an incredible cheap Mexican place. La Pasadita around the corner more than makes the cut,” Dubin said.
Some of the best theater in Chicago is unscripted. Comedians like Tina Fey, Mike Myers, and Jim Belushi honed their improv skills in the famous Second City troupe. Second City is great, but don’t discount other venues. After all, the iO Theater is home to The Improvised Shakespeare Company, which produces the best long-form improv in the city. Using a title suggested by the audience, the actors improvise an entire Shakespearean play, complete with narrative arc and flowery, pseudo-Elizabethan language.
Basically, there are more productions to see in Chicago than there are re-runs of CSI: Las Vegas. Make sure you get out and investigate the scene a little—it’ll be well worth your while.