Bring on Spring!

If you would look at a calendar, you would see that it is now technically springtime. If you would look outside however, you might not get the same idea. As soon as spring hit, Chicagoland took a dip in temperature, forcing us to break out our winter coats once again. The stereotypical sunny and bright springtime is nowhere to be found at the moment. Yearning for the flowery springtime I love, I looked for a way to find spring in the city. Lucky for me, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show came to Navy Pier the other weekend.  

Chicago Flower and Garden Show
Finding a deal on my favorite site, Groupon, I was able to get a cheap deal for tickets to the event. Using my handy dandy UPass​, I took the red line and the bus out to Navy Pier, making the whole trip easy on my wallet. As a flower and garden lover, arriving at this event had me like a kid in a candy store! I got my stamp, walked in, and was greeted with the fresh aroma of flowers, and a wide array of exhibits. There were a dozen different gardens set up in the exhibit hall, each showcasing different kinds of plants, flowers, furniture arrangements and more. After spending so much time in apartment buildings in the city, it was quite refreshing to see the layouts of these bright and fresh displays. 

Further into the hall there was a flower market showcasing deals on tons of potted and fresh cut beauties. Beyond that, there was a large marketplace with dozens of vendors, selling garden supplies, small fresh plants, food and treats, home goods and more. I ended up spending nearly four hours on the Pier, walking around, eating and enjoying the gardens and perusing the market. I walked away with some delightful springtime goodies fit for my college budget. I picked up a bouquet of roses for $4, two tulip plants for $4, as well as two small succulents and ceramic pots for my apartment, also for a great deal. My goal was to find small and practical pieces to liven up the gray and gloomy days, and bring some freshness to my city apartment. I would say it was a rather successful day! 
Flowers

Living in the city affords residents a wide array of activities and things to enjoy, but sometimes I miss small things about the more suburban life or different climate I had at home growing up in Portland, OR. The plant life is one small piece of that.  As always I love finding new and different ways to spend my free time exploring Chicago while sticking to my student budget. The Chicago Flower and Garden Show was the perfect way to get my springtime fix, without leaving the city or breaking the bank, allowing me to bring a little life back to my apartment to hold me over until the weather warms up. It is the simple things that really make a difference. For me it’s flowers, but whatever your interests may be, I think it is always important to bring little bits of joy and fun to balance out a busy and stressful life in college. 

Victory Gardens Black Beauty Festival

Being an acting major in a wonderful theatre city like Chicago gives me endless opportunities to explore the art scene. I love to visit the local theatres, watch plays, and attend events. This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend an event that combined many of my interests of theatre, identity, empowerment of minorities, and beauty. Victory Gardens Theater, conveniently located within a short walking distance from the DePaul Lincoln Park campus, held an event this weekend that they called the Black Beauty Festival, which accompanied their production that took place in a black beauty shop in Chicago. When I received an email inviting me to purchase tickets to the event, I was intrigued. When I read further I found out that the event included vendors from local black owned beauty businesses, a champagne cocktail to sip while you peruse the event (hey, I’m 21, it’s okay), a Victory Gardens swag bag (with offers from local businesses and a couple of sample products), as well as a ticket to the performance of A Wonder In My Soul, the latest show on the mainstage. I was SOLD. An evening of supporting black beauty, local black owned businesses, and theatre all at once – now that’s my jam! 

Victory Gardens Theater
When I showed up to the event, I was excited. In my own experience it isn’t very common that there is a celebration of this type in Lincoln Park, let alone on my radar at all. Additionally, it can sometimes be tough to support local black owned businesses, as there aren’t as many apparent ones in this area. When I walked in, I picked up my ticket to the show, and was given a bag with flyers and a sample hair product inside. I went upstairs into a separate space where most of the vendors were located. Several booths were set up, manned by black business owners, selling their products to visitors. There were items such as handbags, jewelry, clothing items, makeup, and skin care items for sale. It was kind of small, which I suppose is to be expected, but enjoyable nevertheless. I cashed in my ticket for a mimosa to sip while I walked around and chatted with the business owners, enjoyed the fruit and sweet treats that were out, and tried the different products. After a short spin around the room, I walked away with some pretty handmade earrings, and a jar of delicious all natural and handmade rose scented body butter. It was nice to walk away with some nice products, but even better to support a small, local, black-owned business in the process. 

Following my walk around the festival I saw the evening performance of A Wonder in my Soul​, starring an all-black cast of awesome local actors. The play took place in a beauty shop, owned by two of the main characters, and revolved around the themes of community, following your dreams, the cultural significance of a place like this beauty shop, and the empowerment of black women to love their own unique beauty. At times I was moved, not fully realizing that I needed to hear some of these messages myself. 

I consider myself lucky to be in a place where I can take advantage of opportunities like this, both to be in a city where that can happen, but also to have the means to engage in them myself. I was also inspired to create environments like this in the future, combine my interests and the power of art to bring people together, celebrate culture, and inspire others. 

Shakespeare Celebration at Navy Pier

The first week of May commemorates the anniversary of the death of an amazing literary figure: William Shakespeare. I recently attended an event to celebrate this anniversary out on Navy Pier. Navy Pier, a common tourist location in Chicago, is home to the renowned Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Year round, CST honors the legacy of the most famous writer in the English language, by producing his classic plays. This year, however, is something special. 2016 marks 400 years since the death of this amazing poet and playwright. When you think about it, it has been 400 years since Shakespeare has last written anything, and yet, four centuries later, the English speaking world still studies, performs, and cherishes his work as some of the best ever created! Now that’s a legacy.

On the anniversary of his death, and in celebration of his April birthday as well, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre set up a large fireworks display in his honor. Of course, when my friends and I heard this, we knew we had to be there. Shakespeare? Fireworks? FREE? I’m there. We took advantage of our handy dandy UPasses, and took the CTA ​directly to Navy Pier. When we arrived we saw hundreds of people, families, groups and individuals of all ages, congregated outside on the steps of the pier overlooking the water. Employees of CST handed out masks with Shakespeare’s face on it, we each took one, and entertained ourselves as we practiced reciting out Shakespeare monologues and sonnets disguised as the Bard himself. 

At 10:15 sharp, the pyrotechnic display commenced, to the awe of everyone there. The fireworks were exciting and beautiful, and over the loud speakers they played music from movies inspired by Shakespeare stories. It truly was dramatic. I was surprised so many people were in attendance, and wasn’t sure if everyone there even really knew Shakespeare’s work. However, it was a fun way to spend a windy, late-April night in the city, celebrating beautiful art, watching beautiful fireworks, and taking enjoying the cultural events Chicago has to offer. 

The Art Institute and Chicago History Museum

Anyone who knows me knows that I love new experiences and learning new things. But anyone who knows me even better knows what I love more than that: Free Things. One of the great things about being a DePaul student is being able to take advantage of the connections throughout the city. One great opportunity for students right now is free admission to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago History Museum. These two great places offer free admission to DePaul students with your student ID. You better believe I have taken advantage of the opportunity! I have already gotten in to The Art Institute a couple of times, and have yet to scope out the Chicago History Museum - that is next on my list.

The Chicago History Museum
The Art Institute of Chicago​ is an art museum and school located downtown on Michigan Avenue. It is the second largest art museum in the United States, in fact. Walking through the museum, there are a countless exhibits and galleries displaying art from all over the world, ancient to contemporary. A friend and I went, taking advantage of our DePaul hook-up, and couldn't even make it through most of the exhibits in the hours we spent there. Our plan is to keep going back and tackling one section at a time, so we can really take it all in. There is so much about art, and the history of the world to learn by walking through the halls. Art, of course, is an expression of life, and it is always so interesting to me to see what is shaping or influencing the creation of these works. With free admission until this Fall (to my knowledge) any DePaul student should stop by and take a look at some of their favorite works, and learn something new as well. 
The Chicago History Museum​ is located in Lincoln Park - also home to DePaul! This museum, as you may have guessed, was erected to study and interpret the history of the city of Chicago itself. The museum houses many exhibits that hold an extensive collection of objects and documents detailing the history of Chicago over the last couple hundred years. Permanent displays such as one dedicated Abraham Lincoln's leadership and American conflict during the civil war, are balanced out with temporary exhibits that detail Chicago's LBGTQIA population or Chicago Fashion. This is a great way for students to learn more about this city's rich and complicated history. 

DePaul University always uses the City as our Classroom. And this is a great way to do just that. Whether you are from Chicago originally, and want to learn more about its history, or whether you are new to the city and just now putting the pieces together, the Chicago History museum is a great place to visit. Of course, I recently learned that DePaul students can get free admission with their student ID​ so this is definitely an opportunity to take advantage of. 

These two locations are great ways to learn more about the city we are in and the world around us, past and present. I am a believer in spending your time and money on new, enriching experiences. Being a busy and broke college student can sometimes make it hard to get out and do new things. However these two locations within easy reach of campus are great places to start. And lucky for us, and our DePaul connections, students can visit for free. What is better than that? 

Turning 21 in the Windy City

Before spring break I experienced a milestone of my college years - my 21st Birthday. Shout out to any other Pisces ​out there! 

This was the first time I got to celebrate a birthday with my friends and classmates in the city. Birthdays are always a great time to celebrate another year, and the possibilities that lie ahead, while spending time with special people. 

This year, turning 21, was a milestone that brings with it a sense of freedom and possibility. For me, the most exciting thing about turning 21 in Chicago was the new place I could now go and experience. This city has endless cool things to do, and see, and experience. But some happen to be limited to a 21 and over crowd. Some things I have been looking forward to is visiting venues for music and comedy. 

Personally, music and comedy are two things I really love to hear, and in a way related to my interest in theatre and storytelling. However, many comedy clubs, locations with open-mics, jazz clubs, and other music venues, happen to be limited to the 21 and over population because of the beverages they sell at such venues. Now that I am 21, I have the ability to check out such places, and be exposed to a whole new scene of music and comedy that I had not seen before. There are often different small store-fronts that advertise comedy shows, open-mics, music shows, or poetry slams that I am interested in attending but did not have access to. 

This past Wednesday, I was able to go catch a comedy club open-mic night, at a club called Jokes and Notes. My friend-who is trying to break into the comedy scene in Chicago, and I paid our $5 admission, grabbed a Hershey bar and some Sprite and sat in the front row. Some of Chicago's great comedians, or people who have found career success all over the US have started in this club. Because anyone could sign up to perform we saw quite a mix of different men and women performing. Some were quite good, very funny and seemed to have experience, and some were just learning the game, were a bit awkward or had jokes that didn't quite land with the crowd. Both ways we had a great time. As theatre majors, we know that there is just as much to learn by watching as performing. By observing what works, and what doesn't work, we were able to learn more about the delicate art and timing of effective stand-up comedy. I am looking forward to attending more locations to hear new and interesting comedians, musicians, poets and more as I get to explore Chicago in a whole new way. 

*DISCLAIMER- I, and those at DePaul University, do not condone or encourage the consumption of adult beverages or content that may be present at the kind of venues mentioned. However, I personally do encourage knowing what interests you, what your city has to offer, and how you can go out and take advantage of them, while learning along the way! For me, turning 21 just opened up a new way to do just that. 


College Night at Goodman Theatre

As an acting major, I always want to see the theatre that is happening throughout the city. Simply watching is a great way to learn about acting, theatre, and what I want to do professionally. Lucky for me, The Theatre School has all kind of hook ups with discounted or free tickets to various shows throughout the city. Unfortunately, when rehearsing for my own shows, I never have enough time to see them all! One awesome deal that I love to take advantage of is College Night at the Goodman Theatre. 

The Goodman Theatre, located in the Loop, has been hosting College Nights for local students over the past couple of years.  For the small price of $10 you can expect to be served pizza in the lobby of the theatre, with a social hour to meet and chat with the other college students there. Then, a cast member from the show will come out to speak with the students and answer questions from them as well. This is always an interesting event because many of the students there are also studying theatre, and it is a great way to ask the cast members about the starts of their careers, the professional world, and for advice on how we can make it there ourselves. Then, of course, you get to see the play. So, dinner, and a show (with some interesting conversation between) for just $10. That is absolutely my kind of deal for a great night at the theatre. I have attended about 4 college nights at the Goodman over the past few years, seeing a few of their shows, and I always have an enjoyable time.

This past Wednesday a classmate and I went to go see their current show, Another Word for Beauty by Jose Rivera. We took the train straight from campus to the loop, and were able to seek refuge from the cold in the warm and inviting theatre. By showing our DePaul ID’s we were able to pick up our tickets and head upstairs to feast on the various kinds of pizza laid out on the long table of the lobby. I always know to get there early so you can get enough pizza and a place to sit! We munched and mingled until it was time to hear from the guest speaker. Not to our surprise, it was Stephanie Andrea Barron, an actress who graduated from DePaul about 2 years ago. It is awesome to see a TTS Alum out there and working in one of the major theatres in the city, only 2 years after graduation. We listened to her speak briefly, then she left to get ready for the show and we were ushered into the theatre. 

On college night, the students are given tickets up in the mezzanine and not on the floor, but we were pretty close and still had a great view. This was a brand new show about a beauty pageant held in a Colombian women’s prison. The show was full of music and dancing, strong anti-war political statements and some silly things thrown in for good measure. I am always extremely interested in stories about people of color, written by people of color, so this show intrigued me for sure, and the cast was full of beautiful powerful women.

I am looking forward to the next college night held at the Goodman, as a college student I am always looking for a good deal and a good time!  Check out their website ​to see Another Word for Beauty, and their upcoming shows.

DePaul certainly has got the connections, you just have to look for them. 


Musings of an Out-Of-State Student

The show I was in at The Theatre School closed on November 15th. Since this is my first mainstage production of my college career, my most generous mom came to see it! We are from the West Coast, and being so far away my parents, family, and friends don’t visit often. While I have been working away at my acting training here at DePaul, my mother has not been able to see me perform since I was in high school. Needless to say, this was a really special event, and one I know will not happen often. Since I was preparing for her visit, my out-of-state status was on the brain.

Most DePaul students I know are not from Chicago. This is probably in part due to the fact that this is a private school. Most of my friends are from various states across the country, with most being from the Midwest followed by East coast residents, with a smaller smattering of southerners and West coast kids like me. Mind you this is just based upon my own observations in the group of students I interact with the most. Moving to Chicago from my little Oregon hometown was one of the scariest and most eye opening things I have ever done. I would argue it was the best decision I have made for myself as a young adult person of the world. While I have not traveled the world, or lived in many places, leaving my hometown to experience a new area of the country, to live and breathe a major city, a more diverse city, a region and area with very different culture and values and issues and advantages is really eye opening, and changed the way I view life in this country. While I cannot speak directly on any epiphanies I have had, I cannot stress how important I feel it is to experience a new place, especially in your college years. I would not be the open minded, educated, socially aware person that I am becoming if I had not left my origin of the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest.

When I was applying to college, I knew I wanted to go to school out of state, and many of the members of my family I looked up to also wanted this for me. When debating whether to move away or stay close to home for school, my aunt (who was raised in Portland like me, but went to the east coast for college), she said to me, “Samantha, you are lucky enough to have family here, and people here who will welcome you home. But you need to go away for college, and experience a new place with new people.

You never know until you go and try it out, and don’t worry because you can always come home”. Two and a half years later, I know she was so right. Moving away from the place I spent the first 18 years of my life really gave me a new perspective on the world, just by experiencing a new culture, and new people, a new climate, and seeing new things happen around me, both good and worrisome. It helped me to learn what things from home were important for me to keep, and what new things were important for me to find, including a community of people that were headed in the same forward direction as I am. 

For anyone who is looking to go to college, or simply visit a new place for a short while, I would absolutely say DO IT. Even if you decide to return, even if you don’t leave for long, or even if you decide never to go back, leaving the environment you grew up in does a world of difference to the way you see and think about the world around you. While moving 2,000 miles away may not be feasible, spending your college years in a new city, state or region can really help you learn about yourself as an adult. For me, Chicago and DePaul was the place to do just that.

To anyone thinking about coming to this great city from afar, or even in this city looking to go away for a while, just remember you never know until you try it. If your experience is amazing, or less than ideal, you will learn so much about other places and yourself, just remember to do it for yourself. While my aunt was right, and I can always come home, I am discovering that my new home may not be the place I am from, and I would have never known that if I hadn’t taken the chance, and left the comfort and familiarity of my hometown.