Artists share their pandemic era works-in-progress at the MCA's 'Dreamscape'

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago kicks off its 2021 season with "The Dreamscape" on Jan. 16, a digital showcase accompanying the MCA's current exhibition, "The Long Dream" (recently extended until May). Over four hours on Zoom, "Dreamscape" audiences will choose their own experience as they navigate through livestreamed music, video art, meditative performances and intimate conversations—much of those works-in-progress. With a focus on process over product, this is for folks who are interested in accessing and observing artists' experiments during quarantine. 

In addition to commissioned contributions from several Chicago-based artists such as Damon Locks and Black Monument Ensemble, Selina Trepp and Rhonda Wheatley, “The Dreamscape” also marks the culmination of “The Long Dream's” adjunct performing artist residency—the first of its kind at the MCA—in which choreographers Joanna Furnans and Darling Squire and playwright/musician Derek McPhatter received a financial stipend and two weeks of theater access to create something new or append an existing performance.

2020 Creative Capital awardee McPhatter spent his two-week December residency in the MCA's Edlis Neeson Theater developing the second installment of his musical theater trilogy called "NightQueen." Titled "Water Riot in Beta: A Cyberpunk Rock Opera,” McPhatter describes the piece as an "AfroSurreal Midwest ecological musical” that is “part-rock opera, part-video game meditation, part-intellectual critique.”

The songs audiences can view during “The Dreamscape” are set in a not-too-distant/not-too-unrecognizable future. Environmental catastrophe transforms the Midwest into a desert, and activists stage a “damn the dam” protest inspired by Occupy, Black Lives Matter, MeToo and other 21st century social justice movements.  As the characters navigate increasing sociopolitical hostility, they also grapple with questions of history, home and ancestry. 

“I have been reading a lot about the Great Lakes Compact,” McPhatter said in a Zoom call. “The scope of possibility is broad with regards to water scarcity. Another area of interest is the feats of engineering Chicago has specifically advanced in response to environmental challenges. I'm looking at efforts to reverse the Chicago river (1887) and also raise the entire city in the 1850s. Looking at that track record of Chicago environmental ambition, I've been dreaming about what could be possible when the Lake becomes an even more important asset.”

Our world's current COVID-19 environ parallels the series' hostile ecological/political landscape. "Black folks have been living a post-apocalyptic existence for centuries in this country," McPhatter said. 

The aesthetic of “Water Riot” is rooted in Black Chicago but extends to the greater Midwest. “I grew up in Ohio," said McPhatter. "The content is very much focused on anticipated challenges specific to this region, but beyond that, I'm curious to see how that becomes defined in collaboration. I was not raised here and don't want to mis-represent myself in that way. However, as the broader vision for ‘NightQueen’ unfolds (it's at least three evening length works), I know a huge point of emphasis will be making space for myriad Chicago lived experiences and perspectives.” 

To that end, McPhatter is prioritizing working with Chicago artists including Mike Pryzgoda, Nicole Michelle Haskins and Lawrence Baker, even though the virtual working conditions have presented other options. While he says music is the definitive through line of the trilogy and leans heavily into the rock opera genre, McPhatter envisions dance coming into play at some point in the future.

“Dreamscape” has two offerings for dance fans. Choreographer Joanna Furnans presents snippets of a new work that continue to explore themes from her acclaimed 2019 solo performance, "Doing Fine.” And Darling Squire offers a new version of her recent work, "Beatitudes," a project stemming from a mix of her "live and let live" paradigm, fundamental biblical teachings (a la the Seven Deadly Sins) and the mid-20th century counterculture known as the Beat Generation.


"The Dreamscape" takes place Jan. 16 online. Tickets are free but require reservation, available by clicking the event page below.