Think back to the days of old-school arcade games—every avatar and virtual landscape pixelated and colorful. Now get ready to embrace it in the 21st century. Lucky Plush Productions is bringing a hardcore dose of nostalgia to Chicago on June 25 and 26 with their innovative festival, “The Map of Now.”
Julia Rhoads, founding artistic director of Lucky Plush Productions, is excited to be celebrating 21 years with the company. As a witty staple of the Chicago dance community, the movers, shakers and laugh-inducers at Lucky Plush are known for their out-of-the-box, theater-meets-movement performance style—something that Rhoads believed would prevent this festival from becoming a reality.
“We applied to create something in the Harris Theater and at first I didn’t think there was a strong entry point for Lucky Plush. We hadn’t really been back in a studio. Our work is a hybrid of dance, theater and song—we talk, we partner—and I couldn’t really make sense of that on Zoom or with masks on,” Rhoads explained in a one-on-one phone conversation. “But then I started to think about the haunting yet beautiful sense of an empty theater and it inspired me to think about dance-for-camera work that would really be about this moment and coming back to theaters.”
Despite the initial doubt, the now recipients of the Harris Theater Creative Future Fund and one of the venue’s several artists-in-residence pushed forward to build a virtual platform for artistic expression on Gather.Town. Rhoads learned about Gather.Town through the theater company The Neo Futurists. Users are able to visit simulated renditions of four prominent performance venues throughout the city: Links Hall, the Harris, Steppenwolf and the Logan Center.
Links Hall, located on the North Side, will “house” a handful of talented performers including Chloe Johnston, Darling Shear and Sojourner Wright. The South Side’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts will allow virtual explorers to stumble upon Chicago trumpeter Sam Trump alongside interdisciplinary artist avery r. young and others. Audiences can catch a few flicks from Steppenwolf’s Near North 1700 Theatre’s LookOut Series, and, of course, they can watch Lucky Plush perform its latest creation—which still remains unnamed—at the centrally located Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
The technologically savvy festival is boundary breaking and true to Rhoads’ vision. Take traveling from the Logan Center to Links Hall, for example. What would typically be a 75-minute commute via public transit—on a good day—is shortened to a 10-second teleportation of sorts.
Rhoads chose venues with prior connections to Lucky Plush and spread widely throughout the city. “I am a lecturer and am building the dance program at the University of Chicago, and I partner regularly with the Logan Center. We have performed on the SouthSide and have noticed it’s sometimes hard to get audiences from North to go South, and South to go North. It occurred to me this—a digital space and map—might be a fun and interactive way to bring audiences together across geography in this particular moment and to expose them to new artists who regularly perform at venues around Chicago.”
As for navigating the platform, it’s relatively simple. Audience members will go through a training before entering virtual Chicago, but if you’re left feeling like you’re struggling with the virtual reality there’s a guided tour through the platform to ease anxieties. But for those who feel confident, it’s strongly encouraged to imbibe in the choose-your-own-adventure style of “play.” Rhoads hopes everyone comes with curiosity, a sense of adventure, and an eagerness to see new artists and their work.
What’s more, the team behind the festival hopes the innovation of crafting a two-dimensional Chicago will spark creativity in artists for future projects. “Our map will always live in the Gather.Town platform, it can be community sourced and used again. It exists. If people wanted to build on it, add to it, add different portals to places in Chicago— I’m eager to see this become an even more productive and accessible space.”
When asked about how Rhoads connected all the dots that make up the event, she humbly replied. “I am not a presenter. It is part of our ethos at Lucky Plush to collaborate and uplift artists in our community in different ways.” And collaborate they did. As a reviewer, I am hungry to hear how the public responds to the profound tech-breakthrough, multidisciplinary connection, and thoughtful creativity that is “The Map of Now.”
To see and explore “The Map of Now” on June 25 and 26, purchase tickets via the Lucky Plush website link. Tickets can be purchased in 30-minute increments between the hours of 5:00 and 7:30 PM on a sliding scale from $10-$25. You will have up to 2 hours to traverse the map.