The New Year may have just begun, but three Chicago theater festivals are already set to launch again this January.
Both the 16th annual Fillet of Solo Festival (produced by Lifeline Theatre taking up the reins from Live Bait Theater) and the 12th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (a.k.a. Chicago Sketchfest) commence Thursday, Jan. 3. Then on Saturday, Jan. 12, Curious Theater Branch's 24th annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival (a.k.a. Rhinofest) kicks off a month's worth of fringe theater productions.
All three festivals offer diverse lineups, which also include troupes and performers delving into LGBT issues. Based upon surmised perusing on each of the festivals' websites, here are a few shows that might be of interest to LGBT audiences:
Fillet of Solo Festival
The inclusion of Chicago's LGBT comedy troupe GayCo is what immediately stands out for out audiences in the Fillet of Solo Festival, which features 11 performance troupes and solo shows by Amanda Rountree, Kim Morris and Eric Warner.
While other Fillet of Solo performers may touch upon LGBT themes or issues in their storytelling and live literature pieces, none are quite as out as GayCo is in its festival description. GayCo performs at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Jan. 3 and 10, and Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. (Another Fillet of Solo Festival venue is the Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave.) Tickets are $10 per show for this festival, which runs Thursdays through Sundays until Jan. 20. Visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information and a full performance schedule.
Of the 169 shows jam-packed onto four stages and into eight days for the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival at Stage 773, quite a few cater to LGBT crowds while others tackle issues tied to gender norms.
Troupes overtly dealing with LGBT issues include (who else?) GayCo with a 10 p.m. show on Friday, Jan. 11. But GayCo isn't the only queer Chicago kid on the block.
Comedy team Quixotic is represented with a 3 p.m. show on Sunday, Jan. 6, while Philip Markle revives his Annoyance Theatre show Sparkle Hour! at 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6, for another musical journey into queer fabulousness. Also flying the queer Chicago flag is Wig Bullies (The Girl With the Drag Queen Tattoo, It Takes a Village, People!) with an 8 p.m. show on Sunday, Jan. 6. The Alliance Sketch Group also represents queer Windy City with its musical Threat Level Rainbow at 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13.
Although not specifically LGBT, at least two other troupes promise gay themes in their shows. The Toronto troupe British Teeth promises lesbian mothers somewhere within its 8 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 11 and 12, while Chicago's Cell Camp appears to be luring lurid audiences in for its 8 p.m. show on Thursday, Jan. 10, with a description featuring "raunchy language, nudity, gay sex, regular sex, cartoon violence, awkward situations, dated humor and less!"
Quite a few troupes also feature women challenging and questioning gender roles.
Ever Mainard and Alicia Queen will perform all of Shakespeare's women through a modern lens in a revival of their sketch comedy-influenced show Shakespeare's Female Women at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5.
Parody burlesque is back with the troupe Off Off Broadzway, performing 11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, while "Mr. Liz McArthur and Mr. Jill Valentine" serve up Feminine Gentlemen at 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10.
And just for a chuckle (or a cringe), let's not forget the all-female Chicago sketch troupe known as Heavy Flo, which offers a visit this month at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6.
All Chicago Sketchfest shows run from Thursday, Jan. 3, through Sunday, Jan. 13, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. An all-festival pass is $150, while prices for individual shows vary (largely under $20). For more information and a full schedule, visit www.chicagosketchfest.com .
Be on the look out for LGBT characters or themes in these fringe shows:
Playwright/director Karen Yates and Sky Area Ten update a classic Greek tragedy with American Bacchae, which focuses on a young suburban mayor (and webcam porn addict) who attempts to combat a new religion and its traveling global followers. Workshop performances are at 9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, Feb. 3, 4, 10 and 11.
Playwright Barry Cole offers up a work-in-progress reading called Clumsy Sublime, which focuses on the unconventional friendship between a 15-year-old girl and a newly unemployed gay man approaching his 50th birthday. Performances are at 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 10 and 17.
A drag queen who helps revive American passenger pigeons through music is just one of the characters featured in Derek Lee Barton's piece The Extinction Project for The Side Project, running 9 p.m. Fridays from Jan. 18 to Feb. 15.
Souls experiencing true fluidity and freedom are explored in Ned O'Reilly's piece Identity Cruxes, which is presented by Yavamaya Wurms & Broom Street Theatre at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3.
Sweetback Productions serves up a double bill: R.J. Tsarov's Mantuary and Cornell Woorich's Hot Water. The former is about a woman taking a dark, surreal look at relationships and gender differences, while the latter play is a 1940s film noir romp. Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays from Jan. 18 to Feb. 15.
Ron Simonian's The Soul Collector is billed as "an offensively comic evangelical rock musical" where a money grubbing evangelist hawks items ranging from Rapture Rations to a Homo-Stun-Gun. Performances are at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and at 7 p.m. Sunday Feb. 17.
Gay poet W.H. Auden is just one of the artists featured in Dmitri Peskov's one-man show Tales Told by an Idiot. It consists of short stories focusing on a political prisoner, an old man in a box and two men exploring a very unique relationship, among others. Performances are at 2 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 9 and 16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.
All Rhinofest shows play between the Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets are $15 or pay what you can at the door, or $12 in advance online. Call 773-492-1287 or visit www.rhinofest.com for more information.