Artists turn adversity into possibility

Hedy Weiss details artists who are still creating even in dark times.

hedyweiss4 image
Julieanne Ehre, founder of Pivot Arts. Photo credit: Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Photography.

The arts are unquestionably one of the more profoundly battered victims of the coronavirus pandemic. But artists, by their very nature, are creators who refuse to be silenced. And here, in many different guises, is a look at how they have found ways to turn adversity into possibility.

The ladies who lead:

Uncertainty is the operative principle for every arts organization at the moment, and ingenuity and optimism are crucial for survival. Two women with longstanding experience on the Chicago theater scene--Erica Daniels and Julieanne Ehre--are demonstrating how to make the best of an extremely challenging situation.

IndecentIf I Forget

Scheduled for the coming season is the world premiere of Ali Viterbi's In Every Generation , which, as Daniels explained, "is a beautiful work by a young playwright that is set around a contemporary Passover table but looks at 4,000 years of history as it works its way through complicated family dynamics."

In the meantime, at 1 p.m. on June 12--as part of Your World Off Stage Conversations, the theater's new free online chat series over Zoom--director Devon de Mayo will talk to Viterbi about her play. For details, visit

Born in Hyde Park and raised in Oak Park, Julieanne Ehre--whose father was a Russian literature professor at the University of Chicago, and whose mother is a visual artist and arts educator--is the worldly founder/curator of Pivot Arts, which, since 2012, has been developing and producing multidisciplinary performances in the annual Pivot Festival, staged at a variety of Chicago venues.

"I look for artists who are creating adventurous performances accessible to many people. We also develop our own work via our arts incubator program at Loyola University, and create site-specific performances in unusual historic buildings," said Ehre, who is also a director.

"Among these works is The Rosina Project , created by Chicago Fringe Opera and BreakSoul Movement. It's a contemporary take on Rossini's The Barber of Seville that we call a "hip h'opera" because it includes everything from beat boxers to opera singers. We presented it live at last year's festival, but this year, for our eighth annual festival, we will go virtual--streaming it as part of what we're calling the "This Is How We Pivot" festival."

"I think it is hard to experience live performance virtually," said Ehre. "But luckily, as an organization that thinks outside the box, we can 'pivot' to do work meant for video and streaming and still stay within our mission."

The Festival will begin June 5 and remain available online through June 30. For details, visit

Books that run the gamut:

Stan Lee: A Life in Comics

Man of My Time , by Dalia Sofer. Born in Tehran in 1972 and raised in an Iranian Jewish family that immigrated to New York when she was 11, Sofer has written a novel that charts the dramatic transformation of Hamid Mozaffarian. As a young, initially idealistic revolutionary, Mozaffarian stays behind when his parents and brother leave Iran for the U.S. during the Islamic Revolution. He gradually grows into a brutal interrogator for the Islamic regime, and then, on an official trip to the United Nations, he must come to a reckoning about the course of his life. The moral of the story? Extremism, even in the pursuit of liberty, can sometimes turn very ugly.

Jewish Cuisine in Hungary: A Cultural History , by Andras Koerner: A winner of the 2019 Jewish Book Award, this impressive volume is enhanced by a rich collection of archival photographs and more than 80 recipes. Many are culled from a homemade cookbook kept by the author's grandmother, with everything from matzah balls, kugel, cholent, and stuffed cabbage to fish in walnut sauce. But its main goal is to capture the unique flavor of pre- Shoah Jewish life, and the many social and cultural practices that existed in a formidable central European country.

Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1984 to 2018, and currently writes for WTTW-TV's website and contributes to the Chicago Tonight program. 


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