The Great Chicago Fire Festival

Redmoon Theater

Funding Received: 2013
Chicago, IL
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
September 1, 2013

I just joined the Redmoon team a month ago as the Associate Producer for the Great Chicago Fire Festival. As we move forward on the Great Chicago Fire Festival, Redmoon has been expanding and diversifying its staff, including hiring me—I was a Multicultural Fellow at Steppenwolf last year, and now I am working with Redmoon to make the GCFF reflective of the greater Chicago community. I’m excited to take over writing for the ArtPlace Blog. In the upcoming entries I am hoping to highlight some of our partner organizations as well as all of developments throughout this big project.

We’ve had a busy month at Redmoon: planning the festival, meeting different artist, and closing our summer series of Night Out in the Parks. Our culminating event took place in Humboldt Park, a beautiful and spacious park on Chicago’s near northwest side. With the threat of rain hovering in the sky, the day started off a bit rocky. Our expert team was able to pull off the event with skillful maneuvering; we moved start time of the parade and procession up earlier to avoid the chance of rain.

It was my first time processing behind the Sonic Boom, Redmoon’s intense amplified sound system, DJ Booth, and stage, with an attachable slide component and fire that shoots out the back. It was really amazing to see how captivating this machine was and how a remarkable (and foreign) piece of technology can unite a community. I watched kids turn around mid-bike ride and start chasing after the Bucket Boys. Parents of different races picked up their kids and started following the Sonic Boom, and cars slowed down in the middle of the street to inquire about this phenomenal spectacle that was taking place.

In many respects, this is so much of what Redmoon’s programming does: uses these amazing, foreign objects to disrupt the everyday pace of life and build community through shared wonder. Our organization is usually foreign to the communities in which we engage. Given the scale of the Great Chicago Festival and the amount of community involvement we want to drive the heartbeat of this project, our time in the parks this summer has been invaluable research for us. Through both our partner organizations with which we have collaborated and from speaking to park supervisors and visitors, we have been able to get a more accurate understanding of the communities that we have worked with this summer. We have gotten to know our performers very well, and have made plans to continue collaboration with our partner organizations including Young Chicago Authors (YCA) to make the Great Chicago Fire Festival as collaborative of an event as possible.

We wanted to highlight one of our performers who has worked with us all summer—a rapper, poet, and MC named Lamar Jordan. Lamar MCed the Humboldt Park event and had great things to say about working with us at Redmoon:

Tell me who you are:
I am a spoken word poet, rap artist, and teaching artist from the west side of Chicago. I started writing raps when I was 12, and then when I was 18 I was first introduced to competitive poetry through YCA and Louder Than a Bomb. I fell in love with it and I knew that this is what I wanted to do. Since then, I’ve been trying to establish myself as a serious artist- my whole life I’ve felt like I was a ‘youth poet’ and I am just now coming out of that.

What did you think about the partnership between Redmoon and YCA this summer?
The partnership was dope. I hadn’t heard a lot about Redmoon before except—I had heard that they worked in some schools and stuff but I didn’t know what they were about. It was so dope to be able to work with them. The employees were all awesome, the gadgets were amazing . . . I’d really like to work with them more.

What did you think when you first saw the Sonic Boom?
I was so excited that I was going to be able to get on that and rock. It was just so unreal to me, to see that they could create something like that—and then to see people react to it when I was on it. I think my favorite reactions were [from] this last time in Humboldt Park. I was able to perform on it when the machine was flat, and then they raised it up when the DJ was on it. It totally transformed the audience experience, being able to watch the machine rise up and shoot fire behind it. It was awesome to work with it all summer and to keep seeing it get better and better.

Moving into working on the Great Chicago Fire Festival, we want to really solidify our partnership and collaboration with YCA. What do you think of that?
I am really excited for this partnership. Redmoon has [done] so many cool things. Redmoon makes me think of art and performance differently. Do I want to be a part of what they do next? Absolutely. I want to be a part of it. I want to make art with them.

Recent Wins
Since we’ve closed down our summer park series, we have been able to gather a lot of research from our experience this summer. This has been really helpful to us as we embark on the Great Chicago Fire Festival, and move toward working with different neighborhoods. Through our conversation with the park supervisors we were able to realize that some of the parks that we were performing in this summer were on the dividing line of two different gang territories—knowledge that we couldn’t really have had until we started interacting with different communities and parks. This sparked necessary questions for us as we continue: What areas do we want to be involved in for the GCFF? What are the social and community impacts that we hope to have with our work on the GCFF? Do we want to work on the dividing line between two gang sites, hoping that our project can act as a neutralizer? Do we want to move our project into a more defined territory to avoid problems? These questions are difficult to answer, but incredibly important for the work that we are doing.

As mentioned above, we’ve also made gains in solidifying our relationships with partner organizations, especially ones like YCA that represent the diverse communities of Chicago. While working with YCA in the parks, we were able to get a better understanding of our partner’s ideas, commitment, and connection to the work that we are doing at Redmoon. Many of our YCA performers were from the areas that we were visiting; through the summer we got better at working with them to figure out the best approach to engaging community members in the parks. Through our conversations we also realized that they were approaching our summer work as commissioned artists rather as collaborators. In our last few conversations with YCA we made it clear that we want to engage with them as collaborators on the GCFF, to move forward with their ideas and interests as we imagine the project.

Insight/ Provocation
Central to the Great Chicago Fire Festival, as well as many projects at Redmoon, is the question of what makes place, and what unites us as Chicagoans? How do you celebrate a distinct city of neighborhoods, while also celebrating Chicago as a whole? How do we properly engage a community in a way that best serves them and makes meaningful art?