A guide to Chicago’s affordable summer entertainment scene


Olivia Fergus-Brummer

Pritzker Pavillion offers an endless number of cultural and musical events during the summer.

By Olivia Fergus-Brummer

In a few short weeks, teens will once again find themselves at home on a sunny summer day seeking a unique activity to fill their evening. Luckily, Chicago has no shortage of affordable—and even free—entertainment opportunities this season.

So shake off your picnic blankets and break out your lawn chairs because Jay Pritzker Pavilion’s plethora of free arts events are sure to keep you occupied. From their weekly movie in the park, to live Broadway performances, the Millennium Park performance venue with vast public lawn welcomes people of every artistic taste.

Catie Mitchell, Div. 980, has attended multiple performances at Pritzker Pavilion, including a Puerto Rican dance show, a Desiigner concert, and a Broadway in Chicago performance.

She recalled that the Desiigner concert felt exclusive, as the audience was relatively small, but that the crowd’s energy at the Puerto Rican dance show was electric.

“Everyone was dancing in the audience and it was clear that all the families were so excited to be there,” Mitchell said. “It was a really cool experience.”

Mitchell said that while the Broadway in Chicago show was fantastic, getting a good spot on the lawn with her friends was challenging.

“If you know you’re going to a more popular show then I would recommend arriving early, especially if you have a big group,” Mitchell said.

Pritzker’s annual summer movies in the park begin June 4 with a showing of “Black Panther.” Each movie will be shown on Tuesday evenings, beginning at 6:30 p.m. A full schedule can be found at timeout.com.

The City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres have named 2019 the Year of Chicago Theatre. According to Chicago Plays, this will spur year-long initiatives to increase marketing support for Chicago theatres, financial grants and dialogue surrounding inclusion and equity.

The Teen Arts Pass (TAP) is a new initiative by Urban Gateways that gives students ages 13-19 access to $5 tickets to professional dance, music, and theater performances in Chicago.

Senior Karol Skoczen, Div. 976, serves on the teen council for TAP and is an avid user of her pass. She credits her newfound love of dance to the Joffrey Ballet performances she has been able to see with her TAP.  

“If you’re into the arts, especially drama, classical music, jazz or dance then you should immediately hop onto this,” Skoczen said. “If you’re not, then get it to expand your horizons and explore what you like.”

Steppenwolf Theatre also offers a discount on tickets for teens who present their student I.D. at the ticket booth. Abhi Shrestha, Steppenwolf’s Education Associate, said that they do so to ensure that the theatre they are producing is accessible to as many communities as possible.

“Students, whether they are in high school or in college, a lot of the times don’t have fiscal stability to afford tickets sold at the normal or default rates,” Shrestha said. “So a student ticket rate breaks down a barrier to ensure that the art that we make isn’t just for the people who can afford it.”

Steppenwolf’s main stage show this summer is “Ms. Blakk for President,” which tells the true story of Joan Jett Blakk, a drag queen from Chicago who ran for President in 1992 during the height of the AIDS crisis.

“It’s a really dynamic navigation of radical queer politics that explodes the idea of a binary futurity into a spectrum of important conversations around gender, love, and community.” Shrestha said.

According to Steppenwolf’s website, the play is “part campaign rally, part nightclub performance, part confessional — and all party!” Ms. Blakk for President runs May 23 – July 14.

Shrestha is adamant that exploring Chicago’s wide array of arts and entertainment this summer is a tremendous way to educate oneself on current issues.

“Theatre provides an expansive platform for conversations and action around important themes that are relevant to our global consciousness,” Shrestha said.