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Introducing ACTIVATE: Backstage Curators

Posted  5 years ago  in  Arts and Culture, Trending

4 MIN READ – On April 4, Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) announced the 2019 ACTIVATE season, ACTIVATE: Backstage, a theme that aligns with the City of Chicago’s Year of Chicago Theatre. ACTIVATE: Backstage will celebrate the role theater has played in the Loop’s success.

This year, CLA will team up with four curators, one for each event (5-10 p.m. June 6, July 18, August 22, and September 26). Each evening will highlight a different aspect of the performing arts, including drag, lighting and stage design, circus arts, and comedy. Locations will be announced as the events draw near. ACTIVATE is free and open to the public, and guests who RSVP in advance will receive a free drink ticket. Click here for more information and to RSVP.

The ACTIVATE curators sat down with CLA to share their thoughts on this year’s “Backstage” theme, their favorite performances, and more.


Miss Alex White and Francis Scott Key White are sibling rock’n’roll duo White Mystery from Chicago. Since 2008, White Mystery has self-released 100 songs, performed 1,000 shows worldwide, and pioneered  a new generation of musical entrepreneurship through multimedia. White Mystery will work with the organization A Queer Pride on curating an ACTIVATE event this year.

A Queer Pride is a collective of seasoned professionals from Chicago's nightlife landscape, working together to celebrate Pride throughout the year. A combined effort between Scott Cramer, Abhijeet, Melissa Hespelt, and Bambi Banks-Couleé, A Queer Pride actively seeks to provide a platform to marginalized and underrepresented members of the LGBTQ community in a political climate that needs these voices to be heard even louder.

White Mystery Photo Courtesy of Diane Alexander White

Tell us about your performance at one of our 2016 ACTIVATE events.

White Mystery: The event centered on the five senses, and as a band, of course, we celebrated the sonic theme, “HEAR.” Entering the Sullivan Center alley downtown was an absolutely transformative experience. Every nook and cranny was curated, including a silent disco for guests, and visual art.

What do you find exciting about the “Backstage” theme?

White Mystery: ACTIVATE: Backstage is exciting because it honors the City of Chicago’s Year of Chicago Theatre theme in an interpretive, contemporary way. There are so many classic musicals and Broadway productions currently playing in Chicago, like West Side Story and Cats, that need to find a new generation of fans. Connecting local creatives with the urban community, in collaboration with the organization A Queer Pride, is an opportunity to showcase diverse talent to a wider audience, at a free event, which is a Chicago dream.

A Queer Pride: So much of what goes into seeing a drag or theatre performance on a stage happen backstage – everything from makeup, to costumes, to choreography takes place in usually a tiny basement of a nightclub before evolving into something larger than life. We want to give a glimpse into a world of drag and performance that only ever exists behind the scenes.

What is the coolest performance art you’ve ever seen in Chicago?

White Mystery: One of the coolest performance artists I’ve seen in Chicago is "Miss Ammunition," who uses a belt sander on the surfaces of her metal clothing to create sparks with intense music, like the Prodigy, as the soundtrack.

A Queer Pride: Chicago's art landscape is constantly evolving, and it's great to see local talent featured alongside visiting artists who have a larger national platform. One of the standouts from our events last summer was watching Lizzo close out the Lollapalooza Sideshow party with A Queer Pride, singing her final song with a number of Chicago drag performers and club kids on stage with her!

Hot Kitchen

Hot Kitchen is a Chicago-based experimental theatre collective that devises performances and curates events.

You performed during our June event, “EVO’s Bazaar,” on the Riverwalk last year. What was your favorite part about participating in that ACTIVATE event?

Definitely the audience participation. The attendees were so ready to accept us and join in on our impromptu dance party! It was also exciting for us to give new audiences a taste of our work in a really unique way. We appreciated the freedom Chicago Loop Alliance gave us when creating our piece, and it was clear from this experience that they’re supportive of all types of art in the city.

Hot Kitchen Photo Courtesy of Sihan Wang
Hot Kitchen Photo by Drew Angle

What do you find exciting about the “Backstage” theme?

This theme is all about bringing underground art to the forefront, which is really rad. We know so many great artists who don’t always get the attention they deserve, so we are so thrilled to be able to give them this platform to share their work—especially some wacky work.

What is the coolest performance art you’ve ever seen in Chicago?

Two pieces we haven’t been able to stop thinking about are: The Unicorn Hour by Leah Urzendowski and Anthony Courser and Other Sensations by Mocrep. These groups make very cool and inspiring stuff – go see them!

Missy Perkins and Roe Melloe

Missy Perkins is an independent art curator, event coordinator, and music manager who works heavily with the street, graffiti, and hip-hop communities to organize cultural awareness. She has curated countless art exhibitions and organized art and music events, block parties and breakin battles throughout the city.

Roe Melloe is a culture catalyst and curator. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Melloe Drama, a talent management firm that provides professional representation, consultation, and brokering services to artists of all artistic disciplines. Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, Melloe has rooted himself deep within the arts, entertainment and culture scene.

What made you want to curate an ACTIVATE event this season?

Missy: This will be my third curatorial ACTIVATE alley, and I was very excited about the theatre/backstage theme. Although this isn't my strong point, I felt my partner Roe Melloe and I work with cultural creators who embrace theatrical performances.

Roe: The reason I wanted to get involved with ACTIVATE this season was to broaden my curatorial experiences and take on something that would challenge my creative skills. As curators, we sometimes get used to what’s comfortable. My partner Miss Gems and I love the unique challenges we face when collaborating on different projects.

What do you find exciting about the “Backstage” theme?

Missy: For me, “backstage” means behind the madness. So imagine all the chaos while putting a production together being the stage highlight. The vibe is theatrical with a raw element for backstage life, but it flows with entertainment and good vibes. It's because the performers enjoy the journey through the madness and welcome the audience to experience it.

Roe: The “Backstage” theme has so many complexities in mind. As curators, my partner and I envision a space that draws the audience into a fantasy world. One that is filled with special performances, captivating murals, theatrical lighting, and music that fills every end of the alley.

What is the coolest performance art you’ve ever seen in Chicago?

Missy: There are two experiences that stick out to me for my favorite performance art. One, being a hip-hop lover, was Red Bull's Flying Bach performance at the Civic Opera House about four years ago. The show itself was amazing, but also the energy of the after party with all the performers was an experience within itself. On a different level, I saw the Tennessee Williams "Camino Real" at Goodman Theatre a few years ago, which was wildly bizarre, explicit, and uncomfortable at times. I am a huge fan of Tennessee Williams’ writing because of the boundaries it pushes, and this production certainly fulfilled those needs.

Roe: The coolest performance art I’ve ever seen in Chicago was two different curated experiences. The first experience is by the Silver Room, which is the annual Sound System Block Party that draw 30,000 guests a year. The second group, called the B Line, puts on this huge mural and music experience. Both events are very cool and fun.


SONIDOS is a creative production agency and collective that creates stimulating experiences and content to evolve and transcend one’s senses and essence. SONIDOS connects creative, innovative, and conscious brands, artists, and individuals in order to thoughtfully inspire and expose their genuine intention and creative expression.

Andrea Garces Owner of SONIDOS

What do you find exciting about the “Backstage” theme?

The ‘Backstage’ theme will not only evoke admiration and respect for the passion and hard work curators, producers, and artists put into creating stimulating experiences for you, it will also entice and inspire future creators like myself (Andrea Garces, owner of SONIDOS), as ACTIVATE was my first introduction to the creative community; it opened up doors within the self that will continue to remain open. From backstage, to downstage, to offstage; we are all critical players in the greater experience. ACTIVATE continues to conceptualize ideas and thoughtfully selects individuals to assist in admiring the many facets of creating experiences. This year’s theme will highlight the many facets of theatrical performance and how it is facilitated. The energy and inspiration will be high, and will leave a lasting impact on Chicago’s creative community.

You’re thinking of focusing on lighting, set design, etc., correct? What interests you about these aspects of the performing arts?

As a production agency that holds an appreciation for the elements that play an integral role in creating experiences, SONIDOS believes that the environment you are within and the elements surrounding you shift your perception and experience. Our curation will showcase the production elements and utilization of light, sound, and sets in theater in order to expose the audience to the technical components that play a critical role in altering the ambiance and their mood. This representation will stimulate thought and knowledge of how the utilization and manipulation of light, sound, and scenic elements can create a more impactful, theatrical experience.

What is the coolest performance art you’ve ever seen in Chicago?

For the past few years, SONIDOS has been invited to be a part of Illumination, an event that raises funds for the crucial research of finding a cure for rare disease, as a light installation artist. Each year they thoughtfully conceptualize unique performances that put the audience in awe. From a literal moving, live band walking throughout the dance floor with intricate costumes, to a guitarist strumming on a suspended crescent moon, to fairies handing out miniature, inspiring notes in equally miniature glass vials, Illumination continues to bring the mysticism and connectivity of our essences to life.

ACTIVATE is a series of pop-up arts programs that encourage visitors to see the Loop anew. The event series transforms alleys and other urban locations into creative exhibition spaces that bring artists and the public together for an evening of exploration, interaction and celebration of the arts. Chicago Loop Alliance launched the placemaking initiative in 2014, making the 2019 season its sixth annual. For more information, please visit LoopChicago.com/Activate.

Main photo by Stephanie Jensen for Canvas x ACTIVATE

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