A Japanese puppeteer, Canadian aerialists, a French mailman, a female English King Lear, and some old-fashioned American ingenuity.
It sounds like the roll-call for some bizarre United Nations. But in actuality, it's the line-up for Stages, Sights and Sounds, an international performance festival. And despite obvious cultural and language differences, all five of its shows have something in common.
"There is a wonderful unifying theme of play that has come through in all the pieces," says festival director Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins.
Stages, Sights and Sounds is for the whole family, so Barley-Jenkins says parents don't have to think "the kids will love it and I'll hate it." But the shows also aren't so sophisticated that kids will be confused. Many of the performances have non-verbal elements that allow them to be understood.
She says the international, cosmopolitan nature of Chicago makes it an ideal fit for this type of festival, as well.
In Chicago, two shows are being staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Theater.
Barley-Jenkins calls one-man show The Postman "charming and whimsical and delightful." A postman unwraps various packages that each contain a tale he conveys to the audience.
The Wall is a "Cirque du Soleil-style" performance in which five tweens play on and around a wall, exploring their relationships through mesmerizing acrobatics. Barley-Jenkins says even adults will be transported back to the days of their youth.
The rest of the festival is staged at the Josephine Louis Theater at Northwestern University.
Chicago's own Theater Un-Speak-Able stages Superman 2050, without props or a set. Seven actors share a 3-by-7 foot platform and use only their bodies and voices to create every prop, scene, sound effect, and character in the Superman story. "It's pretty amazing," Barley-Jenkins says.
Older kids just being introduced to Shakespeare will enjoy Susanna Hamnett's one-woman show, Nearly Lear. Barley-Jenkins says the actress uses a lot of improv and focuses on an unlikely character-the clown Norris-to tell the story. "It's definitely not your stereotypical boring Shakespeare," she says.
Japanese shadow-puppet master Nori Sawa uses colorful puppets, masks, music, paper, and his body to tell fairytales-although they might not be the Disney-fied versions kids are used to.
And with options to appeal to all ages and personalities, Barley-Jenkins says perhaps the biggest appeal of the festival is the cost.
"It's less than a movie," she says. "You get to see companies from all over the world and not spend a whole lot to do it. (And) it's a way to create a shared memory together."
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.