If you see houses a blaze and barges afloat in the Chicago River next weekend, don’t panic.
Three life size houses will be set on fire in memory of the Great Chicago Fire to help tell the story of overcoming resilience after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
The very first Great Chicago Fire Festival combined a Chicago theater company, Chicago Public School students and thousands of volunteers to produce what could be a new annual celebration in Chicago with special effects designed by Redmoon Theatre of 2120 South Jefferson Street.
Thirty high school students from Chicago Public School’s After School Matters program collaborated with artistic designers at Redmoon. The high school students spent a week learning basic fabrication skills to make 15 caldrons for the river fest.
“The students learned how to bend the metal to create the treble-clef-like shapes for the caldrons. [They] learned how to swage the cable and then clamp the cauldron together,” said Jacqueline Valdez Redmoon’s after school matters instructor.
Redmoon’s Executive Director Jim Lasko said they used 600 pounds of cedar wood with the help of about 350 people to construct the three houses, the river barges and the other props that will be used for the event.
Lasko said there is one very unique factor about this festival, they only get one chance to make it all come together as planned.
“We will never get a chance to rehearse this show ever, ” Lusko said.
“We’ll be able to rehearse parts of the show at a different location before the show but not actually at the performance location.”
Redmoon, with the help of 15 Chicago neighborhoods from the North to the South Side, joined efforts and called on communities to join the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District in making this happen.
“We went all over the city and took 5,000 pictures that tell the story of the great resilience across Chicago,” said Hutch Pimentel, artistic assistant of Lusko.
Redmoon Theater collaborated with CPS to bring high school students behind the scenes of their prominent Chicago Fire tribute to help create multiple props to help make the show possible.
The prongs used to set the floating life-size homes ablaze, were handmade by the students after learning the process with Redmoon volunteers.
After School Matters representative, Dominique White said her ASM branch located in the Roseland area of Chicago oversaw the delegation of over 25 students, from schools closer to downtown like Simeon Career Academy and Jones College Prep in the South Loop.
“Many kids were excited about the chance to go and just work with new people and ideas. Once they saw how big [the festival] really was they were all the more excited to have helped and learn about how these things work,” White said.
This collaborative partnership with Redmoon and CPS After School matters aims to strengthen the youth’s connection to Chicago’s history by incorporating them in projects like this.
The collaborative relationship supports their mission “to provide Chicago public high school teens opportunities to explore and develop their talents, while gaining critical skills for work, college and beyond.”
By: Dan Zar & Kyle Holley