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A weird, wonderful beachfront variety show pays tribute to Chicago culture

You’ll find a little bit of everything in Water Music on the Beach: Boulevard Dreamers, where every performer gets equal pay and stage time.

By Isabella DeLeo

Thursday, June 23, 6 a.m. CT

Clockwise from top left: Composer Corey Douglas Smith; hip-hop artist Shane Calvin of Circles and Ciphers; the band Lifeguard; songwriter Marko Stats; performers Kofi the Kyd, Jess Smoot, Akeem Soyan and Trellyo; and Senn High School students Alex and Ricky Munguia-Mueller.

On a blisteringly hot June morning inside the Edgewater arts nonprofit 6018North, the Chicago artist and dancer Hannah Santistevan grabbed a pink and red paint-splattered turntable record and began to gracefully move.

Posing for the camera, Santistevan hoisted the record high above her head and positioned it in such a way that it almost blended in with the backdrop: a circle of 14 other vibrantly paint-covered albums. The records evoke a sense of color and play, but also serve as an ever-expanding archive of a decade-long art project that comes to a head later this month with a beachfront concert and variety performance.

The lakefront provides the setting for the concert and the inspiration for the performers.

The project is called Boulevard Dreamers, and it started in 2013 with artists and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago professors Kirsten Leenaars and Lise Haller Baggesen. But this year – perhaps the project’s final installation – it has grown in scope, with the artists teaming up with community-minded art curator Tricia Van Eck for a one-night party-meets-concert on June 25 that aims to knock down “the barriers of cultural segregation in Chicago,” in Baggesen’s words.

The performance menu spans post-punk and rap music, spoken word poetry, magic, theater, a live zine reading and contemporary dance. The goal: to find different performance communities that wouldn’t normally intersect, said Baggesen, and – in a move that is antithetical to the usual headliner treatment – showcase them equally.

Leenaars and Baggesen have structured the event, and the pay rate for their talent, so that all performers have an equal performance time, whether they’re a seasoned artist or novice. “Everybody is paid a flat rate,” Baggesen said. “We’re trying to make the stage a big equalizer, where everybody gets this proverbial 15 minutes of fame. And to bring out people from these different bubbles.”

Boulevard Dreamers, a performance inspired by Lake Michigan, is part variety show and part live music concert.


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