“The Great Fire: a Traveling Truck Show” was a performing arts event that toured Chicago in October 2012 with a moving truck as a pop-up stage, stopping at community sites to perform for the public for FREE. Reviving the form of early American traveling shows and referencing Chicago neighborhood histories after the Great Fire of 1871, we entertained audiences with storytelling, music, comedy, multimedia dioramas, and more.
We were exploring two interconnected themes—the histories within Chicago and the dynamism of Vaudeville.
With Chicago’s Great Fire as a starting point, we wrote a referential tale to function as our overarching storyline. Using the idea of fire symbolically, the theme of transformation was represented in our story, inspired by historical characters and memories from each neighborhood. In our research we discovered connections between these histories, which we fictionally infused into our main script—played out through live action bits, animation and puppetry, interactive tableaus, and song. See our research and inspiration: https://travelingtruckshow.org/research
We wrote vignettes about Ignaz Scwhinn, the Jefferson Ice Company, August Spies and other labor activists in Pilsen, Riverview Park, and the changing streetscape/demographics of West Town—just to name a few. The Hawk, the personification of wind, interrupted scenes with weather reports, standing for all that we cannot control in Chicago and warning us of sudden change.
Fusing together our storylines in a variety show, we also aimed to revive the form of Vaudeville. Early American traveling shows created a stage for the most eccentric of acts, and created unifying moments of shared experience and pleasurable escape beyond demographic concerns. The scripted story was punctuated by guest performing acts and interactive sideshows. Local performers joined us to enliven the truck-stage and performance area at each stop. In the spirit of traveling show eclecticism, we opened up the opportunity with a call for performers of all kinds, and confirmed a diverse bunch to show off. See guest performers for details.
Sideshows included tarot readings from a custom-illustrated deck of cards by Rebecca Schoenecker, The Man in the Bag–a durational art performance by Nicolas Rojas, and a photo opp with the Bee-Bearded Lady.