As part of the January 24 Family Festival at the Logan Center for the Arts, we’re showing a film of a live puppet production based on part of the sixteenth-century Chinese epic Journey to the West. The production, by San Francisco’s ShadowLight Theater, brought together American and Taiwanese artists to present Monkey King at Spider Cave, a live theater experience like no other. Combining shadow puppets with live actors and music, the performance is a multimedia treat for all ages.
We’ll be showing a 48-minute filmed version of their live performance, which shows viewers the puppet show and occasional glimpses backstage. It’s in subtitled Mandarin with English narration to help younger viewers keep up with the story. Because many of the viewers will be too young to read the subtitles themselves, we’ll be using a voice actor to read the subtitles aloud.
The story of a Buddhist pilgrim who is tasked by the Buddha to travel west to India to fetch sacred scriptures back to China, Journey to the West is based on the actual pilgrimage of a seventh-century Buddhist monk. Journey added elements of folklore and magic, including the beloved figures of Zhu Bajie (Pig) and Sun Wukong (Monkey King). The pilgrim’s journey is relentlessly endangered by mythical demons and monsters, including demonic spiders and an evil alchemist.
Where: Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. When: Saturday, January 24. The family festival is 12-5, and this screening is 2-3. How much: Festival entry is $5, which gets you admission to all events.
Pauline Kael called it “perhaps the greatest movie ever made and the greatest folly in movie history,” and Jonathan Rosenbaum says “for the sheer generating of suspense through crosscutting and action the film’s climax hasn’t been surpassed.” Widely seen as Griffith’s apology for the racism of Birth of a Nation, Intolerance (1916, 210 minutes, 35mm print) intercuts four storylines separated by centuries to portray humanity’s persistent intolerance throughout the ages. The episodes—a present-day story of redemption, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, the Biblical story of Jesus, and the fall of Babylon—are weaved together, each with its own unique color tinting.
For his accompaniment, Bangkok Opera founder and director Somtow Sucharitkul will create a unique soundscape for each of the storylines.
The film is available in countless different versions because of Griffith’s habit of re-editing it, but we’ll be screening a rarely shown 35mm print of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1989 restoration that recreates as much as possible the way the film looked when it premiered in 1916. As far as we can tell, this version hasn’t screened in Chicago in more than twenty years.
The screening is presented by South Side Projections, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and the Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago. Additional support comes from the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, and The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. The print is courtesy of the Library of Congress.
When: Saturday, March 7 at 7pm Where: University of Chicago, Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th Street. How much: Free. To ensure a seat, we urge you to RSVP via the University of Chicago’s website. Running time: 210 minutes plus a 10-minute intermission
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About Somtow Sucharitkul
Born in Bangkok, Somtow grew up in Europe and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. The turning point in his life came as a teenager when his English teacher took his class to see Intolerance with a live pianist in London at the British Film Institute. His first career was in music and in the 1970s he acquired a reputation as a revolutionary composer, the first to combine Thai and Western instruments in radical new sonorities. His experiments met with confusion and anger in the arts community, and he suffered a major burnout, emigrated to the United States, and reinvented himself as a novelist.
His science fiction and horror novels have won or received nominations for the highest awards in the field, including two Hugo nominations, five Bram Stoker Award nominations; he won the John W. Campbell Award, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and the World Fantasy Award. His 1984 novel Vampire Junction was voted one of the forty greatest horror novels of all time by the Horror Writers’ Association. His fifty-three books have sold about two million copies world-wide.
Returning to music after a stint as a Buddhist monk, Somtow founded Bangkok’s first international opera company and reinvented himself as a neo-Asian neo-Romantic composer. The Norwegian government commissioned his song cycle Songs Before Dawn for the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. According to London’s Opera magazine, “in just five years, Somtow has made Bangkok into the operatic hub of Southeast Asia.” His operas on Thai themes, Madana, Mae Naak, Ayodhya, and Dan no Ura, have been well received by international critics. He is increasingly in demand as a conductor specializing in opera. His work has been especially lauded for its stylistic authenticity and its lyricism. In 2013, he received the International Wagner Society’s Golden W award for his dedication to bringing the music of Richard Wagner to Southeast Asia. The Bangkok Opera recently completed a ten-year project to stage Wager’s Ring Cycle. His latest opera, The Snow Dragon, premieres in Milwaukee on March 12, 2015.
In partnership with the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, we’re proud to present two films made during or immediately after the infamous Chicago Seven conspiracy trial in the wake of the police riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. These two films emphasize the farcical nature of the trial and reflect the tragicomic politics of the times. Responding to the program is Mary Patten, an artist, video-maker, and activist who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Richard Brick’s The Conspiracy and the Dybbuk (1971, 25 min., 16mm) is a record of the Radical Jewish Union of New York’s exorcism of the evil spirit that must be possessing Judge Hoffman, intercut with clips of speeches by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, William Kunstler, and Jean Genet. And Kerry Feltham’s The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus (1970, 92 min., DVD projection) is the film version of an off-Broadway play that combines transcripts from the trial with episodes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The lines are recited at breakneck speed, emphasizing the nonsense of legalese and the nonsense of that trial, by actors who look like hippies and who sometimes change roles—the same actor plays Arlo Guthrie and Richard J. Daley, and sometimes Judge Julius Hoffman is played by a powdered wig perched atop a mannequin. Sometimes it’s just too much, and people break out in song. Newsweek called it “An often brilliant whirligig of burlesque, vaudeville, and straight documentary.”
When: Sunday, November 9 at 6pm Where: Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th Street Cost: Free
In collaboration with the Co-Prosperity Sphere, South Side Projections and the Chicago Cinema Society present Fatal Frame, a program of avant-garde horror films. Following H.P. Lovecraft’s supposition that “The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” these films hinge on uncanny enigmas, favoring existential terror over cheap thrills and grotesque monsters. And we’re presenting them all on glorious 16mm film.
Watson and Webber’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, 13 min.) gives Poe’s tale of madness the German Expressionist treatment, courtesy of bold shadows and prismatic effects. Equal parts Mario Bava and Marquis de Sade, Peggy Ahwesh’s Nocturne (1998, 30 min.) is sadomasochistic thriller about the violence of dreams. Curtis Harrington’s On the Edge (1949, 6 min.) concerns a mysterious figure trapped in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and includes a soundtrack by experimental composer Charles Ives. Assembled after her death by Anthology Film Archives, Mara Deren’s surreal masterpiece The Witch’s Cradle (1943, 12 min.) uses an abstract sculpture installation as the backdrop for occult rituals (with a cameo appearance by Marcel Duchamp). Finally, Victor Faccinto’s Book of the Dead (1978, 16 min.) is reminiscent of Méliès’ satanic shorts, featuring sleight-of-hand magic tricks and ghoulish animations.
A panel of celebrity judges* will bestow prizes** on the people judged to be wearing the most avant-garde*** costume.
Where: Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan Ave. When: Thursday, October 30 at 7pm How much: $7 admission
* Celebrities on a local, or very local, level.
** Prizes as yet undetermined, but likely including a poster signed by artist Bruce Neal.
*** What might this mean in this context? It’s up to you and the judges.
Please note new date and time: Sunday, February 15 at 4pm.
As the 2015 Chicago mayoral election approaches, pitting a seemingly unbeatable incumbent against a variety of underdog challengers, join us and our partners at the Black Cinema House for a look at another mayoral election, more than thirty years ago: Harold Washington’s improbable election to become the first African American mayor of Chicago. Three rarely screened films about that election and Washington’s brief tenure as mayor explore the role of racism and entrenched Democratic machine power in that historic era.
In 1983, reluctant outsider candidate Harold Washington achieved the impossible when he defeated incumbent mayor Jane Byrne in the Democratic primary, a victory that relied on record numbers of new African American voters and a two-way split of the white vote between Byrne and Richard M. Daley. Battling entrenched racism and the Democratic machine’s unwillingness to concede power in the general election, Washington went on to win, becoming the first African American mayor of Chicago.
These three radically different locally made films survey the election, Washington’s tenure as mayor, and his fight to change the way the city was governed. Running with the Mayor (Community TV Network, 1984, 12 min., video projection), created by Hispanic students of Chicago’s Community TV Network, follows Washington on the campaign trail, asking whether Washington will be a force for change for Hispanic as well as African American residents. Why Get Involved (Jean Young, 1983, 30 min., video projection), shot on election night as Washington and his supporters anxiously awaited the results, is a star-studded who’s-who of African American celebrities and power brokers, including Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, and Ben Vereen; the film asks these and other supporters why regular Chicagoans should get involved in Washington’s crusade. Finally, Bill Stamets’s new 40-minute edit (with additional footage not included in the original) of his 1987 film Chicago Politics: A Theatre of Power focuses on the two elections that Washington won, capturing Washington’s unforgettable way with words and the context of 1980s racism. Also included are rarities from the Media Burn Independent Video Archive, including selected campaigns ads that directly confront the racism implied by the “before it’s too late” motto of his Republican challenger, as well as Washington’s appearance on The Bozo Show.
In conversation: Javier Vargas, who worked on Running with the Mayor as a student; Bill Stamets, the director of Chicago Politics: A Theatre of Power; and John Blanton, videographer of Why Get Involved.
Our new series of recent documentaries about undocumented immigration runs from February 28 through June, and we need your help to pull it off.
Why undocumented immigration?
In the midst of the current presidential administration’s war on immigration, it’s important to look past the headlines and sound bites to figure out the real story about undocumented immigrants. We hope this film series will help further that goal by sharing personal stories of immigrants, including some of the myriad different reasons people decide to leave their homes and come to the United States, how living in fear of deportation and ICE raids affect families, and some of the other effects of being undocumented on people’s everyday lives.
Description of the series
Five monthly screenings of recent documentaries, each one followed by a panel discussion, begin on February 28 and run through June at locations around Pilsen, Little Village, and Hyde Park. Films include Llevate mis amores (All of Me), about women in a Mexican town who give food and other supplies to migrants on the train to the United States; The Other Side of Immigration, about how migration changes towns and villages in Mexico; Don’t Tell Anyone (No le digas a nadie), about a young undocumented immigrant who writes an advice column for other immigrant girls; Elvira, about an undocumented woman caught up in an anti-terror sweep at O’Hare and turned into a reluctant immigration activist after she seeks asylum at a Humboldt Park church; and another film to be determined.
The films will be introduced by scholars, activists, and other people with personal experiences of immigration, and they are both an invitation to non-immigrants to come learn something from people with those experiences, and a request to immigrants or their families to share their stories and correct the widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Where will the money go?
Donated funds will help cover film rental ($1000), honoraria for speakers ($2000), wages for videographers to document the events ($500), and promotion ($250).
A variety of friends and Chicago-based groups have generously donated books, DVDs, tickets, memberships, and time for us to give away as thank-you gifts to people who help support this project. All donations to South Side Projections are tax-deductible.
JUST THE PIN — donate $10, and you get…
our hearty thanks plus a South Side Projections pin.
THE SHIRT — donate $25, and you get…
a South Side Projections t-shirt ($15 value), plus the thanks and the pin.
THE PRINT — donate $35 and you get…
a limited edition actress print by Alexandra Ensign, illustrator of Cocktails for Ding Dongs ($20 value), plus the thanks and the pin.
THE TOUR — donate $100 and you get…
A south side mural tour led by Rebecca Zorach, Mary Jane Crow Professor of Art History at Northwestern University and the co-editor of The Wall of Respect, plus the thanks, pin, and letter. We’ll be in touch to schedule your tour, which will occur after it gets warm outside.
Tax deduction amount will be the amount you donate minus the retail value of the giveaway.
We’re updating this by hand, so there’s a very slim chance the giveaway you choose will be gone by the time you select it. If you click the “choose this one” link and it brings you back to this page, it means that giveaway is gone. Please accept our apologies! We hope you select another option.
How do you summarize the 1968 DNC riot and the Chicago Seven trial in a paragraph? You end up with sentences in which every other word requires a sentence of explanation. It’s impossible. Here’s a good blow-by-blow account.
During the trial, a Toronto theater group who had an inside man in the federal court building in Chicago started working on a play based on smuggled transcripts of the trial. In the cast was playwright and actress Diane Grant. Later, during a successful New York run of the play, called Chicago 70, director Kerry Feltham made a film of the play. The film is mostly forgotten now, but I chanced upon it last year and contacted Kerry to see if it was available.
Fast forward to Wednesday, when Kerry Feltham and Diane Grant called me from Kerry’s office at Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades, California, where he teaches film; Diane works right across the street at the community theater. I wanted to find out how the film came about, which led to a fascinating conversation about their careers.
The play was called Chicago 70, and the film was called Chicago 70: The Conspiracy Circus when it played two sold-out shows at the Chicago Theater during the Chicago International Film Festival in 1970. “The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus was the title given it by the New Line Cinema guys and it was a really good one,” Kerry says. “The whole idea is that it was a circus, it was a performance. It was the Yippies taking the justice system and demonstrating how crazy things were.” Certainly the system rose to the occasion.
“We got the idea for the play from a member of the cast who was from Chicago,” says Diane. “He had a friend who worked in the transcription room at the federal courthouse, and he would give us the transcripts as they came in.” I ask whether this was entirely legal, and Diane responds with a laugh, “I don’t think it was. He just took them at the end of the day. We didn’t get everyone—we didn’t get Tom Hayden.”
The play was initially conceived by the Toronto Workshop Company, which Diane remembers as “a wonderful troupe. It was Canadians and Americans together.” A couple of the Americans might have been avoiding the draft, but Diane says nobody ever asked because it was none of their business. The artistic director was George Luscombe, who had studied under Joan Littlewood’s Theater Workshop, which also produced Richard Harris, Nigel Hawthorne, and Shelagh Delaney.
“We were really used to improvising and working from research,” Diane says. “We cut the transcripts—we didn’t change any words, but we did cut it to fit.” It was a collaborative venture—although, despite what the Internet Movie Database maintains, schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis was not involved. “Everybody brought in ideas,” Diane recounts. “One of the cast members came up with the idea of using Alice in Wonderland because it also had a mock trial, and that really tied everything together.” Actors changed parts in the middle of the play, and some actors played several parts; Diane appears as Alice in Wonderland, defense witness Linda Morse, and an embodiment of the jury, among others.
Later, at an invitation from someone who worked at Circle in the Square theater in New York, it played a 24-performance run at the Martinique Theater there. Diane says it was well reviewed; Kerry adds “Diane got the best reviews of all.”
Kerry says it was obvious that it would make a good film. “It was so alive and it was so nutty, and it captured an important truth.” (It was during this time that Kerry and Diane met; they’ve been together ever since.) Diane says that as Kerry was filming, she was busy writing script pages to reproduce the elements of the play that the actors had improvised. “We never did have a finished script.”
The film is essentially a filmed performance of the play, with some cinematic gestures and the luxury of retakes in case of mistakes. “I never thought about making it more ‘realistic’,” says Kerry. “It’s both direct and abstract. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the central idea.” They did redesign the production so the set was quite different from the stage version, adding mirrors and emphasizing the carnivalesque feel. It was the right decision: courtrooms are stages anyway, and as Kerry says, good lawyers are good actors; adding the psychedelic sheen just emphasizes what a mockery of justice the trial was.
“I took the print as soon as it was finished and went to Cannes with it under my arm,” says Kerry. It was playing out of competition, but programmers from the Berlin International Film Festival saw it. They invited Kerry to screen it there, and it won the Interfilm Award.
Kerry says that when he got back to New York, “there were three or four days when I was the flavor of the week.” Albert and David Maysles loved it, and Leacock Pennebaker—brainchild of two of the founders of direct cinema—were interested in distributing it. New Line Cinema picked it up and it had theatrical runs in Washington and New York.
“Gosh,” says Kerry, “that was about it.”
Time passes and people move on. The 1970s opened with hope and closed with Reagan. The actors went their separate ways. Theater director George Luscombe died in 1999; the man who smuggled the transcripts out of the federal court building died young. The other actors are in London, San Francisco, Toronto. “We held together as a troupe for a long time,” says Diane, “but after a while people just disperse.”
The play toured and is occasionally revived, but the film mostly slipped from memory. It’s very much in the moment, and it can be a difficult watch for people who don’t know who Jerry Rubin or Bobby Seale was. “It’s political, and I guess political things don’t always live long,” reflects Kerry. The film itself was controlled by New Line for seven years, after which the copyright reverted to Kerry. As far as he knows, the negative is lost, and he has what is probably the only print, a battered 16mm that he assures me is unwatchable. In 2009, he digitized it and added front matter and name cards to explain the events of the trial to audiences who were not yet born and likely have never heard of the Yippies. You can order a teaching guide from Kerry’s website.
The film should be better known, since it provides a unique look at important historical events. But even beyond the historical events, the film reflects larger themes that are still relevant. The justice system is still opaque and stacked against minorities and those accused of crimes. Terror suspects are tried in secret courts with secret evidence, or never tried at all.
Kerry has to run—his classroom of high school students is filling up, and they’re going to finish watching Casablanca today. Diane and I chat for a while, sharing a laugh over a mutual connection to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union: Her aunt was the secretary general of the WCTU in Canada, and I once wrote a research paper on the organization’s branches in rural Michigan. She fills me in on their lives since the film.
Their creative partnership has continued along with their marriage. Among many other projects, their 1983 short film Too Much Oregano (she wrote, he directed) won a jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. More recently they made a documentary called Will to Win about the Southern California Shakespeare Festival. She laughs that they used to write screenplays together, “but it’s such a tough gig. We did that for a long while, then we thought, well, we better make a living.” Diane has written a dozen plays that have been produced around the continent, and she currently blogs for the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative. Kerry worked steadily in TV as a producer before becoming a teacher. Of local interest on his resume is a 1982 series called Chicago Story starring a youngish Dennis Franz, which Tom Shales of the Chicago Sun-Times called “Nothing less than spectacular.”
Kerry recently made a documentary about Karen Black that he’s trying to get distributed. Diane keeps writing plays and is active in the theatrical community in her neighborhood and across the country. They might have moved on from the great Chicago conspiracy circus, but they’re still at it, together.
Last year’s CAT Film Festival was such a success that we decided to come back with another helping of experimental films about cats projected from genuine 16mm film, this time with a better program title. We’re splitting them into two convenient programs, one that’s probably suitable for all ages, and one that’s just for the grownups.
7PM – Program One – Probably Suitable for All Ages – 47 min.
Robert Breer’s Rubber Cement (1975, 10 min.) is a color photocopy film that contains an affectionate homage to Felix the Cat. Jonathan Rosenbaum called Breer “the key figure in avant-garde animation.”
Pola Chapelle’s Fishes in Screaming Water (1969, 6 min.), created for the very first cat film festival INTERCAT ’69, features Georgecat, the accommodating feline who starred in How to Draw a Cat, in a performance that Jonas Mekas said “continues the great tradition of acting established by Rin Tin Tin.”
Ken Jacobs’s Airshaft(1967, 4 min.) is a single shot from a fixed camera from within a darkened room, out a fire-escape door, and into the airshaft between buildings, and there’s a cat in there somewhere.
Roberta Cantow’s If This Ain’t Heaven (1984, 27 min.) is a moving, tender documentary about the relationship between a middle-aged press operator and his constant companion, a cat named Africa.
8PM – Program 2 – Definitely Not Suitable for Kids – 39 min.
Caroline Koebel’s Puss! The Booted Cat (1995, 13 min.) is an erotic short about the various incarnations of the classic fairytale, but transformed here into a contemporary adventure of unrequited love and feline feminine power.
Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses (1967, 23 min.) is, according to B. Ruby Rich, “devastatingly erotic, transcending the surfaces of sex to communicate its true spirit, its meaning as an activity for herself and, quite accurately, women in general.”
When: Thursday, July 24 at 7PM Where: Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan Street How Much: $7 admission (this program is costing us a lot to put together!)
Future Cat Film Events:
Chicago Filmmakers is presenting two programs (September 12, September 13) of cat films from the First International Cat Film Festival (INTERCAT ’69), which took place at the Elgin Theater in NYC in December 1969.
The Popovich Brothers of South Chicago
Friday, March 9 at 7pm
Southside Hub of Production
5638 S. Woodlawn Ave.
South Side Projections and Facets Multi-Media celebrate Chicago history with a screening of Jill Godmilow’s film The Popovich Brothers of South Chicago (1977, 60 min., DVD projection). The story of four Serbian-American brothers who played traditional Serbian music together for more than fifty years, the film is also an examination of the struggle to maintain family and ethnic ties through the generations. Godmilow will attend the screening for an introduction, a Q&A, and to catch up with old friends.
The film introduces us to the Popvich Brothers Tamburitza Orchestra on the eve of its fiftieth anniversary. Eli, Adam, Marko, and Ted Popovich, the sons of a Serbian coal miner, had been entertaining the large Serbian community in South Chicago in the evenings and working jobs in the steel industry during the day. The band’s music is the glue that helps hold the family and community together, but it’s threatened with the tragic death of Marko, which leads his heartbroken brothers to consider retiring.
Roger Ebert praised the film as being “filled with songs and life, with the lilting, driving, and sometimes sad music of Serbia,” and in New York Magazine, David Denby wrote, “The film affirms the power of music in a way that can’t be done in a dozen books on folk culture, and one is left exhilarated, moved and extremely grateful.”
The film is part of Facets Multi-Media’s new Reel Chicago series of DVDs, produced by Susan Doll, which celebrates Chicago-based documentaries.
There is a well-established history of poetry and cinema commingling, from Jean Cocteau’s reimaging of Orpheus as a modern bard to the lyrical time-space meditations of Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky; yet poetry shares the most with the tradition of experimental/avant garde cinema, films that are unburdened by the constraints of narrative logic, stylistic continuity, and mainstream approval. At the crossroads of poetry and experimental filmmaking lives something that cannot be articulated outright—a thought or an impression that’s too elusive, too enigmatic to be conveyed by conventional means. The parallels between these two forms of expression are myriad: both rely on a symbiosis of form and content, both create meaning from the juxtaposition of words or images that might not otherwise be joined together, and both maintain a certain shroud of mystery, encouraging their readers/viewers to fill in the gaps for themselves.
Borrowing the title from James Broughton’s tract on cinema, South Side Projections and Poetry Magazine present SEEING THE LIGHT, a program of three films by renowned experimental directors, each with poetic roots. Broughton’s Four in the Afternoon adapts poems from his book Musical Chairs into a series of vignettes about four eccentric characters in search of love. At turns absurd and poignant, it was hailed by Dylan Thomas as “lovely and delicious, true cinematic poetry.” Larry Jordan’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner warps Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic ballad into a chromatic fever dream. Narrated by none less than Orson Welles, the film blends original 19th-century engravings by Gustave Dore with Jordan’s collage imagery, enhancing the poem’s haunting, supernatural qualities. And Stan Brakhage’s Deus Ex urges us to rethink our relationship with mortality, illness, and the way we perceive the human body. Inspired by a Charles Olson poem and Brakhage’s own frequent hospital visits, the film uses footage of an open-heart surgery to raise questions about our obsession with extending life beyond its natural boundaries. Guest programmed by Harrison Sherrod
James Broughton’s Four in the Afternoon (1951, 16mm, 15 min.)
Larry Jordan’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1977, 16mm, 40 min.)
Stan Brakhage’s Deus Ex (1971, 16mm, 33 min.)
September 7, 2012 at 7pm Southside Hub of Production 5638 S. Woodlawn Ave. in Hyde Park Admission: $5 suggested