UPTOWN — Could Uptown be a haven for tech-savvy activists bent on toppling "Big Pharma?"
Yes — in a new play at the Steppenwolf Theatre, "reWILDing Genius."
Every year, the acclaimed Lincoln Park theater presents three plays from innovative storefront theater companies as part of its Garage Rep festival.
"reWILDing Genius," a production of Lincoln Square's New Colony theater group, is set in an Uptown loft that becomes an incubator and headquarters for "self-identified geniuses, cybervigilantes, hacktivists and anarchists" who "cast off the laws of the land as they attempt to alter humanity's fate," according to New Colony's synopsis of the play.
"reWILDing Genius had its first show at Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre on Sunday and will run through April 20. The 80-seat blackbox theater is located at 1624 N. Halsted St.
Writer and director Andrew Hobgood, a 33-year-old Lincoln Square resident who lived in Uptown from 2007-2010, said the story's main inspiration is the rise of international hacker syndicate Anonymous.
Anonymous was responsible for cyber attacks against corporations such as Sony, Visa and PayPal, as well as illegal child porn websites, the anti-gay group Westboro Baptist Church, and various U.S. government and copyright websites. More recently, Anonymous hackers have targeted the Venezuelan government, which allegedly responded to anti-government protests by its citizens earlier this month with violence and Internet censorship.
New Colony co-artistic director and actor Evan Linder said the character he plays, named Jonathan, is the catalyst of the play's storyline. Jonathan helps transform the housemates into a small subset of Anonymous and enlists them on a crusade to "take down every pharmaceutical giant in the United States."
Hobgood, the founding artistic director at New Colony and a theater professor at the University of Chicago, said he was also inspired by the story of Anonymous offshoot Lulzsec, a group that has targeted Sony, Fox.com and the FBI, among many others.
"They just wreaked havoc in a very big public way that hackers had not been seen doing, so there was a kind of assumption they were some super group," Hobgood said.
Some Lulzsec members brought to court for involvement in the attacks, however, "ended up being a handful of 20 somethings in England," Hobgood said.
Hobgood said that Uptown felt like the right location to set "reWILDing Genius."
Based on his experiences in Uptown, the neighborhood is the perfect place for millennials who "need to stay off the grid yet want to have access to the resources of the city, and want to live together in a large space" at an affordable price, he said.
While living in Uptown, Hobgood occupied "unique buildings for affordable rent" and witnessed a lot of ... improvisation when it came to people's living arrangements.
"You see apartments where people put a sheet up in the living room and turn it into a bedroom," he said, laughing.
Linder, a 32-year-old Lincoln Square resident, lived in Uptown from 2005 until 2010, except for a short period in mid-2007.
He said many in the cast have ties to Uptown, including play co-writer Megan Johns. In recent years as many as half the New Colony ensemble lived in Uptown or Edgewater, Linder said.
"I think just having that familiarity with where you're setting your show and what you're writing about just really helps you be specific," said Linder who, like Hobgood, teaches theater at U of C.
In the character development process for the play, ensemble members weren't sure which Chicago 'hood to set the play in.
Linder said that the more they discussed the characters, their imaginary routines and livelihoods, a beacon of inspiration emerged from the evolving vision for "reWILDing Genius."
"We just kept imagining them on the Lawrence Red Line," in Uptown, Linder said.
Tickets cost $20. To buy tickets or for more information, click here.