Creative Vision

October 2021 View more

By Lisa Arnett | Photography by Ross Feighery

Editor’s note Shows and exhibitions mentioned were confirmed at press time. Check venue websites for current COVID-19 guidelines/restrictions.

Katie Cordts with actor Michael Wordly, who plays Lola in Kinky Boots at Paramount Theatre 
Cordts recently celebrated her fifth anniversary on staff as wig, hair, and makeup manager and designer. The Aurora resident also has worked in the wig department at Chicago Shakespeare and taught stage makeup at Roosevelt University. “I love researching the different time periods,” Cordts says. “I love figuring out ways to make wigs look as realistic as possible and embracing all different types of textures.”

The pandemic placed an unfortunate—but unavoidable—label on the theaters, concert venues, galleries, and museums in the west suburbs and beyond as of spring 2020: nonessential. Stages went dark, auditorium doors were locked, and sets were abandoned to gather dust for months. And the people who kept these spaces living and breathing—from painters to performers to prop designers—were deemed nonessential workers. 

“The arts are really the fabric of our society,” says Diana Martinez, director of the McAninch Art Center at College of DuPage. “There’s nothing like sharing a live experience. It really does bring people together.”

As furloughed employees return to work at arts venues in Naperville and nearby, there is a collective sense of hope and joy to resume the work that to them feels, well, essential. 

In honor of their long-awaited return, we spoke with creatives at local arts venues to learn a bit about their history, which exhibits and shows they are presenting this season, and what it takes behind the scenes to bring them to audiences around the burbs.


In Paramount’s production of Kinky Boots, Wheaton resident Devin DeSantis plays the leading role of shoemaker Charlie Price, pictured at left. “With the title Kinky Boots, I think a lot of people are maybe unsure of what it might be,” DeSantis says. “It’s just a [story] of complete love and joy, and I know it centers around a drag queen, but to me, it’s a family show. It’s something all ages could come and enjoy and learn something really important.” 

With its sparkling stilettos, joyous songs by Cyndi Lauper, and heartwarming story of acceptance, Kinky Boots strikes just the right note for the reopening of the Paramount Theatre in Aurora after an 18-month closure. “I can’t think of a better show to be doing,” says Devin DeSantis, who plays Charlie, the owner of a failing shoe factory who pivots his business model to make fanciful heeled boots after meeting a drag performer named Lola. “And it’s not just because of the pandemic, but because of everything we have gone through in the last couple years, with equity
and diversity and social justice,” DeSantis says. “This is the story to be telling.”

Though you may know Kinky Boots from its 2012 Broadway debut or subsequent touring shows, the Paramount’s rendition is entirely unique to Aurora. “You are going to see the most incredible sets, the most ridiculous costumes—and I mean that in the best way possible,” DeSantis says.

When asked to name who he thinks has the hardest job in the show, DeSantis doesn’t hesitate: It’s Katie Cordts, wig, hair, and makeup manager and designer. “The hair and the makeup these incredible drag queens have—every scene they have to change into something totally different,” DeSantis says. 

The Paramount maintains a collection of about 350 wigs, which Cordts modifies or adds new designs to for each production. 

“It’s just the coolest thing when you put a wig on someone for the first time and the character just clicks for them,” Cordts says. “There is something special and intimate about hair that just kind of transforms you immediately.”

The process of creating custom wigs for each show starts with research and brainstorming, sketching and design, and creating headwraps for each actor so perfect-fitting wigs can be created. 

“I wrap Saran Wrap around their hair and cover that in Scotch tape so it makes a mold, and draw on their hairline,” Cordts says. This process forms an exact replica of each performer’s head, all stored on canvas wig blocks in the theater’s workshop. “It’s kind of creepy, but you get used to it,” she says.

Cordts has already designed wigs for Cinderella, which will take stage (Nov. 10–Jan. 9) after Kinky Boots closes. “It’s a very diverse cast and I’m really excited to have a lot of these iconic characters with textured hair, and just embracing the beauty of that,” Cordts says. The theater’s Broadway Series rounds out with Groundhog Day (Jan. 26–Mar. 13) and Rock of Ages (Apr. 13–May 29). “So we are going to end with some rocker hair, some mullets, and crazy stuff,” she says. “Each show has completely different challenges. There is never a dull moment.”

The Paramount wasn’t always known for producing its own shows. “It was originally built in 1931 as a movie theater and a vaudeville house, and then [had] a major renovation in the mid-’70s,” says Melissa Striedl, group sales manager. “When it reopened in 1978, it was really exclusively a presenting house, which meant they presented shows that were out on tour—comedians, concerts, and musicals that would come in for maybe a day or two.” With the launch of the Broadway Series in 2011, Paramount started producing four of its own musicals annually with longer runs of up to seven weeks.

Reopening the Paramount Theatre has required safety efforts that are both elaborate and ongoing. Kinky Boots has a full-time compliance officer to make sure the cast and crew closely follow COVID-19 mitigation procedures, and the theater has taken the extra precaution of requiring audience members to show proof of vaccination. “We’ve also moved to an all-digital casting process,” says Trent Stork, Kinky Boots director and the Paramount Theatre’s associate artistic producer and casting director. 

On the heels of Kinky Boots, Stork will begin casting for the Paramount’s new Bold Series, a season of dramas kicking off in March 2022 at the Copley Theatre, a newly renovated space across the street from Paramount. “These are edgier, a little more adult,” says Tim Rater, Paramount’s president and CEO. “Something you might see in Chicago at Steppenwolf or the Writers Theatre or the Goodman in one of their smaller spaces.” 

Stork is set to direct two plays for the Bold Series—Sweat and Hand to God, which collectively deal with themes of race, equity, mental illness, and religion—and hopes they spark conversations among audience members. “And then you can go see Cinderella and look at the sparkly dress and watch the dancing and escape for a bit, too,” Stork says. “We are trying to formulate this artistic community in Aurora that has everything for everyone. … Live theater is the perfect antidote to the isolation we have been having for the last year and a half. What greater form of connection is there?” 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, 630.896.6666,

In the Works: Stolp Island Theatre

The Paramount Theatre plans to open another downtown Aurora venue in 2023, the Stolp Island Theatre, at 5 East Downer Place. CEO and president Tim Rater describes it as “more of an experiential, immersive theater for a very intimate small number—we are thinking a capacity of 100 people, and it would operate year round, eight performances a week.”

Rialto Photo courtesy Joliet Area Historical Museum

Setting the Stages

Many of Chicagoland’s historic theaters can be traced back to two local architects: Cornelius W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, brothers who opened their own firm in Chicago in 1907. Their work is featured in the book Rapp and Rapp Architects, authored by their great nephew, Glenview resident Charles Ward Rapp.

The Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, which opened in 1926, is one of many movie palaces that the brothers designed, says Leann Hoffrogge, the theater’s manager of event services and unofficial staff historian. “Rapp and Rapp, they also designed the Chicago Theatre in Chicago, and the Oriental, … the Paradise, and the Granada,” she says. “They also designed the Tivoli [in Downers Grove] and the Paramount in Aurora.” The brothers designed hundreds of theaters all over the country in their lifetimes, and the Chicago History Museum has a number of their architectural drawings dating from 1911 to 1971 in its collection. 

For a closer look at the Rapp brothers’ architecture at the Rialto, the theater has resumed its Tuesday Tour events (1:30 p.m. on select Tuesdays, $5/person, “Our Esplanade, our grand hall, was designed to look like the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versaille,” Hoffrogge says. “Our archway is fashioned after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and the rotunda [was inspired by] the Pantheon in Rome.”

Art Appreciation

Looking to learn about more arts events going on countywide? Arts DuPage, an initiative of the DuPage Foundation that promotes and supports the arts in DuPage County, maintains an events calendar as well as online directories of artists, venues, public art, and more at


Cassy Schillo, Drury Lane Theatre’s properties designer and rentals manager, got her start with theatrical props in drama club her sophomore year at Hinsdale Central High School. One of the most challenging parts of her job is coordinating every detail with the creative team and cast—such as making sure the couch upholstery she selects doesn’t clash or blend in with the costuming of the actor sitting on it. Schillo also loves collaborating with actors to make sure their props match their impressions of their character, right down to what kind of cell phone they pull out of their pocket onstage. “If they are like, ‘I’m going to play this character like an Apple user,’ then they should have an iPhone,” she says.

When Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace shut down on March 12, 2020, it was days away from debuting its production of the musical Evita. After being rescheduled several times, the show is now set for January 2022. Though that’s nearly two years later, associate artistic director Matthew D. Carney says the timing is especially fitting. “While Eva Peron, the first lady of Argentina, may have been a controversial leader, her mission was making life better for the descamisados, the middle working class of Argentina, and that still lives on today,” Carney says. “I think it’s just really powerful to be doing a show about this woman who became one of the most powerful women in politics and here we are with our first female vice president in the history of the United States.”

Evita is one of five shows in Drury Lane’s 2021–22 season, which kicked off in September after an 18-month closure. Founder Tony DeSantis actually operated six different Drury Lane theaters over the years, the first being in a tent next to a restaurant in Evergreen Park in 1949. Tony’s grandson Kyle DeSantis now runs the Oakbrook Terrace location, which opened in 1984. “Throughout all of the history of the theaters, we have produced more than 2,000 productions and received 360 Jeff Awards,” Carney says.  

The season’s first show, Forever Plaid, runs through November 7 and tells the story of four musicians who die in a car accident on the way to their big-break concert. “They come back in the afterlife and perform this concert that they were meant to do,” Carney says. With a minimal set and a small cast of four actors and three musicians, the show relies on just the right props—from vinyl records to an obscure instrument called a melodica—to help tell its story. That falls into the hands of Cassy Schillo, Drury Lane’s properties designer and rentals manager. In her six years at Drury Lane, Schillo’s daily tasks have ranged from hunting down historically accurate luggage for The Color Purple to sourcing just the right pair of underwear for a Rock of Ages actor to fling into the crowd. “We needed to find a lace panty with the perfect elasticity to reach the depth of the audience we wanted to reach,” she says. 

Schillo also will be procuring antique microphones for Eva Peron’s press conference in Evita and scouring the online resale marketplace for vintage salon equipment for a summer production of Steel Magnolias, running June 10 to July 31. Rounding out the season are Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (Nov. 19–Jan. 9) and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I (Apr. 1–May 22). 

Suffice to say, the entire Drury Lane family is ready to get back onstage. “We are all storytellers in one way or another—the actors, the people who work in wardrobe, the crew,” Carney says. “We want to share our stories that nobody has been there to hear.” 100 Drury Ln., Oakbrook Terrace, 630.530.0111,

Rialto Square Theatre

When the Rialto Square Theatre opened in Joliet 95 years ago, audiences flocked to watch films and vaudeville performers ranging from magicians to singers to animal acts. Today, the stage continues to welcome audiences for touring comedy acts, concerts, ballets, musicals, and plays. When executive director Val Devine had to cancel the theater’s slate of shows and furlough her staff last spring, the theater didn’t sit empty for long.  Because of the lack of distancing space at the nearby Will County Courthouse, traffic court moved to the Rialto last summer. “We have a permanent bar in the rotunda and the judge sat at the bar,” Devine says. “They made me take down the ‘Refreshments’ sign that was above her.” Fox’s new ballet-themed series, The Big Leap, also filmed at the theater last winter. As exciting as that was, Devine was overjoyed to open Rialto’s doors for performances again this August. “I was starting to feel like the theater was losing her soul and that made me sad,” she says. In the season ahead, concert highlights include Melissa Etheridge (Oct. 6), America (Oct. 30), Chicago (Nov. 7), and Daughtry (Nov. 27). Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, originally scheduled to take the stage in May 2020, is now set for March 24, 2022. Devine is especially excited for two beloved holiday traditions—the Teddy Bear Tea and Chicago Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker—to make their return on November 26 and November 28, respectively. 102 N. Chicago St., Joliet, 815.726.6600, 

Dial up the drama

Get glammed up for your evening out with these 8 dramatic pieces

1. Party Fowl

What reads as a minute floral from far away is actually a whimsical duck pattern up close—sure to be a conversation starter in the intermission line at the lobby bar. J.McLaughlin, $98

2. Italian Import

For a sophisticated layered look that feels softer than a suit, consider this winter white blouse and coordinating camel and gray coat and trouser from Italian designer Lorena Antoniazzi. Sweet William, $695–$1975

3. Under Wraps

A classic wrap dress with a silky finish and a modern print never goes out of style. Karisma, $58

4. Jacket Required

Stand out in a sea of solid sport coats with this understated yet sophisticated navy check pattern. Untuckit, $278

5. What A Gem

Match the larger-than-life energy onstage with this loud-and-proud cocktail ring. Anthropologie, $48

6. Mask Up

Stay safe and make a fashion statement. These special-occasion masks are handmade by Aurora resident
Sara Miramontes and sold through her Etsy shop. EquilibriumUS, $35.

7. With the Band

Knotted headbands are a must-have fall accessory,
and in wintry emerald-hued velvet, this one feels especially of-the-moment. Lauren Rae, $18

8. Fits the Bill

This metallic clutch is not only sized perfectly to fit a theater program, but it’s also made from extra fabric trimmed from a drop curtain currently being used for Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations on Broadway., $130


Artist Tony Fitzpatrick’s exhibition at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art will include more than 60 original pieces, including The Watchman of Humboldt Park, pictured above. “The show is about the bucolic beauty of Humboldt Park and how I think the spirits are all present there,” says Fitzpatrick, pictured here in his Chicago studio. “It’s kind of about the chaos and craziness of Western Avenue, the longest street in the city. It’s the working-class artery.”

I hear this every single day: ‘Oh my gosh, I never knew this was here,’ ” says Diana Martinez, director of College of DuPage’s McAninch Art Center (called the MAC for short). “Most people, when they hear ‘community college venue,’ they think that it’s just for the students or that it is student art. [But] part of the mission of a community college is to service the taxpayers. [The MAC] is for the residents of District 502 and all of DuPage County.”

After reopening this summer with Frida Kahlo: Timeless, the MAC’s art museum, the Cleve Carney Museum of Art, is prepared for another big splash: Renowned Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, who has shown his work at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, debuts a new exhibition, Jesus of Western Avenue, at CCMA on October 16.

“Tony’s work, which consists of a lot of hand-drawn, painted, and collaged pieces, draws from his experience and love of nature through birdwatching, but also his experience living in Chicago and the Chicagoland area,” says Justin Witte, curator at CCMA. “You get a sense of his love affair with the city and all its complexity. It’s influenced by popular imagery and graphics, but the layered, rich stories that he creates in his work are really distinctly his own.” Fitzpatrick was also a College of DuPage student himself and a friend of the museum’s namesake, Cleve Carney (see “A Westward Return”). 

In addition to having its own professional orchestra (the New Philharmonic) and in-residence theater company (Buffalo Theatre Ensemble), the MAC also hosts a robust lineup of touring shows. “The BoDeans are coming next year, and Drum Tao, which is the most phenomenal Japanese drum show you have ever seen,” Martinez says. Singer and actress Heather Headley, who has performed in Aida, The Lion King. and The Color Purple on Broadway, is also on the docket. “I’ve never, ever, ever been more drawn in to a performer than her,” Martinez says. “Her voice is killer.” College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., 630.942.4000,

A Westward Return 

Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick can’t help but feel sentimental about his exhibition, Jesus of Western Avenue at the McAninch Arts Center’s Cleve Carney Museum of Art at College of DuPage (Oct. 16-Jan. 31). In many ways, it’s a homecoming for him. “I have really fond feelings for Glen Ellyn, and particularly College of DuPage. I was not much of a student—I didn’t graduate—but I took painting and drawing there, and I took theater there,” Fitzpatrick says.  

He particularly remembers one moment with Harold McAninch, the college’s second president and the MAC’s namesake. “Dr. McAninch is one of those guys who really took an interest. He would hang around the student lounge where me and my artist and actor friends would smoke cigarettes and drink coffee,” Fitzpatrick says. “I remarked to him, ‘I don’t really know if I want to be an actor or an artist.’ He said, ‘It’s not binary, kid. Who said you can’t do both?’ In that way, it gave me permission to take ownership of my direction in life. I like to think that College of DuPage is where I set my compass.”

And so, Fitzpatrick has spent his career pursuing many passions, among them writing, boxing, acting, and art. It was the latter that led him to cross paths with Cleve Carney, the philanthropist and art collector for whom the MAC’s museum is named. Fitzpatrick met Carney while caddying for his father, Marv Carney, at Glen Oak Country Club’s golf course in Glen Ellyn. “When my career began to pick up, Cleve was like the first guy to come to my studio and get something. That continued all the years that I knew him,” Fitzpatrick says. “He was a dear friend. He provided so much opportunity for so many Chicago artists.”

Dinner and a Show

12 options for a polished pre- or post-theater meal

Near Drury Lane 


Dine for dinner or Sunday Jazz Brunch under a cluster of sparkling chandeliers at the Drury Lane’s elegant lobby restaurant. Dining subscriptions are also slated to debut this fall. 100 Drury Ln., Oakbrook Terrace, 630.530.8300,

Roka Akor 

For a preshow splurge, try the omakase: a chef’s tasting menu of sushi and robota-grilled meats and seafood ($98–$128 per person). 166 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook, 630.634.7652, 

Near the MAC 


Whether you dine inside or on the heated patio, score a 15 percent discount on your food bill on your performance night by showing your tickets from the MAC. 535 W. Liberty Dr., Wheaton, 630.784.8015, 

Reserve 22

Enjoy seasonal fare with views of the Village Links Golf Course from the dining room or patio. 485 Winchell Way, Glen Ellyn, 630.469.5550, 

Near the Arcada

The Graceful Ordinary

Expect “refined rustic” fare at this riverside restaurant and bar, which as of presstime, was slated for an early October opening. 1 E. Main St., St. Charles, 

Club Arcada

This speakeasy-themed lounge on the Arcada building’s third floor offers classic cocktails, tasty bites, and opulent antiques at every turn. Also opening in the building this fall: pizza and pinball hangout Rock ’N Za and dueling piano bar/Italian eatery Rock ‘N Ravioli. 105 E. Main St., St. Charles, 630.962.7000,

Near Brightside 


Funky farm-to-table and craft cocktails await at this cozy eatery in the heart of downtown. 224 S. Main St., Naperville, 630.536.8862,


Fill up on bruschetta, sausage rigatoni, and wood-fired pizza before you head to the North Central campus for a BrightSide show. 19 N. Washington St., Naperville, 630.470.9441,

Near the Paramount 

Altiro Latin Fusion

Located mere steps from the Galena Boulevard marquee, this modern Latin eatery is serving a special Kinky Boots menu of cocktails, apps, and tacos during the show’s run. 1 S. Stolp Ave., Aurora, 630.800.1973, 

Stolp Island  Social

Right next door to the Paramount, this seasonal kitchen and steakhouse by restaurateur Amy Morton reopens for service on November 2. 5 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, 630.340.4980,

Near the Rialto 

Juliet’s Tavern

Whether you’re craving raw oysters, a classic wedge salad, or the perfectly poured martini, this cozy restaurant delivers. 205 N. Chicago St., Joliet, 815.666.1244,

MyGrain Brewing Company

Sip brewed-on-site craft beers alongside burgers, salads, sandwiches, and entrées in Joliet’s historic former train station. 50 E. Jefferson St., Joliet, 815.345.3339,

Photos courtesy Lucille and Fiamme

Arcada Theatre

Though the pandemic brought the Arcada Theatre’s regular concert lineup to a halt, one silver lining is that construction crews were able to continue to work behind the scenes on the historic building’s planned multimillion-dollar renovation. “What was originally going to be a phased process and probably take upwards of three years, because of lockdown we were able to complete much quicker,” says Ron Onesti, president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corporation, which owns and operates the St. Charles theater. When he stepped in 17 years ago, the Spanish Colonial-style building—which originally opened as a vaudeville and movie house in 1926—was operating as a B-movie theater and had fallen into disrepair, Onesti says. The latest renovations include improvements to heating, cooling, and restrooms, along with the debut of new restaurants (see “Dinner and a Show,” left) and the Arcadian Suites, 11 themed hotel rooms debuting later this fall. “There’s an Elvis suite, a Sinatra suite, Kiss, Prince, Johnny Cash, and Motown,” Onesti says. On the heels of the theater celebrating its 95th anniversary on September 6, the fall lineup includes Gipsy Kings (Oct. 26), Paul Anka (Nov. 2), and Buddy Guy (Nov. 14). “What I’m most excited about is these acts that are classic from any era,” Onesti says. “This is a place for legends and icons to perform for people who really wouldn’t normally see them and don’t want to go all the way to downtown Chicago.” 105 E. Main St., St. Charles, 630.962.7000,

BrightSide Theatre

Naperville’s own professional theater company is preparing to kick off its 10th anniversary later this year, continuing its mission to enlighten audiences through musicals and comedies. After having to shift the company’s annual children’s camps online and outdoors last year, executive director and founding member Julie Ann Kornak is thrilled for the company to get back onstage. Most BrightSide performances take place on the three-quarter thrust stage at the Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall at North Central College, where audience members surround the performers on three sides. Because BrightSide doesn’t shy away from mounting big shows (like Mamma Mia, slated for June 2022) in this smaller space, it makes for an especially unique theater-going experience. The season opens December 10 to 19 with Miracle on 34th Street Street: A Live Musical Radio Play, followed by musical comedy Promises, Promises January 15 to 22 and French farce Don’t Dress for Dinner February 25 to March 13. As part of the BrightSide Theatre Youth Project, Disney’s Descendents: The Musical will run February 26 to March 6 featuring a cast of students ages 8 to 18 alongside professional company members portraying the show’s adult roles. “I love seeing what we can bring to the stage and what people walk away with,” Kornak says. “It’s the empathy and the sympathy the kids gain. For the audience members, it’s escapism. It’s looking through things through a different glass and a different window. It’s that connection—that’s what we are all lacking right now.” 630.447.8497,

Photos courtesy Arcada Theatre and Brightside Theatre