Smile Politely

Encounter the familiar and very unfamiliar at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ 2023-2024 season

Acrobuffos; two people stand on stage. The person on the left has purple hair and is wearing a yellow zip up jump suit, the person on the right has blue hair and is wearing a matching red jumpsuit. What appears to be packing popcorn is falling from the ceiling. The background is entirely black
Acrobuffos, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

When I sat down on Zoom to discuss the upcoming Krannert Center for the Performing Arts‘ 2023-2024 season (the complete season schedule can be found below) with KCPA Director Mike Ross, the first thing I noticed was an entire wall of post-its on the chalkboard in the background. Maureen Reagan, Associate Director of Marketing, explained the post-its are a visual way for the team to plan the season and see what the flow feels like: “You would never write this out in sharpie.” As Ross further explained, the KCPA curatorial team are in constant exploratory conversations with artists in every genre, working on staggered timelines. While sometimes events are booked two seasons in advance, at times it’s just a few months, although that timeline is far less common.

I was particularly interested in how KCPA determines and divides up their programming: How do they determine how much theatre, or dance, or music will make up any particular season? Ross explained there is no quota or set formula for designing any season: “I’m always thinking of and encouraging our curatorial team to not think about any given season in isolation. There is so much wonderful and deserving diversity of artistic expression out there. There is no way we could possibly in one given season achieve the goals we want to achieve in regard to diversity [of programming]. It’s my preference to think in larger chunks of time, such as four years.” Four years, of course, corresponds to the typical time that an undergraduate will spend at the University of Illinois.

Ross continued, “One thing I am always looking for us to achieve when we compose a season is the mix of the familiar and the very unfamiliar. It’s important to me that we think about Krannert Center as a discovery zone of sorts. It’s a place for explorers. I wish we could generate a thirst within each human being that we have contact with for exploration.” Communications Director Linea Johnson also spoke on this goal of discovery: “Discovery is a big important thing to us. Trying to help people discover new things that maybe they didn’t think they liked dance, but in the end, they see something amazing.”

One of the challenges for this upcoming season is the construction happening in Colwell Playhouse, which seats 641 patrons and has great lighting design potential, as well audio support, ideal for spoken word or dance performances. The Playhouse is undergoing an important renovation upgrade to address the long overdue need to expand the physical accessibility features of the space. So, it will be unavailable for more than a year. The lack of this space required the team to be creative in terms of scheduling and what kinds of performances they can accommodate for the 2023-2024 season.  

Malina Moye sits on a private plane, holding a white guitar. She has long black straight hair, a flower behind one ear, and a red satin sleeveless shirt.
Malina Moye by Isaiah Mays, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Even with this obstacle, Krannert Center has put together a truly impressive line-up for the upcoming season. The season will open with the tenth ELLNORA, the biennial guitar festival. Both Johnson and Assistant Communications Director, Sean Kutzko, listed ELLNORA as one of the events they are most looking forward to this year. Johnson appreciates the diversity of performances at ELLNORA: patrons can see performances ranging from Andy Summers of The Police, Ani DiFranco, and Malina Moye to more classical musicians. Kutzko, who has been coming to KCPA performances for 50 years (“thanks mom!”), likewise appreciates the breadth of names present at the guitar festival: “ELLNORA festival is going to be amazing — on top of these huge names, there are also some performers we are bringing in from the world music side. We’ve got a Mexican guitar duet [Rodrigo y Gabriela] that is just out of this world, that a lot of people haven’t heard before.”

Okaidja, a black man, stands against an all white backdrop. He is wearing a grey long sleeve and pant outfit with a white repeating pattern. He had dreadlocks. He is in a squat dance position with one arm extended on an angle behind him.
Okaidja by Clayton Cotterell, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

A classical musician herself, Johnson is also looking forward to the Kronos Quartet, “and Yo-Yo Ma, of course.” Other notable performances for the season include Acrobuffos, a wordless air play comedy; Okaidja Afroso: Jaku Mumor — Ancestral Spirit, a “a contemporary African oral tradition, combining percussion, guitar, dance, and native language vocals”; and of course, performances by the Chicago Symphony, Dance at Illinois, and November’s Nutcracker ballet.

When I asked Ross which one thing he was most looking forward to in the upcoming season, he quipped “Everything. [That’s like asking] if you had to pick which of your children is your favorite child.” Explaining his reasoning, he said that for him, “the season is a composition. And it’s the composition that I get most excited about seeing unfolding and witnessing that interaction with artists and audience. You know, we are living in this troubled world, and hopefully the composition of the next season will provide moments of finding joy together, despite what’s going on in the world.”

In my conversations with Ross, Johnson, and Kutzko, there was one common theme: the idea and hope that KCPA will be thought of as a place for all. Kutzko put it best: “I think that a lot people who aren’t familiar with Krannert Center think this is where you come to see the symphony, and you have to wear tuxedos; that your shoes have to be perfectly polished. And it is just not that way. Yes, we offer the Chicago Symphony, but in addition to that, we offer so much more. If you want to come here and wear your t-shirt and jeans, do that! Come as you are. We have a lot of diverse programming here that has nothing to do with a symphony orchestra. There is bound to be something that caters to almost everyone. All you have to do is just walk through the front door.”

Take a look at their complete programming for the upcoming season below:

Roosevelt Collier, a black man, is standing against an orange-red brick wall outside. He is wearing all black and a black hat. He is looking off camera while a keyboard is in front of him.
Roosevelt Collier by Carlos Topo Maseda, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


September 8: ELLNORA (Malina Moye, Roosevelt Collier, Stephane Wrembel Band, The Surfajettes, Rodrigo y Gabriela)
September 9: ELLNORA (Sharon Isbin & Pacifica Quartet, Yamandu Costa, Ron Carter Trio, Ani DiFranco, Tosin Abasi /Jake Eddy, Yasmin Williams & William Tyler, Andy Summers, Emmylou Harris, North Mississippi Allstars
September 15-16: 2nd annual Daniel J. Sullivan Playwright in Residence with Award winning playwright Matthew-Lee Erlbach, title TBA
September 16: Morris Day and the Time
September 16: Sinfonia da Camera: Vive la France!
September 21: PYGMALION
September 21-23: Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: Lyric Under the Stars Allerton Park & Retreat Center
September 23: Okaidja Afroso: Jaku Mumor—Ancestral Spirit
September 24: Merz Trio: Of Light and Darkness

Jupiter String Quartet performs on stage
Jupiter String Quartet, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


October 1: St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
October 3: Jupiter String Quartet
October 7: Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra: Orchestra Splendor
October 10: Gene Machine
October 12-13: Dance at Illinois: October Dance
October 14: Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin
October 26: Los Angeles Master Chorale: Music to Accompany a Departure
October 26-28: RENT by Jonathan Larson (Krannert Center at the Virginia)
October 28: Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: Die Fledermaus (with Sinfonia da Camera)

A large group of ballerinas wearing matching pink dresses with full multi-layered pink tutus are in a circle, arms extended above their heads, as they lean towards the center of the circle. A scene from the Nutracker ballet.
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


November 3-4 + 8-11: The Realness: a break beat play by Idris Goodwin
November 5: Duke Ellington’s The River Suite and Sacred Suites
November 7-10: Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: The Wild Party
November 8: Kronos Quartet: KRONOS Five Decades
November 10: Jupiter String Quartet with guest
November 15-16: Pablo Ziegler Tango Trio
November 28: Sinfonia da Camera: 20th Century Chamber Gems
November 30: The Nutcracker


December 6: Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra: A Season of Joy featuring the University of Illinois Oratorio Society

Indian Ink Theatre. An Indian man wearing a yellow elaborate traditional Indian outfit with a jeweled hat is Dj'ing. He has large headphones and one arm up in the air.
Indian Ink Theatre, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


January 18: Indian Ink Theatre Company: Mrs. Krishnan’s Party
January 27: An Evening with Branford Marsalis

A collage of two photos from Manual Cinema Leonardo; a black woman is projected on screen holding a purple umbrella that looks like a drawing. You can see her on the stage as well.
Manual Cinema Leonardo by Rebecca J. Michelson, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


February 1-3: Dance at Illinois: February Dance
February 6: Jupiter String Quartet with guest
February 9-10: Mark Morris Dance Group
February 9-10 + 13-17: Witch by Jen Silverman
February 10: Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra: Celebration: Happy Birthday Bruckner!
February 13: Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: Carnaval!
February 17: Manual Cinema Leonardo! A Wonderful Show about a Terrible Monster
February 17: Sinfonia da Camera: Lucia Lin, Violin
February 17: JC Mitchell star in Cassette Roulette
February 22: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
February 25: Chelsea Guo, soprano and piano
February 29-March 2: Dance at Illinois: Studiodance
February 29, March 1-3: Airness by Chelsea Marcantel

Honolulu theatre for youth. Two women stand smiling in back, with two men sitting in front. All are holding instruments, wearing straw hats, and smiling at the camera as they sing.
Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


March 2: Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra
March 7: Bruce Hornsby and yMusic
March 7-8: Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: Fugitive Songs Allerton Park & Retreat Center
March 23: Honolulu Theatre for Youth: The Pa’akai We Bring
March 23: Sinfonia da Camera: From Ukraine to the Great Gate of Kiev

Kathryn Stott stands on the left; she has long dark hair and a pink sleeveless shirt, her hands are in the pockets of her black dress pants. Yo-Yo Ma stands slightly behind her, looking off camera to the right. They are both smiling. Ma wears a blue half-zip sweater.
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott by Mark Mann, provided by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts


April 2, 4, 6: Lyric Theatre @ Illinois: Black Square
April 5-6: Dance at Illinois: Studiodance Extended
April 6: Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott
April 7: Krannert Center Debut Artist
April 12-13 + 16-20: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht and Bruce Norris
April 20: Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra: Fanfares Finale–Saluting Paul Vermel at 100
April 27: Acrobuffos: Air Play

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin Ave
Tickets can be purchased online starting August 9th.

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