Why the Variety Show ‘Resilient’ Is a Monthly Must-See

We live in an extremely complicated world, more complicated than any individual is really capable of comprehending. We are also in an age where we are forced to stare straight into the face of the many broken machinations of that world. And this, simply put, is exhausting. So in order to wake up and feel alive, to march down the hill and start pushing the boulder back up again, we need good art to motivate us.

But then, what kind of art? Sad art? Crying can feel good, but too much sadness and you get exhausted and depressed and you’re back at square one. Happy art? Certainly; art that comes from a place of joy can make you feel nice and warm and fuzzy — but if the joy is dialed up too much it can feel naive, ignorant, even disingenuous. These days, I find that my favorite art reaches for both of these two extremes — art that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, but not at the expense of ignoring the injustice and pain in the world. Something that strikes that perfect funnybone of melancholic, hard-won optimism.

Resilient is a monthly variety show, which takes place on the last Friday of every month, at 8pm, at the Playground Theatre (although they’ll be moving to the Crowd Theater come November). It usually runs about an hour and a half, and the only requirement for performers is that they be self-identified survivors of sexual violence. It was founded by co-producer Freddy-May AbiSamra back in 2017, and is now hosted and co-produced by Kathleen Kinlin. Tickets are $10, and proceeds are donated to a charity called Resilience which provides help and services to survivors of sexual assault. 

In my opinion, Resilient is the perfect encapsulation of what I want from art in this oft-depressing world — but unfortunately, I have not yet seen this show get the attention it deserves. So today, I’d like to briefly explain why I think Resilient is one of the most unsung triumphs of the Chicago theatre scene, and why you should come and see it with me.

Resilient is a bit like a box of chocolates, in that when you go see it you rarely know what you’re going to get. A good chunk of the show is usually stand-up comedy, a format that I usually don’t enjoy all that much. But perhaps unsurprisingly, when you get rid of all the entitled twenty-something white guys who think they’re hilarious, stand-up comedy can positively soar. Performers also bring poetry, personal essays, music, group improv, puppetry, dance, burlesque, visual art, or whatever they like.

Sometimes, the art directly relates to abuse or sexual assault. Other times, however, it’s about something completely different. This freedom, of giving the performers the choice of whether to talk about their trauma or simply enjoy themselves, makes each act feel like a gift to the audience. Now, I won’t try to tell you that every act will blow you away; at Resilient, straightforward quality plays second string to the fostering of a safe space for the performers (and often people will workshop new material to improve upon later). Even when the material isn’t working for me, the dynamic is compelling to watch. 

For this reason, the show avoids becoming depressing despite the unfortunate reason it even exists. It becomes about reclaiming one’s own space in the world after trauma, certainly. But it is also a reflection of the universal struggle of eking out a human life. It is a show defined by contrasts; escaping from the dark and reaching towards the light, never quite grasping either one.

I end up seeing Resilient as often as I can, and I think it’s because the show is perfectly tailored to assuage some of my darkest thoughts and fears. Like many of us, I have anxiety, and a great deal of that anxiety involves imagining how my life could be utterly ruined by things beyond my control at a moment’s notice. If you ever feel like you’re drifting, like you’re just a bubble on the tide of empire, an object in the world at the mercy of its circumstances — Resilient is a remarkable reminder that you have more control over your life than you think you do. These folks have gone through some shit, but you know what? They’re here, and they’re performing; the ultimate expression of self-control. So maybe, just maybe, with a lot of hard work and a little bit of elbow grease, you’ll be okay too.

The next ‘Resilient’ show will be this Friday, October 25th, at 8pm at the Playground Theater. Tickets are $10, available at the door. If you identify as a survivor of sexual violence and would like to perform, or you want to know about future shows at the Crowd Theater, you can keep up to date on Resilient’s Facebook page

Illustration by Allie Shapiro

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