Chicago’s new theater tradition: Paragon Fest

Otherworld Theatre Company’s “Paragon Fest” is the world’s largest Science Fiction/Fantasy One-Act Play festival. The cozy Public House Theatre provided a perfect setting for travel to all dimensions of time and space; the actors were brilliant, hilarious, and thrilling, and the stories were out of this world.

Otherworld Literary Manager Elliott Sowards selected 40 plays from the more than 300 international script submissions. Over 80 theatrical artists performed. Between blocks of plays (groups of 3 or 4 one-acts), everyone—actors, playwrights, and festival goers— was eager to praise Paragon Fest’s exemplary storytelling.

Truly, Otherworld Theatre’s name for this event couldn’t have been better suited. Paragon Fest might have been new territory for the theatre company this year, but their initial event has been exemplary.
And they didn’t just put on a good show; they put on 40.

Otherworld Theatre Company’s emphasis on sci-fi/fantasy theater is a gift to the Chicago community. The creative geniuses within this company provide opportunities for masterworks like playwright Marilyn Anne Campbell’s “Universal Language” (directed by Lauren Fields) and Jonathan Cook’s “Transferring Kyle” (directed by Grace Gimpel) to be enjoyed by Chicagoans of all dispositions. Campell’s humorous romp refreshes audiences with the optimistic truth that people (and aliens) will respond well to kindness. For the more sardonic audiences, Cook’s witty one-act explores a futuristic, unsympathetic method of ridding society of its unmotivated duds. Both plays were fantastic.

The dialogue is quick and thoughtful, and the blocking is purposeful and natural. The setting is imaginative and minimalistic. Each play’s conclusion continued to exceed expectations while also showcasing a variety of playwrights’ styles and themes. Were there some predictable scenes? Yes, but forgivably few. Overall, the initial success of this festival with Chicago audiences is practically surreal.

Outside events like Paragon Fest, it’s somewhat rare for conversations to go so quickly from introductions to sharing ideas and creative processes. At Otherworld’s event, however, this experience was treated as nothing extraordinary. Their standards are impressively high, and they deliver.  

Truly, Otherworld Theatre Company balances the professional and communal liveliness that quality theaters desire their attendees to feel. Because of Otherworld’s skillful planning, there’s a unique freedom for artists and their audiences to connect and enjoy imaginative and meaningful conversation. For instance, talking with playwright Angeli Primlani about her one-act, ‘Utopia’, gave me a deeper insight about Primlani’s glorious craft and intention in her scriptwriting. She described a father-daughter relationship between two of her characters, for example, which led us into discussing how essential love was in the creation of intense discord between the two characters. 

Otherworld Theatre Company recognizes that the importance of sci-fi/fantasy stories transcend any performance. This company cares about sharing stories that will inspire their audiences to imagine and re-imagine our world and its possibilities.

A paragon, by definition, is something to model or follow. Otherworld Theatre Company and its Paragon Fest could serve as a great catalyst for constructive change in our city. Sci-fi/fantasy narratives have great potential to lead Chicagoans to reconsider the consequences of our current choices, hopefully for the betterment of our world.