Shonte Wesson

Shonte Wesson will be announcer and mistress of ceremonies for this weekend's performances. 

The Hyde Park Community Players will put on a pair of Halloween performances this Friday and Saturday, returning to live in-person theater inside University Church, 5655 South University Avenue. 

Set in an old radio recording studio, “An Evening of Horror and Suspense” features five episodes — some of them radio plays, others adapted from classic scary stories. 

“The sort of interesting thing has been finding the particular flavor of horror in each one. One is kind of evoking that nightmare flavor, and one is evoking the twilight zone of the normal person finding himself in a world where the rules are distressingly different,” said Paul Baker, who is directing. 

Apart from the plays, the show includes a trio of women — who have dubbed themselves the Hyde Sisters — performing “songs of the season,” and satirical commercials written by the Players themselves. 

Attendees will be required to provide proof of vaccination and mask up. Seating will be spaced out; about 60 tickets are available each night, of which half had been sold by Wednesday afternoon. 

Last year, the Zoom version of the Halloween program included an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” in which a nobleman puts on a ball in the middle of a plague. While this year’s episodes will not touch quite so explicitly on the ongoing pandemic, Baker thinks they still have some relation to current events. 

“There’s a very almost Aristotelian thing of catharsis — it’s like come here, be afraid of something else for a change that allows your dread and fear to be aroused and released,” he said. “This is one of the ways that human beings deal with fear, they put it into something fictional that they know is really not dangerous, and they allow it to flow out that way.” 

More generally, Baker hopes the in-person performances can help restore some degree of normalcy. “What we’re really trying to offer people is a way of exploring, coming back to occupy the world in a way that isn’t just like, well, that’s not happening,” he said. “We can get together and, you know, not be literally afraid of one another. And I think it’s important for institutions who have a sort of public face to be working at that place right now.

“When we say community theater, we put an equal weight on both words. And so coming back to live theater is not just ‘we want to do something.’ We’d like to help our community of Hyde Park find its way back to being physically a community because we’re physical creatures, we’re not just mental creatures, and we have to recognize that.” 

Friday and Saturday, Oct. 29 and 30, 8 p.m. University Church, 5655 S. University Ave. $15 advance, $18 at door. 


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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