You've got a crisp $20 bill in your back pocket and no plans for the evening. Think a night at the theater is out of the question? Before you head out to see "Shrek 2" at the cheap-o-plex, consider this: Chicago has no shortage of quality, affordable theater.
Want proof? Look no further than these theaters, where most shows will set you back less than that Jackson.
Roll with the punches at the Neo-Futurarium
While the prime times shows are pay-what-you-can on Thursdays and $15 on weekends, the Neo-Futurarium spices its prices up further with "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," which made its debut in 1988. An ensemble cast performs 30 plays in 60 minutes, with a giant timer ticking away on stage as the audience decides which play they want to see next, a barked "Curtain!" being your cue to shout it out. From five seconds to five minutes, the plays run the gamut from slap-stick comedy to political commentary, and tickets to the fast-paced, thought-provoking show are $9 plus the roll of one dice ($10-$15). See what's on stage now.
Pinch pennies downtown at Storefront Theatre
If entering the theater district has you worried about laying down serious cash, it's time you headed to the Storefront Theater. This 99-seat black box theater, located in Gallery 37 and owned and operated by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, hosts some of the best small to mid-size off-Loop theater companies in the city. Past productions have included everything from improv festivals to performance art to lessons in how to rob a bank, with most shows costing $15-$25. See what's on stage now.
You (and your piggy bank) will giggle at IO Theater
I.O. Theater has been the go-to spot for long-form improv since 1981. With two stages hosting shows seven nights a week, improv here can be tailored to your tastes, from musical improv to horror movie spoofs. Go classic-yet-raunchy with "The Hot Karl" which has been serving up its "stage-clawing, no-holds-barred long-form improv" since 1999 and delights in reminding the audience that its show is for mature viewers only. Dipping your theater toes in multiple pools won't cost you much; most shows are less than $15 (some are only $5), with a free show of rotating performers every Wednesday at 8 p.m. See what's on stage now.
Watch passion burn brightly at A Red Orchid Theatre
Drawing its name from a passage in William Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch" in which the "a red orchid" name is used to reflect on the fragile beauty of life on the edge, A Red Orchid Theater has been producing new and rarely seen works since 1993. Composed of 16 ensemble members performing in an 80-seat theater, A Red Orchid has proven particularly adept at nihilistic and farcical productions, generally staging one world premiere each season. Tickets here range from $15-$25. See what's on stage now.