Now that the arts are fully open, and with hopes that it will stay that way, three artists reflect on what has transpired the past couple of years and what is happening now.


August Forman is an Artistic Associate with Oak Park Festival Theatre ( As an active member of the Chicago-area theater scene, they received the Jeff Award in 2019 for Performer in a Supporting Role. They are also a playwright.

Before the pandemic, Forman said, they pushed themselves beyond what they should have, and often felt exhausted. When everything shut down due to COVID, it “lit a fire to take a look at why I love theater and what kind of theater I want to return to,” they said.

August Foreman is an Artistic Associate at Oak Park Festival Theatre.
Credit: Collin Quinn Rice

It also became a time to slow down and evaluate. “I’m a better actor for it,” they said. “I’m doing it because I love it and [now, while acting] I’m doing a character who is part of who I am, and it’s proved to be quite successful.”

During the pandemic, Forman worked virtually by doing play readings. This format made things more accessible. For example, their friend who has a disability and is a “phenomenal actor” was “never booked more than [during] the stay-at-home part of the pandemic.” Now, their friend is not working because so many theaters are not accessible, lacking ramps and elevators. 

Some of the changes, however, that came about during COVID may have lasting benefits. Virtual auditions present more possibilities to actors and save time. And there is a shift in the way cast and crew are cared for during productions. Forman said, “We’re more willing to see people as human beings versus a product.” Theaters are more flexible if someone is sick, for example.

“I hope we continue to move forward with more accessible spaces, more accessible auditions,” they said. While theaters are putting on productions that invite back audiences with heartfelt shows that sell tickets, Forman said, “… Let’s get some bodies in those roles that we haven’t seen before and open it up to everybody. We don’t have to keep doing the same shows the same way we’ve done them for years and years.”

It’s part of a social reckoning and it works, they said.    


Jeremy Kahn ( plays piano in Chicago jazz clubs, in the pit for musical theater productions and is an adjunct professor at the music conservatories of DePaul, Northwestern and Elmhurst Universities. During his long career, he’s played with Dizzy Gillespie, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente, Branford Marsalis and many others.

When COVID hit, the bottom dropped out for freelance musicians, Kahn said. While he continued teaching virtually, he missed making music with others. So, Kahn invited a couple of musicians to his Oak Park porch. He emailed his neighbors who gathered on the lawn to listen to an impromptu hour of music-making in central Oak Park. This 2020 mini Ravinia occurred about a dozen times. “It was incredibly gratifying and touching how much people appreciated hearing live music when it had been taken away from them,” Kahn said.

Musician Jeremy Kahn of Oak Park. Photo provided

During pandemic shut-down time, he said many musicians fine-tuned their skills – something there would not be time for when performing regularly. “It gave us a chance to get back into working on our craft,” he said. Kahn made 20 YouTube videos to stay in performance mode, learned some new pieces, and “whipped back into shape” some works he hadn’t played in a long time. 

But it is not just the pandemic that has impacted musicians’ bottom line and ability to perform. Pre-pandemic, Kahn said, there were fewer venues and some were hiring smaller groups than in the past. “Every performing musician has to be ready to have multiple streams of income in order to make it work out.” 

Kahn said he hopes both audiences and musicians appreciate how much live music contributes to the quality of life.

Visual Art

Visual artist and Dancing Krow studio and gallery owner Karen Schuman is a founding member of the Oak Park Arts District, which began in the mid-1990s. Schuman said she shares the gallery at 43 Harrison St., “with several talented artists in the area to showcase all of our work.” There are nearly 20 artists represented at the gallery.  

The past two years is not the first time Schuman has seen change. The 26-year-old studio/gallery, which had different names and addresses, “has morphed from a very active group of artists with crowded openings into a very intimate group of middle-aged to elderly artists, more interested in doing their craft than making sales,” she said.

Karen Schuman is a visual artist and owner of Dancing Krow Studio and gallery.

During COVID closures, these artists continued creating and displaying their work at the gallery. This led to photographing the art and posting it to social media (, which increased the artists’ audience and sales, Schuman said. New shelving was also installed in the gallery windows to show artwork and artists’ contact information to those walking by.

As an artist, Schuman said, “I made good use of the quiet time.” She uses dyed and painted fabric, along with quilting, beadwork and crochet in her art. The techniques give “depth and dimensionality” and “define the subjects that invoke a mythical realm, often trees, women, water, …” Schuman said she is influenced by Peruvian shamanic teachings.   

“I hope that the space I have created continues its mission of calling on everyone to find the artist within,” she said. “… My hopes for myself and my fellow artists is that, in spite of the turmoil the world finds itself in, that the creativity of our human spirits goes on and prevails, and we continue as a small force of nature in the art realm.” “It is the art that defines the society in the end,” she said. 

Join the discussion on social media!