Along with summer comes the opportunity to perform music, dance and theater outdoors in public and alternative spaces. There are many benefits to presenting a show outside of the standard theater, including reaching new audiences, avoiding expensive overhead costs, and demonstrating authenticity and vulnerability in the public eye. However, that vulnerability often extends to featured artists who may be exposed to tickets, fines or legal liability if the appropriate licensing is not in place. Although there are additional issues to consider when performing in public venues, such as insurance coverage and venue releases, obtaining the required licenses will allow the creator and performer to worry less about getting caught in the act and focus more on perfecting their art. This article provides general guidance for obtaining City of Chicago street performer licenses, Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) performance permits, and public place of amusement (“PPA”) licenses.
City of Chicago Street Performer License: Hats Off and Badges On
A Street Performer License is $100.00 for two years and can be obtained in person.
A City of Chicago Street Performer License authorizes performances such as acting, singing, dancing, and juggling in public areas, including sidewalks, parkways, playgrounds, among others. The license is $100.00 for two years and can be obtained in person at the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection (“BACP”), located at 121 North LaSalle Street, Room 800. A candidate must fill out an application, show a valid driver’s license or other official photo identification, and be current on all city debts.
Once obtained, it is recommended that an artist always display the license badge during a performance to avoid the possibility of a ticket and a fee. If a performance is part of a larger festival, the festival may have licensing that protects all performers, but this should not be assumed. It is important to check with the festival organizers ahead of the show.
There are limitations to the license, including the hours of performance, blockage of public areas, and noise levels. There are further prohibitions related to where performances can occur that are outlined on the fact sheet. Be aware that performances at the Chicago Park District invoke a different set of permitting requirements. A Chicago Park District Special Event Permit is required for events with fifty or more participants, using amplified sound, among other triggers. That permit can be requested through contacting the Park District at (312) 742-5369.
Additionally, filming a performance on public ways, including streets, sidewalks, and alleys may trigger the City of Chicago film permit requirements. Although there are exclusions to the film permit, such as handheld interviews and documentaries, it is beneficial to consult the Chicago Film Office prior to filming in public.
CTA Performance Permit: Under the Boardwalk
The CTA permit is $10.00 annually and can be obtained immediately.
Neither the City of Chicago Street Performer License nor the Chicago Park District Special Event Permit applies to performing on the CTA platforms. Ordinance No. 006-75 sets forth how to obtain a CTA performance permit, where performances may occur, and other enforceable parameters. Applications for the CTA permit may be obtained in-person at 567 West Lake Street, Second Floor, Information Desk. It is recommended to apply for the permit between 8:30 am and 2:45 pm, Monday through Friday. The permit is $10.00 annually and can be obtained immediately upon submission of the application.
Once authorized, an entertainer can perform at four CTA locations, including the platforms in the following stations: (1) Washington and State Streets; (2) Jackson and State Streets; (3) Washington and Dearborn Streets; and (4) Jackson and Dearborn Streets. If the CTA station is under construction performances may not be permissible. Also, the space is first come, first serve, so it is important to arrive early or at least plan ahead.
Public Place of Amusement: A Venue by Any Other Name is Still a Venue
A Public Place of Amusement license application is more rigorous. Guidance can be requested.
When selecting an alternative venue for a stage play or concert it is important to remember that just because the performance space isn’t called a “theater,” it doesn’t mean that it side-steps all legal obligations. Any establishment that provides amusement and collects an admission fee must secure a PPA license. Also, any venue offering amusement with a capacity of 100 or more people must be licensed.
A PPA license can be obtained at the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection, which is the same place where the street performer licenses are acquired. The PPA license application is more rigorous than the other licenses described in this article because the PPA license requires a lease, financial disclosures describing the business financials, a criminal background check, and a Federal Employer Identification Number or FEIN. The venue must also satisfy zoning requirements and not be within 200 feet of a church, school, hospital or building used solely for the purposes of education. Guidance from a BACP advisor can be requested by contacting the BACP at 312-744-6249.
If you are the performer and not the venue operator, the PPA may not be your responsibility to obtain. Nevertheless, knowledge of necessary licensing is useful when deciding whether or not to spend endless hours creating, rehearsing and planning for a performance at an alternative venue that may not be properly licensed.