Earlier this summer, Redmoon's custom-made vehicle traveled around the city, with an opera singer on an elevated platform. Her songs were hooked through a computer interface to fuel-injected organ pipes, and so notes of her songs released bursts of propane, creating a visual representation of the music in fire.
"One evening we followed the Night Ministry Bus through Pilsen and parts of Bridgeport creating spontaneous dance parties. There were no reviews of this 'show,'" says Lasko. "No cultural mavens validating the enterprise. But it's that experience that powers our work. It's the source.
"The cultural conversation has turned to embrace the integral role that the arts play in creating a vital community, whether city or neighborhood. This is clearly reflected in Chicago's new cultural plan, but also in national arts initiatives like Arts Place and NEA's Our Town program. One of the major pushes in the cultural plan is to get culture into the neighborhoods. What things can be done to make the arts part of people's actual lives, their everyday, lived lives?
"We've been in the great houses of theater and I feel incredibly blessed to have had those collaborations, to have worked in those venues. The reason we get those opportunities, I believe, is that the currency of our work, the heat and attitude and value of it, is all derived from our other work, the work that happens in communities, that interrupts people's everyday routines and asks them to see one another and their environments and even themselves anew."
I asked Lasko to reflect on the men in charge of the city that has been his canvas.
"Mayor Daley had a big vision, but it was a downtown vision," he says. "No one can deny his impact on creating a vital and exciting cultural community downtown. Millennium Park has got to be one of the greatest public works initiatives in the last 50, 100 years. The museum campus. And whatever you want to say about the process, Northerly Island is a gift to this city's future that people haven't begun to comprehend."
He and Redmoon were part of some of that, performing on the museum campus, creating an opening event for Millennium Park.
"But the work that we are particularly charged by, and capable of, is to take some of those same artistic goals and standards and apply them to the neighborhoods, to the under-recognized areas of the city, like the river."
Ah, the river.
It was in 2009 that Lasko took a leave from Redmoon to become the first artist in residence for the Chicago Office of Tourism, which was then a division of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs. His initial wild and wonderful plans starred the river.
He envisioned neighborhoods and their residents coming together over the summer of 2011 to help internationally known artists create massive towers filled with lights and other huge sculptures that would then be paraded downtown and placed on display on barges in the river.
"And all the bridges rising at the same time and revealing undersides painted or lit, who knows?" he told me at the time.
Six months later his job vanished and dreams were tabled in the face of city budget cuts.
But back to our mayors.
"I believe in Mayor Emanuel. And I believe in Amy (Rule, the mayor's wife)," Lasko said. "I see their genuine love and appreciation of our city and its arts community. I can't tell you how often I've seen them at a show or event. When he was first elected, I spent some time talking with him and he shared his history of Redmoon's events. He had seen work dating back to his days as a congressman, Halloween shows, winter pageants. He remembered them better than I did. He's the real thing."
Others have different opinions of the mayor, but there is little doubt that Lasko will return to Chicago full of ideas he will want the mayor to hear.
In the meantime his family will settle in and find a nice place to walk the dog.
There are some who might reasonably guess that the Laskos' playful, 2-year-old goldendoodle is named for playwright Samuel Beckett.
Listen to writers Allan Cox, Julia Keller and Jimmy Greenfield, anti-smoking specialist Carol Southard and actor/impresario Bob Swan on "The Sunday Papers With Rick Kogan," 6:30-9 a.m. Sunday on WGN-AM 720.
A look at some memorable shows produced by Jim Lasko and Redmoon Theater during their more than 20 years of mounting large, innovative spectacles, often in public spaces throughout the city.