Chicago theater loses Off-Loop pioneer Patricia Hart

April 10, 2011

One of the pioneers of Chicago Off-Loop Theater, costume designer Patricia Hart, died at dawn Sunday morning (April 10) after a two-year on-and-off battle with brain cancer. She was 64.

Hart was born in St. Louis and eventually migrated to Chicago to take a degree at the old Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago. Graduating in 1969, she immersed herself in the then-brand-new Off-Loop Movement which was centered on Lincoln Avenue at the Body Politic and the Kingston Mines Theatre Company. In the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's, Pat Hart and her husband, actor and sound designer Larry Hart, were the "go-to" couple for costumes, poster designs and sound effects, especially for our town's growing number of budget-squeezed theater troupes in storefronts and old warehouses. In those years, Hart designed costumes for Pary Productions, Chicago Theater Strategy, the Performance Community and Chicago Repertory Company among others.

As with so many of us who started out in alternative theater in the late 1960's, Patricia Hart eventually morphed into an Establishment designer, growing up with the Off-Loop theater industry (vs. the early "movement") to design costumes for multiple productions at the Next, Victory Gardens, Touchstone, Lifeline and New Tuners theaters among others in Chicago, and for theaters and dance companies across the country. In the late 1970's she began designing for local TV ("The Magic Door") and then a few years later was selected by film director John McNaughton to design costumes for "Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer." Thereafter, Hart enjoyed a steady flow of film and TV work. For the last 10 years Hart also has taught theater and film design at the School of the Art Institute.

For 20 years Hart also was engaged in a unique photo-journalism project, documenting the lives--and the personalities--of gorillas at Lincoln Park Zoo, notably Jojo and Makari with whom she established bonds of recognition and affection. Her work with the gorillas is recorded in the short documentary film “Capture," produced by Harriet Spizziri (a co-founder of the Next Theatre Company). The film has proved to be an audience favorite at international film festivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Patricia Hart is survived by her husband of 43 years, Larry, their son Michael (of Arlington, VA) and by her mother and two brothers. A memorial tribute is in the works for late April or May, to be hosted by Spizziri.