Theater, the art of the impossible: Infamous Commonwealth shuts down

July 25, 2011

Updated at: 9:13 am 7/26/11

"Infamous Commonwealth Closes Its Doors" said the email dated 9 o'clock this morning. The message from company founder Genevieve Thompson could, unfortunately, have been written by the leaders of many other Chicago theater companies. 

As most of you are aware, the business of running a theatre company in the Chicago community is very hard work. For nine years, our dedicated ensemble members have been working on a strictly volunteer basis. Their passion and dedication has been, in my opinion, unmatched. To work 40 hours a week to pay the bills and then put in another 40 hours a week at your theatre? Without pay? That is truly incredible.
But, as we've all grown older, our priorities have had to shift. Many of us are unable to volunteer that much time to our company, much as we might want to, because we have important relationships to nurture; we have bigger bills to pay; and we have personal goals to reach. This shift in priorities has made it nearly impossible to keep up with the administration of running our beloved theatre company.

Usually producing three shows a year exclusively by contemporary playwrights, Infamous Commonwealth devoted each season to a theme, often stunning critics and audiences with the size and scope of many of its ventures, such as Robert Schenkkan's The Kentucky Cycle. The troupe's 27 productions over the years won five non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards and nine After Dark Awards, among other honors. The company just completed its ninth year with Lanford Wilson's The Fifth of July, presented June 11-July 10 at the Raven Theatre, in a season devoted to the theme of sacrifice.

Yes. A shift in priorities--to, say, making a living or getting an occasional night's sleep or having children. "Nonprofit" really wasn't supposed to mean "all-volunteer" but it's increasingly clear that nonprofit theater has become an art form that eats its young. Infamous Commonwealth will be missed. Will it have died in vain, or will the rest of the Chicago theater community (and especially the funders) take heed and figure out how to move forward so people can make art without starving?