New artistic model for Theater on the Lake

December 20, 2011

An almost-end-of-the-year press release from the Chicago Park District—the kind that often is lost or buried—has announced a most interesting change in the artistic structure of Theater on the Lake, the annual Lincoln Park summer theater program which will be 60 years old in 2012.

For quite a few years now, what officially is called the Chicago Summer Theater Festival has presented one-week revivals of eight Off-Loop theater productions from the regular season, running late-summer through mid-spring. Those shows have been selected by the Festival artistic director, who has been Hallie Gordon for the last six years (Gordon also is director of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults program).

This year, however, the Park District is adopting a new model for the Festival, replacing the artistic director with two “co-artistic curators” brought on for one season only, and who will be chosen annually through an application process with the Chicago Park District. The pair will select the season, presumably assist in producing the remounts and also will be involved in support and outreach programs, such as proposed post-show talks with the audience.

The first two co-artistic curators are actor/director Michael Patrick Thornton and director/dramaturge Meghan Beals McCarthy. Thornton is co-founder/artistic director of the storefront Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park, and also an actor well-known for his recurring role on ABC’s Private Practice TV series. McCarthy is the associate artistic director of Chicago Dramatists, with previous literary management experience at the Northlight and Steppenwolf theater companies locally (and with several New York companies before that).

The 2012 60th anniversary season will be announced in the spring. As always, performances are in the little pavilion at the eastern foot of Fullerton Avenue at the lakefront. Now called Theater on the Lake, the historic structure was built in 1910 as a recuperation ward for tubercular babies (there’s nothing like some dry lake air, eh?) and later was used as a USO facility and for barn dances. It’s been used as a summer theater since 1952. The acoustics are terrible and the lighting isn’t very good, but the lake breeze on a hot night can be a delight and ticket prices always are modest. A proposal floated several years ago to remodel the pavilion into a truly serviceable theater was shelved without ever becoming an actual plan when the economy tanked.