Hard times? You wouldn't know it if you judge by several Chicago Off-Loop theaters, where the box office bells are ringing at a record-breaking pace. Indeed, if you want to get tickets for the current shows at American Theater Company, Court Theatre and Steep Theatre you'd better move very, very fast and have several alternate dates and/or be prepared to accept scattered single seats. All three troupes have enormous hits on their hands and have extended the original runs and/or added additional performance days. Keep in mind that most Off-Loop houses are intimate spaces, which means they simply don't have all that many seats to sell!
Seating about 120, American Theater Company (ATC) knew it would do good business with The Original Grease. Even before the show began the company added Wednesday performances to the more typical Thursday-Sunday Off-Loop theater schedule, and also raised ticket prices to an a new high for ATC. Originally set for an April 21-June 5 run, it quickly was extended until June 26 with six performances a week. Even so, Grease is sold-out for all performances through June 5, PLUS June 11, 12, 18, 19 and 23-26. American Theater Company doesn't make it easy: their website does NOT tell you how much tickets cost even for performances for which tickets still are available (it's a $50 top); you are directed instead to call the box office. However, a Tuesday morning (10:15AM) call found no live human being in the box office or the administrative offices, and three different voice mail boxes unable to accept additional messages.
Court Theatre knew it had a hit, too, with its intimate, scaled-down production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. Many performances were sold-out even before it opened. Playing seven times a week, Wednesday-Sunday, and now extended through July 3, Porgy and Bess is sold-out for all performances through May 29 and also for the June 4 matinee. Regular tickets are $45-$65 in Court's 250-seat theater.
Steep Theatre, the smallest of the three with a seating capacity of about 75, has had more than one unexpected success with its unusual play selections, almost none of which have been seen in Chicago before. The current hit, Festen, is a stage adaptation of the Scandinavian film which launched the so-called "Dogme" movement in cinema. The Steep performance schedule is only Thursday-Saturday, but Sunday performances are being added in June to accommodate ticket demand. Now extended through July 10, Festen is sold-out for all performances through June 10. Tickets are $22-$25.