WBEZ | storefront theater http://www.wbez.org/tags/storefront-theater Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en New theaters in Edgewater, Evanston, Uptown (and Navy Pier?) http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-02/new-theaters-edgewater-evanston-uptown-and-navy-pier-96054 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-02/BET_Rendering[1].jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We call it a bricks-and-mortar story when a theater company buys its own building and takes on a mortgage to have its own, permanent home. Sometimes it’s not a purchase but a long-term lease, one which requires the company to shoulder the costs of renovating or retrofitting a space into a suitable playhouse.</p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-02-03/dueling-critics-punk-rock-griffin-theatre-96086">Listen to the Dueling Critics discuss this and review <em>Punk Rock</em> at the Griffin Theatre on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em></a></div></div><p>Such stories are the stock-in-trade for an arts business reporter, which is a part of what I do in addition to being a theater reviewer. But bricks-and-mortar stories fluctuate with the times and often can be seen as an economic indicator of sorts. The last few years have been relatively quiet with regard to bricks-and-mortar commitments; no surprise there. Just now, however, there are a handful of new projects percolating quietly, if not exactly boiling over.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/BET_Rendering%5B1%5D.jpg" style="width: 548px; height: 342px; margin: 7px;" title="A rendering of the Black Ensemble Cultural Center"></p><p>Certainly, the biggest bricks-and-mortar story of the last year was the opening of the new Black Ensemble Cultural Center on Clark Street at Sunnyside, a new construction project with a price tag of between $16 million and $19 million. It’s just the sort of thing you <em>don’t</em> do when the economy is bad. In this case, however, the planning goes back to 2005 with the purchase of the property and the backstage fundraising one must do long before making a public announcement. Black Ensemble founder/executive director Jackie Taylor and her board already had lined up a lot of ducks before the economy collapsed, which allowed planning and construction to proceed.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/capital-campaign-banner%5B1%5D.jpg" title="A rendering of Griffin Theatre's plans" height="250" width="525"></p><p>In another case, the Griffin Theatre Company secured the property before it secured the money. Griffin, which has been an itinerant troupe for several years, originally was headquartered in Andersonville and the company founders liked the idea of returning to the old ‘hood.&nbsp; A few years ago, Griffin set its sights on a vacant police station on Foster Avenue just east of Damen. All they needed to do was convince the City of Chicago to sell the space to them for a nominal $1 (as the city is wont to do from time to time). Griffin figured they’d need about $1 million to retrofit the station (of course, the jail cells would be perfect just the way they are as actors’ dressing rooms) but couldn’t really begin raising money until the City made up its mind about the property. Alas, the City dithered for about three years before, finally, awarding the property to Griffin in 2011. Griffin, which is not a large troupe, now has begun the arduous task of fundraising, and the price tag has gone up a bit (of course). The company now is on a two-year timetable and hopes to have the old precinct house in operation in 2014.</p><p><strong>Rent and Improve</strong></p><p>The rent-and-improve model takes far less cash, and any loans taken out tend to be far shorter term than a mortgage. The downside, however, is that if you disenchant the landlord you can be out at the end of your three-year or five-year or even ten-year lease; and even if the landlord loves you, he/she/they/it may increase your rent at lease renewal time. Also, landlords can (and frequently have) let <em>you</em> make all necessary capital improvements to the space.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/IMG_2208%5B1%5D.JPG" style="width: 236px; height: 157px; float: left; margin: 7px;" title="The Rivendell space during rehab. (Rivendell/Joe Mazza/Bravelux.com)">Still, rent-and-improve can be the way to go if conditions are right, as they were in 2011 for Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, which now has its first-ever permanent home after 15 years of gypsy life. The new Rivendell space at 5779 Ridge Avenue in Edgewater opens March 8 with <em>Falling: A Wake</em> after about six months of gut rehab and build-out of the interior space, reportedly achieved for a mid-six figure sum. One hopes the troupe, guided by co-founder Tara Mallen, has a good, iron-clad ten-year lease!</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/newspace%5B1%5D.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 200px; margin: 7px; float: right;" title="The National Pastime Theater space during rehab. (NPT/Warren Winter/PSG)">Not too far south, on Lawrence Avenue, National Pastime Theater soon will unveil its new home on the fourth floor of the Preston Bradley Center (The People’s Church) in Uptown. With over 6,000 square feet, the spacious quarters prominently feature a classically columned Masonic Hall, easily being converted into a 300-seat theater. James Cappleman, alderman of the 46<sup>th</sup> Ward, helped broker the arrangement so, presumably, it’s a solid one with a multi-year lease. National Pastime previously had occupied the Old Speakeasy in a large commercial and apartment building on Broadway at Buena; a building which also houses Profiles Theatre. But National Pastime ran afoul of the landlord and had to choose between a large rent increase or finding new quarters. Not so the companion Profiles, which quickly snapped up the Old Speakeasy as its second leased space in the building. Apparently perfectly happy paying rent, Profiles also operates the Second Stage, a storefront theater on Sheffield at Roscoe.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/4_NEWBLDG_westview%5B1%5D.png" style="width: 300px; height: 179px; margin: 7px; float: left;" title="A rendering of Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University">At least two very large new performing arts venues now are on the horizon as well. Last week, Northwestern University announced plans for a $117 million, five-story building for the Bienen School of Music, which will adjoin the existing theater and music venues facing the lakefront. The hall will include classrooms, rehearsal rooms, offices and studios as well as a black box theater and a 400-seat recital hall. Groundbreaking is to be in May with a three-year construction schedule.</p><p>Navy Pier also has plans to dig more deeply into the theater biz with its current principal partner, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Earlier this week, the media revealed that three finalists are competing for a redesign of the outdoors public portions of the Pier; a series of projects slated to cost $155 million and be completed in time for the Navy Pier centenary in 2016. But the Pier’s centenary plan includes much more than an exterior make-over: it also features a plan to replace the Skyline Stage with a large, indoor flexible theater that can seat 500-1000 depending on configuration and will have proscenium arch capabilities. At present, there is no start date or price tag for this project, which certainly will be in eight-figures. Folks at Chicago Shakes began talking about it a good five years ago before running into the roadblock of a sour economy. Don’t rule out the possibility, however, that this addition to the Pier might, somehow, see the light of day in 2016.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/20120126mylove.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 375px; margin: 7px;" title="Skyline Stage (Flickr/Christopher.F)"></p><p>Skyline stage has a wonderful, iconic shape (the permanent parabolic tent) but is limited to seasonal use as a concert venue and—for the last several years—home to the summer-long Cirque Shanghai. Moving from the 1500-seat Skyline Stage into a 1,000-seat indoor house doesn’t seem to make good business sense, even supposing Chicago Shakes would want an all-summer tenant. So what, one wonders, will the Pier do with Cirque Shanghai? It’s a bridge that may need to be crossed a few years down the road, but not just yet.</p></p> Thu, 02 Feb 2012 17:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-02/new-theaters-edgewater-evanston-uptown-and-navy-pier-96054 A touch of theatrical déjà vu http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-17/touch-theatrical-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-95578 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-17/clutter.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/the_ghost_is_here.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 225px; height: 340px;" title="'The Ghost is Here' from Vitalist Theatre">Someone much wise and more perceptive than me (I know it’s difficult to imagine such a thing) observed that in all of literature, including drama, there only are nine or a dozen basic storylines. I forget the precise number, but it’s remarkably low. I was reminded of this in compiling my master list of theater productions opening in the next several months, during which task <em>déjà vu</em> jumped up and socked me in the jaw a couple of times.</p><p>For example, this past weekend saw the Vitalist Theatre offer <a href="http://www.vitalisttheatre.org/company.html"><strong><em>The Ghost is Here</em></strong></a>, a 1957 play by acclaimed Japanese author Kobo Abe, running through Feb. 19 at the DCA Storefront Theater. Set in post-World War II Japan, it’s the tale of a preposterous con-artist promoting a grim scam of selling the dead or, rather, buying photos of the war dead cheap and selling them back dear to grieving relatives, claiming that an agent for the ghosts of the dead demands a cut.</p><p>Instantly, I thought of Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 novel, <em>Dead Souls</em>, in which a schemer buys up the souls of deceased serfs (this was before the 1861 Emancipation of Russian serfs) whose names remain listed as taxable property of landowners. I don’t know if Abe ever had access to Gogol’s writings, either in Russian or Japanese, but both authors are famously noted for the absurdist, almost surreal worlds they create. <em>Dead Soul</em> was adapted for the stage at least twice, famously by Mikhail Bulgakov in 1932 for the Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Stanislavsky, and in 1980 by Russian-fluent American playwright Tom Cole for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/clutter.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 199px;" title="'Clutter' at Greenhouse Theatre (Photo by Peter Coombs)">Then, this Thursday (Jan. 19), MadKap (sic) Productions offer a world premiere by Mark Salztman, <a href="http://www.madkapproductions.com/-clutter.html"><strong><em>Clutter</em></strong></a>, running at the Greenhouse through March 11. It’s based on the lives of the Collyer Brothers, New York City eccentrics and hoarders found dead in their garbage-packed Upper Fifth Avenue townhouse in 1947. Their fascinatingly grotesque story has been turned into plays at least twice previously, Richard Greenberg’s 2002 <em>The Dazzle</em> (seen locally at Steppenwolf) and last July’s <em>Stuff</em>, by Michael McKeever, produced at the Caldwell Theatre in Florida. The brothers also were the subject of a 2009 E. L. Doctorow work of historical fiction (as is his wont), <em>Homer and Langley</em>.</p><p>Obviously, plays based on historical fact aren’t necessarily works which can be sorted into a particular plot slot, although each of them must have some sort of plot structure. Greenberg’s <em>The Dazzle</em>, for example, featured the Collyer Brothers as competitors in a romantic triangle much like, oh, say, <em>The Phantom of the Opera</em> in which Christine is lured by The Phantom and Raoul. There are few other similarities except the basic plot structure; see Paragraph One above.</p><p>The attraction of history and real people is, perhaps, the fact that they are in the public domain and, therefore, can be utilized as subjects with minimal legal encumberments. Often, too, such subjects or characters already are widely known, making them somehow more attractive to potential audiences. Thus, for example, we currently have Christopher Durang’s <strong><em>Titanic</em></strong> on stage at the <a href="http://www.athenaeumtheatre.com/">Athenaeum Theatre</a>, presented by Cock and Bull Theatre (through Jan. 29). It’s a very long way from the first or only stage and film treatment of the subject, although surely it’s the most outrageous with its drag sensibilities.</p><p>Also, Lookingglass Theatre now is presenting<a href="http://lookingglasstheatre.org/content/box_office/mr_rickey_calls_a_meeting"> <strong><em>Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting,</em></strong></a> through Feb. 9, which recounts Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey’s decision to integrate major league baseball with the 1947 call-up of Jackie Robinson. This seminal moment in American sporting history has been documented onstage and in film and even in a 1981 Broadway musical, <em>The First</em>, produced locally some years ago by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.</p><p>I could go on, but you get the idea. Literature IS <em>déjà vu</em>, at least to a degree. I guess that some story ideas, some plotlines and some character types never stale in their infinite variety. Or, to use even more French, <em>plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose</em>.</p><p>P.S. If you think you’re reading my blog post from last week, you are <em>wrong</em>. This one is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND ORIGINAL!</p></p> Tue, 17 Jan 2012 10:57:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-17/touch-theatrical-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-95578 The worst in Chicago theater 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-27/worst-chicago-theater-2011-95157 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-27/trickster.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last week, just in time for Christmas, my colleagues <a href="http://www.wbez.org/onstagebackstage">Kelly Kleiman and Laura Molzahn and I posted our “best-of” theater and dance lists of the year</a>. It seems apt, therefore, that one of us should conclude the year with a review of some of the season’s disappointments.</p><p>Since I’m the curmudgeon of the group, and I’m the one who hasn’t left town for The Holidays, the duty falls to me. Thing to keep in mind is that there usually is a reason a show is not successful; something identifiable, something upon which you can put your finger. It’s not as simple as a show being badly produced or poorly acted; in fact, that often is not the case at all.</p><p>With that as prologue, here’s some of the recent past in Chicago theater.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-27/trickster.jpg" title="Trickster - Halcyon Theatre Company, 2011 (photo by Tom McGrath)" width="401" height="600"></p><p>Right out of the 2011 gate last January, <a href="http://halcyontheatre.org/trickster">Halcyon Theatre offered the world premiere of <strong><em>Trickster</em></strong></a>, written and staged by company artistic director Tony Adams. Sprawling and far-too-long, <em>Trickster</em> attempted to create a universal myth inspired, in part, by Native American (or pseudo-Native American) animism. However, the cloudy tale quickly lost focus as it transitioned into a dark, violent and misogynistic human story. Especially with a new work, the jobs of playwright and director need to be separate and full-time. Even Noel Coward wasn’t as good as he though at being both at the same time. One hopes that Tony Adams learned a lesson.</p><p>Following in February was <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/stage/3703284-421/tv-star-starkid-create-starship.html">something called<strong><em> Starship</em></strong></a>, a musical produced by an internet phenom from Michigan (now based in Chicago) called Team StarKid. The idea was to perform a live show in front of an audience, digitally recording it to be doled out in 10-minute segments to online subscribers. The tale was of a planet populated by sentient insects, one of whom wants to be human. <em>Starship</em> was a big production, but it offered a childish story, tepid pop music, a flaccid pace and grade school pageant scenery. I’m certain it looks much better in its edited online version, but its straight-from-university creators have a great deal to learn about writing for theater vs. marketing, which they already seem to know.</p><p>In March, Harold Pinter died again in <a href="http://www.maryarrchie.com/">Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company’s</a> production of <strong><em>The Homecoming</em></strong>, in which company founder Richard Cotovsky—a rightly-esteemed member of Chicago’s theater community—simply was out of his element in the crucial role of Max, neither old enough (Max is 70+) nor master of the East End London accent nor menacing enough as directed by Geoff Button. Much of the work was good, but all the pieces didn’t fall into place. Cotovsky seemed as uncomfortable performing the role as I felt watching him.</p><p>Also in March, a ton of money, talent and promotional savvy were poured into <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-05-10/random-thoughts-chay-yew-white-noise-closes-86307"><strong><em>White Noise</em></strong>, a Broadway-bound rock musical, which stopped at the Royal George Theatre</a> and didn’t go any further. Classic case of book problems: not nearly enough time spent developing truthful characters, or making any of several subplots plausible in this semi-satirical tale (which not everyone understood) of an unscrupulous music producer who promotes both a white supremacy rock act and Black rapping brothers. There were several terrific songs and a gifted cast, but a show needs more than production values to sustain it.</p><p>Finally, late in the summer, <a href="http://mortartheatrecompany.org/2010/03/chicago-storefront-theatre-summit-iii/">Mortar Theatre at the Storefront Theatre</a> stumbled with the world premiere of <strong><em>Corazon de Manzana</em></strong> (meaning apple core or, literally, “apple heart”) by Dana Lynn Formby. It was beautifully produced with elements of music and dance and imaginative design, but Formby’s use of surreal or fairytale elements to tell a real political story was confusing and a mistake. Her sincerity was obvious, but not what she actually was trying to convey, which has to do with the mass killings of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This potent story needed to be artistically real rather than artsy.</p><p>The typical Chicago theater season offers over 800 productions every year, of which I personally see perhaps 200, meaning my five disappointments make up less than 3% of what I saw and less than 1% of Chicago’s total production volume. May it be so little again in 2012, a year in which Chicago theater will continue to flourish in spite of me.</p></p> Tue, 27 Dec 2011 14:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-27/worst-chicago-theater-2011-95157 Chicago theaters head into train wreck weekend or, the woes of a theater critic http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-13/chicago-theaters-head-train-wreck-weekend-or-woes-theater-critic-91 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-13/show openings.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Peoples' eyes widen and light up when they hear what I do for a living. "You're a theater critic!? Wow! You get to see all the <u><em>shows</em></u>!" is the typical reaction.</p><p>I think they have a vision that defies reality of tuxedoed opening nights, champagne parties and hanging out with Patti LuPone and Malkovich and Sondheim.</p><p>The reality is . . . well, the reality is the month of September when the traditional theater year begins its nine-month season spread between two calendar years. Just like the school year, the theater season is a relic of an earlier time and different circumstances. In the case of theater, it was the absence of air conditioning and the fact that social elites had summer homes away from the hot city centers.</p><p>Relic or not, the season still begins in September, with the exception of a handful of eager beavers who get rolling in August. The math works out this way: 30 days hath September but there are 50 theater openings. I kid you not: I have precisely 50 shows listed on the master calendar I make for each month of the year. Actually, there are considerably more than 50 shows opening but I don't include kids’ shows, late-night shows, sketch comedy shows or shows running less than three weeks.</p><p>Now remember, there's only one of me. And god-like being that I am, even I have not mastered the art of being in two theaters at the same time. If I had the stomach for it, I could see a show every night of the month. However, I <em>don't</em> have the stomach for that sort of masochism, and actually there isn't a show every night of the month, odd as it seems. The biggest companies have one or two dark nights each week, while Chicago Off-Loop and storefront theater companies typically perform only Thursday-Sunday or Friday-Sunday.</p><p>This results in a clustering of performances and, especially in September, a clustering of opening nights. Aw, hell, it ain't no "clustering," it's a pile-up, a train wreck, an utter disaster and totally impossible situation not only for poor me (the not-so-humble theater critic) but also for the theater companies themselves.</p><p>Between tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 14) and next Monday (Sept. 19) there are 19 shows opening on my calendar. There are three on Wednesday, six on Thursday, only one on Friday, five on Saturday, one on Sunday, three on Monday.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-13/show openings.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 565px; " title="Some of the many show openings this week, from the League of Chicago Theatres"></p><p>Obviously, I can't see them all. But I could see as many as nine in six days if I added late-night shows and matinees, and gave up any opportunity to do the laundry, pick up the dry cleaning, prepare my taxes, see the dentist, have a family night, see a movie, cook dinner at home (let alone enjoy a restaurant meal), get together with friends, veg-out in front of the TV or have sex (except, of course, for all the young actors/actresses theater critics sleep with). I could do that every week of September and most of October and <em>still</em> miss more than half of everything.</p><p>The other side of the coin is that all those shows I <em>didn't</em> see miss out on any reviews or publicity I might have given them via Chicago Public Media or other outlets for which I write. Most of them are shows presented by small and smaller Off-Loop theaters which desperately need all the attention they can get.</p><p>Alas, it's very, very apparent that most theaters make no effort to communicate with each other, precisely to AVOID the kind of let's-shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot train wreck that exists year after year. The League of Chicago Theatres used to keep an opening night calendar so that theaters could see what they might be up against. Perhaps the calendar still is kept--in theory, even non-League members could reference it--but if it still exists either it's not kept well or simply not consulted enough.</p><p>What the theaters need to do, and almost never do, is think outside the box when they schedule an opening or even when they select their playing dates. Those who own and manage the rental spaces where many theater troupes perform certainly do little to assist in creating a reasonable and orderly flow of opening performances. Mostly, the concern of management is booking the space. The managers of rental spaces, especially those offering two or more playhouses for rent, need to create and keep their own calendar and offer potential renters some flexibility and assistance.</p><p>As for me, Mr. or Ms. Wide-Eyed says "Wow! You get to see all the <u><em>shows</em></u>!" And I reply, sadly, "Yessssss. I get to see<u><em> ALL</em></u> the shows."</p><p>As for LuPone, Sondheim and Malkovich, yeah, I’ve hung out with them. I had brunch with LuPone when she ended up arguing about union politics. I was at a party with Sondheim at which another celebrity became offensively drunk and even Sondheim wouldn’t shut him up. And I had a beer with Johnny Malkovich back when he was a twentysomething, unknown Chicago actor. I paid.</p><p>Hi-ho, the glamorous life.</p></p> Tue, 13 Sep 2011 14:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-13/chicago-theaters-head-train-wreck-weekend-or-woes-theater-critic-91