WBEZ | Slimtack Theatre http://www.wbez.org/tags/slimtack-theatre Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Top 5 weirdest venues of 2010 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-weirdest-venues-2010 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//Peter and Audience.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="181" width="500" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-20/Peter and Audience.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>I like weird. Especially oddball venues, which catapult even the most jaded viewer into fresh ways of seeing theater. They can&rsquo;t redeem a production, but they&rsquo;re pretty much guaranteed to boost the interest.</p><p>1. Basements: instant horror story. In April, the elusive Slimtack Theatre staged three Harold Pinter one-acts about torture in the basement of the director&rsquo;s Uptown apartment building. We hung out first in the living room of director Mike Rice, then all filed downstairs to sit on folding chairs around a marked-off, lit &ldquo;stage.&rdquo; The rest of the dank, cavelike space was dark. And chilly. &ldquo;Death to Fascism, Freedom for My People&rdquo; was no blockbuster, but the flushing toilets and footsteps overhead made everyday life seem both tantalizingly close and impossibly distant.</p><p>2. Public parks famously offer few rigging opportunities. Yet last summer <a href="http://www.theatre-hikes.org/">Theatre-Hikes</a>, which specializes in ambulatory outdoor shows, chose to mount J.M. Barrie&rsquo;s &ldquo;Peter Pan&rdquo; in Peterson Park. I saw it on a beautiful day, so maybe it was the weather and the cheerful crowd&mdash;but when the actors told us that a little corner of the forest was the Darling family home, I believed them. When they said a grassy field was the sea, I believed that too. And when they said Peter Pan was flying, even though I saw that Mr. Darling was grabbing him around the thighs and hoisting, I totally believed. Imagination: what a great invention.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="367" width="500" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-20/Peter%20Pan%2C%20John%2C%20Michael%2C%20Lost%20Boys_0.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>3. Companies can save time and money on sets and props simply by staging shows in, well, their settings. When <a href="http://walkabouttheater.squarespace.com/">Walkabout Theater</a> produced Joe Zarrow&rsquo;s satire on gentrification, &ldquo;The Pigeons,&rdquo; at West Town&rsquo;s Swim Café last spring, not only were the espresso machines, cash register, and counter all there&mdash;you could order a coffee and cookies! Walkabout just plopped down some actors to play the place&rsquo;s regulars: artists, real estate agents, neighborhood loonies. Swim&rsquo;s long, narrow storefront presented some viewing challenges; I got a stiff neck from craning and whiplash. But the authenticity of this very funny farce was unimpeachable. (Side note: Walkabout, which specializes in site-specific work, once produced a play called &ldquo;Psycho-So-Matic&rdquo; in a laundromat.)</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="334" width="500" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-20/pigeons22.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>4. Being seated on the stage itself goes a long way toward tearing down the fourth wall. In October, audiences for &ldquo;<a href="http://www.catalystdance.com/productions#thankyoubar">The Thank-You Bar,</a>&rdquo; by Minneapolis-based Emily Johnson, perched on folding chairs on the stage of the Dance Center of Columbia College. Johnson was aiming to reproduce the warm sense of community she&rsquo;d felt at her grandmother&rsquo;s bar of the same name in Alaska&mdash;and she got it. Everyone in our tight-knit little group of 40 was called out by name, received a gift (a glowing paper brick), and made a mass exodus to the other side of the stage when instructed to do so. But we had to give the bricks back.</p><p>5. In May, <a href="http://www.madshak.com/">Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak </a>staged &ldquo;Stamina of Curiosity: Our Strange Elevations&rdquo; in a landmark West Loop church. Epiphany Episcopal is a towering 1885 stone structure in the Romanesque style, still operating as a church but also renting out. Though not the first artist to produce a show there, Shanahan was the first to set a 6 p.m. &ldquo;curtain&rdquo;&mdash;just as the sun was setting, making the west-facing stained glass glow. No set designer, no lighting designer, could ever have matched the glory of that light, the grandeur of the 60-foot nave, or the sadness of its decayed interior. Tempus fugit. Including 2010.</p><p><em>(photos courtesy of Theatre-Hikes/Frank Farrell and Walkabout Theater/Steven Mazurek)</em></p></p> Wed, 22 Dec 2010 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-weirdest-venues-2010