The streets will barely be clear of the rubble of Manifest, Columbia College Chicago’s spring arts festival (taking place this Friday the 13th, in defiance of augury) than the South Loop will erupt again with the first-ever international symposium on Chicago theater.
The modestly titled “Chicago—Theatre Capital of America Past, Present and Future” (next Wednesday, May 18, through Sunday the 22nd) brings the Chicago theater community together with its admirers from around the nation and across the world. More than 100 theater professionals, scholars and audience members will talk about how “Chicago theater” came to be the industry/brand name/phenomenon it is today, and what it will take to keep it on top of the American theater heap. You know those fundraisers where it’s all the chocolate you can eat for four straight days? This will be that, but for theater lovers—so prepare yourself for a serious sugar high.
One scheduled session will focus on the work of Chicago playwrights, including Sarah Ruhl, Regina Taylor, Tanya Saracho, and Pulitzer Prize winners David Mamet and Tracy Letts, and on the evolution of Chicago as an incubator for playwrights. Another will celebrate the city’s five winners of the Regional Tony Award, including new kid on the block Lookingglass. One panel will provide perspective on the historical roots of Chicago theater in everything from the 1893 Columbian Exposition to the 1960s civil rights movement, while another will consider the ebb and flow of culturally-specific theater in Chicago, whether Yiddish or Latino or African-American.
For star power, take in the conversation among actors Andre De Shields and Kate Buddeke and Tony-winning director Anna D. Shapiro, where they’ll discuss why “alumni artists” of Chicago theater return to work here while carving out careers on Broadway. Also floating around: Jim Jacobs, the surviving co-author of the original Grease, and Bernard Sahlins, the father of the Second City empire.
Registration is $95 for the four-day event, with a student discounted price of $60. It’s all open to the public: Register here, and see details of dozens of other programs.