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The Chicago Theater (anti-) Conference: a Retreat for the Whole City

August 11, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Collaboration, Community Building, projects

Hey there! I’m back. And boy are my arms tired.

In just a couple weeks, Theater Wit opens its (new, shiny) doors for the first annual Chicago Theater (anti-) Conference, a three-day series of discussions and mixers in the style of the TCG conference. The event aims to take a community crack at some of the common challenges that theater companies, artists, and administrators face. As Jeremy Wechsler, host for the conference, says, it’s sort of a retreat for all of Chicago theater right at the start of the season, when we need it the most.

Like so many of you, we miss the days of the League retreats. While our community has grown so much that a drunken weekend together in the mountains may not be so feasible, we do want to provide a home so that theaters of every size can come together to share knowledge, make connections and renew ourselves for the upcoming production season. A ton of Chicago Theaters got to participate in the TCG conference; it was fantastic to feel like we were a part of a national theater movement, but a lot of us there felt that Chicago’s theaters still had a ton to learn from each other.

The conference is $32 (tickets are available here) which ALMOST pays for all the catering, snacks, and refreshments that you get while attending the conference, and doesn’t at all pay for three days of Theater Wit rent. (Jeremy ain’t makin’ any money on this deal, I promise you.) The admission is almost certainly worth the knowledge that can be gleaned from the speakers, who appear to have all somehow landed on an accidental theme of “We’re giving you our blueprints.”

All conferences are tricky to navigate, so here’s some can’t-miss discussions and events to whet your appetite. There’s much more still on the schedule that I haven’t mentioned and more to be announced, so be sure to dig deeper than this overview.

Friday, August 20

8:00 pm – Conference Kick Off Party

Saturday, August 21

11 am – Second City Complex – Chris Piatt & the Paper Machete (Theatre 1)

If you missed Chris Piatt’s earth-shaking performance of “The Second City Complex” at World Theatre Day this year – the story of Chicago theater and Chicago theater criticism’s unshakeable sense of hubristic insecurity – now’s your chance to get the cliff notes. Chris’ take on the recent evolution of the critic-artist relationship in Chicago is about as mind-blowing as reading Richard Christiansen’s “A Theater of Our Own” and then having a chapter come to life and scream, “What are YOU gonna do about it, bitch?”

1 pm – Living your Mission – Martha Lavey (Theatre 1)

I love living my mission. I love even more hearing how other people do it.

1 pm – Theatre Advocacy 101 (Theatre 2)

Scarlett Swerdlow and Ra Joy of Arts Alliance Illinois talk about their ongoing arts advocacy efforts, and how to effectively engage government and decision makers and make the case for the value of your arts programs. This is the discussion I probably need to hear the most out of the whole conference. In a state where all social service money is drying up, we need to understand and believe in why we are valuable to this society.

2 pm – How about some Meat in the Well-Funded Stomach (Theatre 2)

Looking for a rumble? Look no further than Don Hall. If you’ve never seen Don live and in person and only know him from his acerbic online persona, I wouldn’t miss this chance to have a real heart to heart. He’ll be discussing one of his favorite radical visions of how it’s time to completely restructure how the arts are administrated. His chaotic glee, passion for creating excellent work, and provocative ability to question our community’s priorities are pure entertainment. There will be blood.

3pm – The Working Comedy Artist (Theatre 2)

Byron Hatfield has helped build The Pub Theater, one of many DIY operations that have found business models to support an ensemble of actual, factual full-time creative staff (The pub boasts a staff of 6 full time actors and 30+ part-time actors). If you’re looking to be pro in Chicago, find out here what level of community building it takes.

5:30 – Meetups for Artistic Directors, Managing Directors and Freelance Performers

So many awesome people, but which one should I go to? I’m just a designer, ho hum. No seriously, I’m crashing.

Sunday, August 22

10am – Embracing New Work (Theater 2)

PJ Paparelli, Artistic director of ATC, discusses his methods of bringing new work to production, from submission to commission to audience. It’s a subject that breeds a surprising amount of alliance (We Love New Work!) at the same time that it generates controversy (The New Work isn’t the right kind of New Work!), so it’s sure to be interesting.

11 am – Empowering Ensembles (Theater 3)

The question of the fate of ensemble-based theatres is one that has been very interesting to watch – and participate in – in the last few years in Chicago. Gwendolyn Whiteside of American Blues and Luther Goins of Actors Equity lead this discussion about what operational issues face ensemble-based theatres in the years to come. Not to stir up any undue controversy, but it’ll be very interesting to walk from the New Work discussion into this discussion – where you can see how the way we prioritize different aspects of the theatrical process (the development of careers and livelihoods for playwrights, actors, administrators, and designers) can – through the fault of no one – introduce stress, conflict, and compromise in our actual professional lives.

11 am – Cermak Creative Industries District (Theater 2)

Consider this discussion an opportunity to explore the ongoing “Burnham Plan” for Chicago Theatre. The Department of Cultural Affairs recently received one of several large new grants ($250,000) from the NEA to push forward with planning for the creation of a district entirely devoted to workspaces for the arts in all disciplines at Cermak Road and the Chicago River just west of Chinatown. Julie Burros, Director of Cultural Planning, City of Chicago (and League of Chicago Theatres board member) lays out the plan for future arts usage of this complex of four historic warehouse buildings.

The question of venues – Build Your Own, or Find and Adapt

The question of the long-term health of theater facilities in Chicago is one that is near and dear to my heart. At 1 pm, two critical perspectives are explored – building new venues and theater complexes, and how to use non-traditional spaces (which can be less expensive) effectively.

1 pm – So You Want a Space? (Theater 2)

Conference host and Theater Wit Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler has just been through the wringer. Specifically, the “thrilling bureaucracy” of inspectors, funders, vendors, and the government hurdles that all need to be jumped through to open your own refurbished storefront theatre. Participants will have access to Theater Wit’s entire project board, which includes budget figures, blueprints, problems met, and the operating costs now that the space is open.

1 pm – I Live Here Too – Place and Space in Chicago (Theater 1)

Sarah Mikayla Brown – in the midst of organizing venues in Pilsen for the Chicago Fringe Festival – and Madrid St. Angelo of UrbanTheater Company lead a discussion about how and why theaters come to choose artistic homes in non-black box spaces and in neighborhoods off the beaten path.

2 pm – Help Me Help You: DIY Press Relations (Theater 1)

Kris Vire, theatre editor for TimeOut Chicago, tells you how best to work with the press and prepare your materials in an age where journalists have rapidly shrinking salaries and rapidly approaching deadlines. All that even if you don’t have a dedicated publicist. The best advice always comes right from the source.

3pm – 2amt Theatre (Theater 1)

Just a personal little plug. I’ll be here, talking with my #2amt collaborator, David Loehr: WHO I WILL MEET IN PERSON FOR THE FIRST TIME LESS THAN 24 HOURS BEFORE THE DISCUSSION. How is this possible? In the internet age, anything is possible. We know: we’re bringing the blueprints for structuring all-inclusive community discussions like the national #2amt discussion and the local Storefront Summit, and how we can all reap their benefits.

5:30 – The Fool on the Hill: My top ten opinions on the American Theatre.

If your only experience with Roche Schulfer, Executive Director of the Goodman, has been pie charts comparing his salary with your company’s operating budget, take my advice: Listen to the man with wide open ears. He’s steered that particular ship through several economic crises, restored the theatre from near bankruptcy, helped found the League of Chicago Theatres, is an ongoing mentor and supporter of dozens of theatre companies beyond the Goodman — and all this after starting in the scene in the subscription sales call center. The real reason, though? Roche knows how to tell great stories about those moments of Chicago Theater History that you wish you were there for.

6:30 – Closing Party at Cooper’s

What better way to start our seasons, than together?

UPDATE: For those who want to follow the conference from home or their secret underground lair, many of us will be tweeting updates from the conference using the hashtag #ctac. Everyone here knows how to read and write hashtags by now, right?

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July 15, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building, In a Perfect World

I’m in the middle of my eighth summer teaching at this place, so I’m teching – no joke – 10 shows right now, but I wanted to take a moment to draw some attention to some folks.

So this whole Chase grant thing is complete. And Chicago theatres made their mark, and in several of the 15 cases landed in the top 200 of companies (thus receiving a $20,000) in creative ways that didn’t buy into Chase’s marketing mechanism. That’s $300,000 that Chase just dumped on typically small-to-mid-sized Chicago theatres. I find that fact to be awesome. However, I’ve also been a fairly vocal opponent of the community messaging behaviors that the grant tends to encourage, so the folks that I did end up voting for demonstrated some capacity for making the ask for votes their own.

The Neo-futurists first prompted me to support them by leveraging their campaign during the run of a show that directly and ingeniously interrogated the links and points of contact between arts, corporate structures and marketing (check out their “word from our sponsor” videos). In addition, they focused their requests for votes to facebook-ready laptops available in their lobby, rather than impersonal, overwhelming and disconnecting e-mail blasts.

Another group, Will Act For Food, outlined the specific uses they intend for the funds which included benefits beyond production value and replacing other grants such as Illinois Arts Council funding that have dried up or been delayed. Essentially, they added some transparency to the ask, which in turn makes them somewhat accountable as beneficiaries of the grant to achieve some measurable results out of their windfall. I hope that all companies who get funds from a community-voted grant demonstrate the same level of accountability to that community who votes for them, just as you would file a grant report to a granting association. That structure, I think, helps young non-profits with loose infrastructures gather some long-term support in times like these.

But all that’s just my opinion. It was a hard decision, and not one done without some hand-wringing, but my company New Leaf decided not to participate in the campaign because the methods we’d have to employ to win such a grant at this stage didn’t fit our vision of how we want to cultivate relationships with the community.

But let me tell you what does fit our vision: 84 People voted for us anyway despite the fact that we didn’t ask for their votes. And I’d like to thank them personally now. I don’t have access to the entire list (I’m curious to know if winners / administrators DO have access) but I’ll make do with what I can.

Thank you, Rebecca Zellar, for casting the first vote for New Leaf.

Thanks to Sally LaRowe, Jonathan Baude and the Theatre Seven folks who were one of the 15 theatres who won the grant, Ziza Bonszabrié, Emjoy Gavino, and Andrew Wilder who runs this great blog about making cheese.

Thank you @loehrbrarian.

Thank you Jenn Gibson, Amanda Bobbitt, Mary-Arrchie Theatre, and our board member Anne Sheridan Smith who is a part of Foiled Again.

Thanks to Joshua Aaron Weinstein of Livewire, Michael Pacas of Backstage, and Nicolle Iverson Van Dyke of GreyZelda.

Thank you to Pat Fries. Thank you to Nate Burger (a.k.a Monday). Thank you to Camden Peterson, one of my NHSI students who’s now all matriculated and ME’d for us on a show. Thank you to my intern Sarah Ramos who just moved to Chicago and is now a kick ass sound designer who you’re about to hear about.

Thank you to Lindsay Bartlett, John Taflan, Brenda Kelly and Katie Genualdi.

Thank you to blogger / playwright / tastemaker Rob Kozlowski.

Thank you to Lee Keenan, who is not related to me except through our love of theatrical design.

And thank you to everyone else who spoke up for us while we focused our energy elsewhere.

Your ongoing relationship and in many cases partnership with us is worth more than $20,000. A lot more. And I just wanted to say that.

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Welcome to Chicago, TCG

June 16, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Collaboration, On the Theatrosphere

Attendees of the 2010 Theatre Communications Group conference are beginning to arrive at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago.

It’s the culmination of a lot of behind the scenes work, collaboration, and getting things done over the past six months from some great theatre artists and in particular artists who administrate.

There’s a conference site outlining the metric tons of topics and ideas being explored during the conference.

There’s a twitter hashtag where many conversations that start at the conference continue after hours and virtually across the country.

There’s a multi-media site featuring introductions and other content generated by Chicago Theatres (from the League and programmed by yours truly) which features introductory videos to many theatres in Chicago and video and images of moments captured from the conference.

There are surprises.

There’s a boat.

There’s this dude.

I hope you’ll tune in and join in this weekend.

Knowledge is best when drunk deeply.

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The Chicago Theatre Recipe

May 22, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

A few nights ago Dan Granata and the Chicago Artists Resource threw a little Chicago Theatre history lesson over at the DCA storefront space (“Do it myself: Five Decades of Theatre that Works“) featuring three veterans of the storefront movement: Steve Scott of the Goodman, Jackie Taylor of Black Ensemble Theatre, and Sharon Phillips, Managing Director of the legendary Body Politic.

The whole event was taped and I’m sure a bunch of us who were there will be posting the full video once it’s out there. For theatre nerds and folks who want to someday produce in Chicago, it’s a concentrated dose of both the sense of family and interconnectedness that exists in the Chicago theatre community. At the same time, it’s a timely reminder that the essentially young, DIY spirit of Chicago leads to a lot of history repeating itself.

One thing that Sharon Phillips said really stuck and clarified for me the core components of the ingredients of a thriving theatre company in Chicago, which frankly could be applied anywhere. These ingredients are so simple as to be a bit of a “no duh” but the revelation of them was more of a “awesome, so the rest of the noise can be let go.”

There are three things every theatre company needs to thrive:

1) Heart.
You can call this what you want. Passion, Love, a “Fuck you I’m doing this” attitude. It’s the force that makes a company move to this town with an axe and Meisner training to grind. It’s the force that makes that company drop $6k on their credit card to put up a show in a hole in the wall. It’s the force that then makes that same company five years later confident enough to make the claim “No freaking way am I dropping $6k of my own money on this anymore. People need to PAY for this work.” If you don’t have enough of it, you close. And yes, it makes you look crazy.

Heart is the primary fuel of all theatres in Chicago, in that when a company doesn’t have enough of it any more, shuttering the theatre is not long behind. This life cycle is in some ways a bittersweet gift: if a theatre loses its heart, better to close before the integrity of the theatre is lost than to keep it alive beyond its usefulness with more artificial business practices. Unmanaged heart is often in direct competition with a stable, well-incomed lifestyle.

2) Close cooperation between artistic collectives
If nothing else, this is the factor that has made Chicago a unique theatre town. Having this level of cooperation is the one benchmark that determines if Chicago is the best place in the world to generate new work and new artists. I should add that I don’t think that Chicago owns the core principle of cooperation, and if another city comes along with the same level of city-wide collaborative culture then THAT will be the best place in the world to make theatre.

After learning a lot more of the historical context of the last thirty years from Steve, Jackie and Sharon, it’s clear that there was a surge of this kind of cross-border cooperation during the early seventies that supported the massive success of Steppenwolf and David Mamet. Just from the example of Black Ensemble Theatre and the Goodman of the time, there was all kinds of cooperation happening in those years from casting to emergency venue maintenance to business development to fundraising. Sharon Phillips told a story where Body Politic had run out of money for the last show of their season, and all the other theatres in town put an envelope for $1.50 donations to Body Politic in their programs, effectively saving the theatre through community support.

At some point, the level of cooperation began to peter off in the 90 and 00s, decades which saw the number of theatre companies in Chicago rise from around 120 to 300. Cooperation is harder when there are more relationships to manage. The existing relationships ossified within the older theatres, and it became harder for a new, small company to find a place in the market. After several 5-year lifecycles of small theatres, the community effectively ceased to remember itself and began to trade in legends of the Steppenwolf rehearsal church basement in extravagant, hushed tones rather than the remarkable, yes, but human-sized spaces and events that they actually were. The three panelists and much of the audience noted a change in the air in the last few years, however – a sense that the community is coming together again. Maybe it’s simply that economic crises breed more cooperative theatre, but I hope this means that we can learn to cooperate on the more fundamental level that existed in the 70s. That will require one thing of us: that we know, care, and invest in each other. Which leads to the final ingredient.

3) A deep, lasting connection with a unique audience
This is the final, elusive ingredient that becomes very challenging in a 300-theatre town, and I think it’s the area where most of Chicago’s theatres have to improve or face destruction. There are a handful of theatres that have have incredible success with the connections to their audience, connections which have developed after years of consistent excellence and resulted in passionate, sometimes rabid support from their fans. In particular: Court Theatre has the strongest geographic connection with its audience, the in many ways isolated neighborhood of Hyde Park, and its programming matches the demographics and intellectual tenor of the neighborhood closely. Having sat in on several of their talkbacks in the last year (in full disclosure, I’m about to open a show there tonight) I can say with confidence that Court has one of if not THE most enviably engaged audience a theatre could have. Talkbacks have become a point of empowerment for the audience, and over years many patrons have gotten used to seeing their feedback and perspectives during previews result in changes in the work itself. It makes those talkbacks very well attended.

But not every theatre gets to be the only game in a neighborhood like Hyde Park, and for the glut of theatres that operate on the north side of Chicago, uniqueness comes not with pure geography but with stylistic and thematic uniqueness. Sometimes that uniqueness comes in the form of investing in the aesthetics of individual genius – like the Hypocrites’ Sean Graney, or the Organic’s Stuart Gordon before him. Sometimes a collective of artists can articulate an aesthetic beyond the vision of one individual: Timeline Theatre is another theatre that marries a reputation for quality with a narrow focus on programming inspired by history. That flexible focus on history as touchstone for the core audience is important to keep in mind. While many other theatres excel at storytelling – hundreds of them, in fact – that touchstone trains the audience to keep engaged with the specific theatre company rather than the shows they happen to be doing at that particular moment.

My own theatre, New Leaf, as we close our ninth season operating in Chicago (Curse of the Starving Class closes tonight), is at a crossroads with this final piece of the puzzle.

We have found a way to articulate and be proud of our passion.

We have created a way, somehow, to create consistently excellent work. I can call it what it is because of that heart.

We have forged incredible connections with the rest of the artistic community, and are fed by those connections on a daily basis. New Leaf’s artistic friends are incredible supporters – from the guest artists on our stages, to companies we collaborate with like Backstage, Theatre Seven, The Side Project, the Goodman, WNEP, TUTA, The Plagiarists, Strawdog, Will Act For Food, the League of Chicago Theatres, and the ongoing Storefront Summit.

What we have not done is found that unique touchstone that will allow us to make theatre for a unique group of people, an audience that shares not just our passion for the theatre and storytelling but a passion for this kind of theatre – theatre that celebrates and renews and reinvents the space in which it is made.

Maybe I need to invite a bunch of architects to the show.

The recipe is simple: Figure out the people that you do this for. Do it well for them. Keep doing it well for them.

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May 3rd – Michael Merritt Awards & Designer Showcase

April 24, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

Yup. Still here. Still cooking. Big news on the horizon, no less.

One of the things that’s cooking is coming up quick – on May 3rd 5pm at the Goodman, there’s a big ol’ exposition and awards ceremony of the work done by theatrical designers in Chicago. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: The Michael Merritt Awards.

Several designers will be honored at the ceremony (notably set designer Collette Pollard who will be receiving the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award, and a celebration of the work of lighting and set designer Michael Philippi who passed away suddenly this year)

My personal favorite bit of the event is the huge designer showcase, where dozens of designers in the Chicago area will display their portfolios to the artistic leadership of the city.

Interested? I know am. Check out the press release details below if you’d like to either present your own work or check out some great designers to hire. Oh, and it’s on facebook, too.

The 17th Annual Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration program, posthumously honoring and celebrating the work of lighting and set designer Michael Philippi (Desire Under the Elms, Death of a Salesman), “an esteemed longtime collaborator and friend”, will take place on Monday, May 3, at the Goodman Theatre.

Scenic designer Collette Pollard (The Illusion, Stoop Stories) will receive The Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award. There will also be a presentation of three student scholarship recipients representing The Theatre School of DePaul University (scenic designer Williams G. Wever), Northwestern University (costume designer Jeremy Floyd) and from Columbia College Chicago for The John Murbach Scholarship for Collaborative Design (lighting designer Wade Holliday).

The doors open at 5 p.m., with a viewing of the fourth annual ‘Theater Design Expo’, showcasing the works of over 50 Chicago-area emerging theatrical designers and a portfolio review of graduating design students from some of the finest programs in the country.

Goodman Theatre’s Artistic Director Robert Falls, a founding member of the Michael Merritt Endowment Fund Steering Committee, will lead a panel discussion from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. about the Goodman’s experiences working with Michael Philippi in recent times and during Bob’s past tenure as fledgling artistic director of Chicago’s Wisdom Bridge Theatre Company. Philippi’s design collaborators Michael Bodeen (Composer, Sound Designer), John Boesche (Projection Designer) and Ana Kuzmanic (Costume Designer) will join in the dialogue. Nathan Allen, Artistic Director of The House Theatre of Chicago, Dixie Uffleman, Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Production Supervisor, and House Theatre Designer and this year’s Emerging Designer Award recipient, Collette Pollard, will also bring their perspectives on creating and sustaining a new theatre company in Chicago, then and now.

The awards presentation will begin at 8 p.m. Attendees will enjoy a Chicago style supper buffet by Conn’s Catering complete with beer, wine and soda from start to finish until 10 p.m. Tickets/Exhibitor Fees are $20 per person and $5 for students. For ticket reservations, phone (312) 369-6105 (credit card orders are accepted) AND email to reserve an exhibit space.

The Goodman Theatre is centrally located in Chicago’s Loop at 170 North Dearborn Street, in close proximity to I-55, I-90/94, I-290 and Lake Shore Drive, as well as all major CTA rail lines and many bus routes. Discounted parking is available for $19 at the Government Center Self Park, located directly adjacent to the theatre at the southeast corner of Clark and Lake Streets, and parking coupons will be available at the registration table in the Goodman Theatre lobby.

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Developing Leadership – Thoughts for Chicago Storefront Summit III

March 04, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

It’s been a longer than expected ramp up to the third Chicago Storefront Summit – which will be happening on March 22nd, and I hope you’ll join us again or for the first time. In the process, I had a couple “what the hell are we doing here?” conversations with Rebecca Zellar of the GreyZelda Theatre Group, who has really stepped up to help this ad-hoc group schedule, coordinate and dispatch the various breakout sessions and communications that crop up when you try to get 100 loosely-structured organizations to talk to each other.

We realized in this discussion: the summit is very much about giving the folks who run storefronts the tools, resources and opportunities to practice leadership – both leaders charting the course for their own company as well as leaders of the entire artistic community.

The clearest example of the way the storefront generates opportunity for an artist to develop their own leadership skills is in the way they’ve been organized thus far. Each summit thus far has been organized quickly, agilely, and with an absolute minimum of top-down leadership and maximum of bottom-up leadership. Each breakout meeting has begun with an artist who asks a question like “why aren’t women well represented in theatre leadership?” or “who else is doing theatre like me?” and the loose network comes together to compare notes, draw conclusions. All the coordinators – folks like Andy Hobgood, Matt Hoff, James Palmer, Dan Granata, Rebecca and I have been working on is how best to faciliate those discussions in a way that continuously promotes broad participation. And that is a tall order. But the framework has allowed people like Brian Golden, Margo Gray, Jenn Adams, Matthew Reeder and others to generate and perpetuate more and more conversation that, I think, has been very valuable to them and many others.

The summit is in many ways a less immediately effective but more mission-critical in-person companion to efforts at theatre management brainstorming like the collaborative idea nursery of (or the twitter hashtag #2amt if you’re nasty). The #2amt conversation became a successful methodology almost accidentally for innovative brainstorming because it quickly synthesized a broad range of perspectives on a broad range of topics. It combined the brainpower of theatre producers (@dloehr, myself, @matthewreeder, @travisbedard, @trishamead), theatre funders & patrons (@ericzieg), theatre promoters (@scottyiseri, @davecharest) and theatre critics (@krisvire, @mreida) to solve common problems from all angles at once. It was, and continues to be, an agile way to have a conversation.

It’s harder to xerox that agility in an in-person meeting that needs to balance dozens of personal schedules and time limits: but the fact is that #2amt is not an accessible conversation for most theater makers to participate in, and conversations that come out of community groups like the Summit and the League of Chicago Theatres are still more potentially actionable than the high-level strategizing and future design brainstorms that #2amt is so good at.

So: I think we have to try.

There is a question – a point of resistance, in some ways, that manifests as a reasonable curiosity – that we’ve gotten a lot when being asked about what we’re trying to accomplish through the summit: What is its purpose?

A fair question. This is what I think.

The summit is a forum to discuss and share best practices at this level of producing theatre. It includes non-equity, independent, DIY, and newborn theatres that have a comparatively small amount of institutional memory and/or institutional overhead. Our discussion includes but is not limited to finding the simplest ways of getting storefronts the help and resources they need, and then – ideally – taking cooperative strategic action within the context of other established theater / arts advocacy orgs (such as the League) to more effectively articulate the solutions that will actually help us as a community of independent theatres.

Developing our own ability to lead, indeed.

The Third Chicago Storefront Summit
Monday, March 22
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Greenhouse Theater Center
(h/t to RZ for making it happen)

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World Theatre Day in Chicago – 2010

February 25, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

At long last, details are firming up on this year’s March 27 @ 9:30 World Theatre Day celebration at the Chopin.

First, let’s review some of the awesome from last year.

And now here’s the FACEBOOK INVITE.

World Theatre Day is an international celebration of theater and the impact that theater has on communities and individuals across the globe – and it’s just now catching on in the U.S. Last year, Chicago launched the first community-wide celebration of World Theatre Day in the United States, and this year, we’re doing it up even more.

Join us at the Chopin on Saturday, March 27. In the evening, experience a special World Theater Day performance of The House’s WILSON WANTS IT ALL or BackStage’s ORANGE FLOWER WATER. Then, beginning at 9:30 as the City’s saturday shows come down, join us for some complimentary food, music, conversation, and performances all provided by the League of Chicago Theatres, the Chopin Theatre, and folks in the Chicago theatre community.

Every space in the Chopin becomes a promenade party, with a little bit of something for everyone to celebrate our corner of the world, and reach out to all the others. Downstairs will feature live music and loungey hob-nobbing with the folks who make Chicago theatre tick. In the lobby, social media connections fuel an international conversation with a host of Chicago’s international friends. And on the mainstage, Chris Piatt, former theatre editor for TimeOut Chicago, brings his PAPER MACHETE live magazine to investigate – and roast – Chicago’s historic relationships with other cities in “The Second City Complex.”

World Theatre Day is all about generating cross-cultural dialogue that explores the power of theater to celebrate life and effect social change through collaborative performance. This year, we want to put you and your theater in the driver’s seat of that discussion, by encouraging you to send a public shout out to an international “sister” company of your choice.

STEP ONE – Make Contact. Find an international theater company or artist – maybe you already know them, or maybe we can hook you up with one – and think about what issues, ideas, and dialogue you would want to share them. Tell them about World Theatre Day and what we’re doing in Chicago.

STEP TWO – Talk it out. Record a video or audio greeting to that sister company, and have them send one to you. Share your thoughts about issues, listen to what your new international friends are working on and trying to accomplish. Find common ground.

STEP THREE – Share. Make a record of your conversation – a video greeting, an audio recording of a skype conversation, a collaborative art project, a photo – and post it to the internationally-contributed World Theatre Day tumblr blog, just by emailing a link to what you’ve made to, or ask us for help at

Follow the international events leading up to World Theatre Day at, and see you at the World Theatre Day party on 3/27!

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Busy Chicago Theater Kitchen!

February 09, 2010 By: Nick Keenan Category: Chicago Theater, Community Building

Okay, seriously: there are so many cool projects, parties, and celebrations to encourage Chicago theater to reach out to the world and the nation coming this spring and summer, I can barely contain myself. Here are just two of them that I hope pretty much you and everyone you know in theater can jump on in and participate in.

Chicago and environs: Save the date and spread the word, please:

Saturday, March 27. Chopin Theatre.
9:30 until question marks.

Details coming soon. We need volunteers to help set up the event (sign up here), and stay tuned for yet more ways to participate in this international theatre celebration.

TCG Conference Performances

Second of all, I’m helping (along with the League TCG host committee) put together a series of performances to showcase Chicago theatre at the TCG Conference in June. We just released a call for proposals (see below) for two opportunities – late-night-party performances, and flash performances that pop up unexpectedly throughout the conference.

If your company is unable to attend the conference, this may be one of your only get-in-through-the-stage-door opportunities to get exposure at the conference. You do not need to be a league member theatre to participate, and one of our major goals is to represent the incredible diversity of Chicago theater at the conference through these performances. I hope your theater company can come up with a performance you can share with TCG Conference attendees!

The League of Chicago Theatres is hosting the 2010 TCG Conference in Chicago this June. A diverse selection of theatre companies are sought to represent the breadth and richness of Chicago theatre by creating performances that will be showcased throughout the conference in Flash Performances and at the Late-Night Party. A Flash Performance is a performance that erupts from thin air, engages an audience of 5 to 100, and then quickly disappears. Flash performances will be artfully coordinated to occur in unsuspected places (streets, hallways, el stations) several times a day throughout the conference in order to provide the attendees with a taste of Chicago theatre. A Late-Night Party performance will enhance a party atmosphere, and might include installations, amusements and performances of all kinds. The event itself will be a “carnival” style party featuring light snacks, drinks, music and multi-disciplinary performances- offering conference-goers an opportunity to unwind and let loose after a long day of workshops and networking. The goal is to give the attendees from across the country a sense of the artistry, collaboration and surprise that is Chicago theatre.

The conference will take place June 17-19, 2010. The Late-Night Party will take place on Friday, June 18, 2010. A small panel of theatre artists will select a diverse range of companies to perform. Please submit your proposal and supporting documents for consideration by the panel to Ben Thiem at

Click here for more information and to Download Application.

Deadline for submissions is March 5, 2010

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