Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Play Time: How to Binge on Chicago Theatre Week

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DebClapp-colorprint-headshotBy Robert Eric Shoemaker

A relatively new phenomenon, Chicago Theatre Week is the opportunity for both the diehard fan and the average Joe to explore and enjoy the variety of theater that Chicago has on offer on the cheap with 100 productions all offering reduced ticket prices for the duration of the event. In its brief tenure, Chicago Theatre Week has joined the ranks of Restaurant Week on the list of “amazing activities with which to lust away an entire week in Chicago,” and rightly so—but what is it about Chicago theater that makes it special? And what better time than Chicago Theatre Week to find out?

We asked Deb Clapp, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres, which organizes Theatre Week, to share her insights with us.

What got you interested in theater in Chicago?
I moved to Chicago to work at the Goodman and I really wasn’t aware at the time that there was such an amazing theater scene happening here… At Goodman I was privileged to be able to work with such companies as Teatro Vista, Teatro Luna and Congo Square. Those companies and their high levels of artistic quality, craftsmanship and professionalism gave me my first glimpse of what was going on in Chicago and got me interested in what was happening in the rest of the city.

Tell us about Theatre Week.
What I am most excited about is that there are so many world premieres happening this year during Theatre Week, including, among others, “Rasheeda Speaking” at Rivendell, “Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money” at Chicago Children’s Theatre and the Hypocrites’ “Tennessee Williams Project.”  I’m also really excited that there are a lot of Chicago playwrights this year as well, including Joel Drake Johnson and Rebecca Gilman, among others.

The most popular productions are “Gypsy,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Little Prince” which are all sold out. But people interested in those shows should keep checking, it’s possible that more tickets will be added—and we also have about ninety-seven other shows to choose from.

Hidden gems include “The Mother” at Oracle Theatre. This is a remount of a great show and should not be missed. Mercury Theater has been doing some wonderful work with musicals and their production of “Into The Woods” [via The Hypocrites] promises to be a great evening of theater; “Beautifully” at the Theatre of Western Springs is a world premiere and sounds like an interesting story and will be well done there.

Who are the most exciting artists working in Chicago today, in your opinion?
I think Michael Rohd and the ensemble at Lookingglass are doing very important work with their Civic Practice Lab, transforming the way theater artists engage with the community; Chay Yew and the team at Victory Gardens are doing amazing things working with playwrights representing a rich diversity of cultures and offering Chicago companies multi-year residencies to deepen the scope of their work.  The curatorial work of Peter Taub and Yolanda Cursach at the MCA is extraordinary.  I can think of twenty names of individual artists or ensembles doing exciting work, but to name them is to not name twenty others who will do exciting work next season.

What do you think is the destiny of Chicago theater?
I think the future of Chicago theater rests on a number of pillars. I think the first two, of equal importance, are the continued development of audiences for theater and the continued development and retention of theater artists.  Two of the biggest reasons that Chicago is a great theater city is because our audiences are smart and sophisticated and willing to take a risk with us and because our artists can afford to live here and can afford to take risks here and are nurtured by a supportive community.

I believe our future is in embracing a global perspective, in looking outside Chicago and even outside the US for new and important theatrical forms, as well as new ideas about community and what it means to be a theater artist in this more connected and rapidly changing world.

Chicago Theatre Week is February 11-16 at theaters throughout Chicago.

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