Success of show moves it to larger stage

By Brianna Wellen

When Tracy Letts’ “Killer Joe” opened at Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway, on Jan. 14, artistic director Joe Jahraus had high hopes for the show’s success.

“It’s probably one of the most exciting, visceral shows you can see in a theater right now,” Jahraus said.

However, the magnitude of success has far exceeded expectations. The show sold out every performance in the past three months, broke Profiles’ box office records and was extended twice since its opening.

The second extension, beginning April 15, prompted the theater to physically move the show to a larger space- the Royal George Theatre at 1641 N. Halsted St. which offers rental spaces for smaller theaters- for the first time in Profiles’ history.

The play, a dark tale of greed and murder set in a Texan trailer, premiered at Profiles on the coattails of playwright Tracy Letts’ Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize wins for “August: Osage County.” Eric Burgher, a Profiles ensemble member, said he believes Letts’ acclaim helped the show succeed.

“It’s dark and it’s violent and it’s all these things that don’t typically end up being mainstream hits, but now he’s got this credibility,” said Burgher, a Columbia alumnus and current faculty member.

The intimate space at Profiles, a black box theater that seats about 50, is a huge contributor to the show’s success, Jahraus said. The level of involvement the audience feels with the small cast of five creates an emotional connection with the action on stage.

“In our theater, they’re right there in the lives of the characters,” Jahraus said. “Our goal is to capture the same experience [at the Royal George].”

In the Royal George’s Cabaret Theatre, which seats more than three times as many people, the challenge will be keeping the intimacy despite changes in size and a more two-dimensional view for the audience. Profiles sets the audience on three sides of the stage, while the Royal George offers seating on only one side.

Associate Artistic Director Darrell Cox, who also plays the title role, admits that as a rule, moving from a smaller space to a bigger space has a negative effect on a performance. Though some of the more violent scenes will benefit from not having the audience only two feet away, Cox makes it clear that there is always risk involved.

“For us, it’s the ideal show to take this risk on,” Cox said. “I think it’s the ideal group of people to tell the story. But you just never know.”

Burgher, who has performed in “Killer Joe,” said remembering the distance to the back row and reaching them is going to be the hardest adjustment for the cast.

Amber Calderon, a theater student at Columbia and an intern at Profiles, said she believes the cast will stretch their abilities to fill the space and bring a new feeling the show couldn’t have captured at Profiles.

“I think it’s going to make it successful in a different way,” Calderon said.

For her, the extension and move have provided a chance to put a professional role on her resume. With the first extension, her interning duties included understudying the role of Dottie.

“I probably would have been an understudy for a month,” Calderon said. “Now that [“Killer Joe”] has been extended, there are more opportunities for me to actually perform in a professional show.”

Jahraus said he believes it’s important to provide internship opportunities to Columbia students, and with ensemble member Burgher, the connection between Profiles and Columbia will stay strong. The extended run and larger space for the show allowed Jahraus to broaden the opportunities past the theater department, offering half-priced tickets to all Columbia students for every Thursday and Sunday performance.

“Killer Joe” will run April 15 through June 6 at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St., with an option to extend again if the show’s success continues.