Theater expands horizons

By Colin Shively

The theater art of improvisation—a form of acting created on the spot—is synonymous with Chicago. From the stages of Second City, the improv company iO and The Playground Theater, Chicago improvisational art is world renowned. To date, numerous theater groups and companies around the city have incorporated the skill of improv and now, Chicago will see the grand opening of a new theater that is more focused on the community in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.

Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave; is set to reveal its new performance space in April and is giving away free tickets to its first production, “Spin,” in the first two weeks of the season. “Spin” features a man who lost his job and decides to remake himself by giving up worldly possessions.

The $1.2 million renovation includes three 99-seat performance areas and features new and improved lighting and sound systems, as well as a coffee, wine and artisan chocolate bar for


Jeremy Wechsler, artistic director of Theater Wit, said he looks forward to the grand opening of Chicago’s newest live theater and what it will bring to the community.

The three new stages will house three unique companies that are part of Theater Wit: Shattered Globe, Stage Left and the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, he said.

“After 16 months of planning, building and setbacks, it will be amazing to open the new space to the public,” Wechsler said. “There was one night where after everyone had left, after rehearsal, after the tech and construction workers left that I sat down in one of the seats and it felt like a theater. It was a very big moment for me.”

Theater Wit acquired the new performance building 16 months ago after six years of looking for an adequate space, Wechsler said.

However, during those 16 months, numerous problems and setbacks delayed construction of the new theater, which threatened the entire operation.

After he applied for a building permit, the city of Chicago told Wechsler the building was not zoned to be a theater, but was in fact only allowed to be a factory, Wechsler said. After filing the paperwork, which delayed construction by two months, Theater Wit was allowed to resume remaking the building into a theater.

“There seems to be a problem almost every week,” Wechsler said. “Right now, the fire escape doors to the outside are delayed and we won’t get them for about two more weeks, which puts us really close to the final inspection. A while back we discovered that we didn’t include room in the original plans for our sound equipment, so we had to redesign rooms. That was a hassle.”

Currently, the theater is having difficulty placing its lighting equipment around the performance areas, yet Wechlser said the construction crew and architect are hard at work resolving the issue.

With the three new stages, Theater Wit is one of few theaters with such specific types of space. In the early ’90s, more theaters had space of

that capacity.

After 2000, most went out of business or upgraded to a larger seating area, Wechsler said.

Jay Kelly, vice president of L.C. Williams and Associates, said the performers of Theater Wit want nothing more than to bring the community together and have a good time.

“Lakeview is a great place for theater because there are already some really good companies in the area,” Kelly said. “We want to give the community a new place to go and enjoy improv theater and different forms of acting from all of the different companies that

Theater Wit houses.”