Connecting the gap between thespians

By Colin Shively

Chicago is geographically and culturally separated into many different neighborhoods. Like the neighborhoods, most people usually tend to stay in their area because they are familiar with it. Theater in Chicago is much the same; people go where they know the productions will be done well. However, groups of theaters are coming together to help break down the walls and connect with other companies.

Groups such as the Chicago League of Theatres and the Chicago Storefront Theatre Summit are boosting their aim to gain interconnectivity among storefront theaters—companies that are smaller than theaters such as The Goodman, and are usually non-equity. With more than 200 storefront theaters in Chicago, it is proving to be a difficult task—but not an impossible one.

“Getting theaters to connect with one another isn’t new,” said Deb Clapp, executive director for the League of Chicago Theatres. “I think that there has been a lot more talk lately which I think is fantastic. People are paying more attention to this now.”

Clapp said League of Chicago Theatres’ main goal is for theaters to connect to one another in hopes of creating a more artistic culture in Chicago. Having theaters talk about their triumphs and challenges is a great way to see how companies can work together, Clapp said.

Much like the League of Chicago Theatres, The Chicago Storefront Theatre Summit is taking initiatives to collaborate with smaller theaters in Chicagoland.

The Summit was founded in October and held its second meeting at the Dank Haus, 4740 N. Western Ave., on Dec. 6. At the meeting, small theater companies from around the Chicago area gathered and discussed how to network with each other and how to become a part of groups like The League of Chicago Theatres.

“The [Chicago Storefront Theatre Summit] is a way for all these companies to come together to connect and spread ideas on how to work together,” said Nick Keenan, a contributor and theater writer to the Summit. “It isn’t easy to just go to another theater company and try to connect with them, so events like this is what makes it possible.”

Keenan said that because of the rapid growth of networking sites such as Facebook and blogging platforms, it has become easier for theaters to communicate with one another.

“It is amazing to find out just how similar productions are at smaller theaters,” Keenan said. “When theaters begin to realize it, they can begin to talk to each other about how to make their business grow together.”

As organizations like The League of Chicago Theatres and the Chicago Storefront Theatre Summit hold events in the current and upcoming months, one new group has been planning since July of this year for a big event where more than 40 local, national and international theater companies will be in Chicago on Sept. 1, 2010. It is called the Chicago Fringe Festival.

Mikayla Brown, executive producer for the Chicago Fringe Festival, has been a part of the theater world for many years and came up with the idea for the theater festival.

Realizing the need for communication between smaller theaters, Brown embarked to create an event that would expand beyond Chicago.

“Storefront theaters aren’t like The Goodman or Steppenwolf,” said Brown, who attended the Summit. “It is really hard when [storefront theaters] are wrapped up with their own business, it is really hard to go see other people’s work.  This is a unique opportunity for theaters to come see other companies; it is great for the audience as well.”

The Fringe Festival includes performances from various forms of theater such as traditional, experimental and dance, allowing visiting companies and audience members to attend a holistic and well-rounded event.

“When people in the city go to

see a production, they really stick

to one area,” Brown said. “At the festival, the audience and other companies have the opportunity to see four to five productions, that is how you get to connect to others.”

As the year comes to an end and a new one begins, more opportunities arise for storefront theaters to connect and share experiences that will help them grow their businesses.

“Next year is going to be a lot different,” Clapp said. “With all these orginizations wanting to bring theaters together, something good is bound to happen.”