Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Plea For Chicago's Theater Scene

There's an interesting plea in the Tribune today.  Essentially, the author is asking the still-to-be-chosen mayor of Chicago not to screw up the theater scene that the outgoing mayor worked so hard to create.

I'm not a theater person.  I can't stand musicals.  But I lived in the Loop during Wicked, and I think most people have no idea the kind of economic impact that one play had, and continues to have, on the city.  The neighborhood was flooded with out-of-state tourists and tour buses five days a week just because of that show.

But part of the Trib article I don't get is the notion that neighborhood theater should be preserved.  This is counterintuitive to me.  If anything, the city's theaters should be encouraged to move into the theater district.  It's not like there isn't a ton of empty space in the northwest corner of the Loop.  Moreover, you end up creating a critical mass that spurs creativity and creates a more vibrant, closer knit cultural community.

There's a reason all of the Broadway theaters in New York are along, or just off Broadway.  There's a reason so many dot-com companies are in a particular neighborhood of San Francisco.  There's a reason that during the age of the automobile, all the world's great car companies were in Detroit.

Chicago has already proven it has the potential to be a world class theater city.  But what it lacks is the scale of a Broadway or London's West End.  It needs all those minor theaters in the 'hoods to come downtown.  That then gives the crappy tiny theaters a chance to thrive, grow, and flourish until they're ready to move downtown, and so on.

So, I encourage the new mayor to continue cultivating the arts in Chicago.  But do it with a plan for the future, now that Mayor Daley's plan for right now has been realized.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. While it makes perfect sense to have a great deal of commercial theatre downtown, smaller nonprofits often struggle to make ends meet downtown due to the high costs of rent, union requirements, and visibility -- not everyone can have a marquee like the Oriental or Chicago Theatres. It is also very expensive to create new theatre spaces, especially downtown.

    On the other hand, neighborhood theatre companies, which often have spaces seating between 25 to 299 people, can take more risks with more 'artsy' and groundbreaking work -- stuff you could never pull off downtown.

    So in short, I agree that getting as must popular and commercial theatre downtown would be just dandy, as well as much larger nonprofits (with multimillion-dollar budgets) like the Goodman. But there is still very much a place for the neighborhood theatres, which has defined Chicago's groundbreaking theatre community from New York and other cities.


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