Theater Wit opens smart performance space in Lakeview

Architect Richard_Kasemsarn (photo by Dick Smith) Architect Richard Kasemsarn with the plan of Theater Wit. (Photo by Dick Smith.)

 

Theater Wit: Chicago’s newest performance space opens

 

By Leah A. Zeldes

"It’s jaw-droppingly different," says Jeremy Wechsler, artistic director of Theater Wit, about his troupe’s new home.

After 16 months of a $1.3-million joists-out renovation, the one-time post office adjoining Theatre Building Chicago is now the sparkling new Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. (map), a dynamic new multi-performance space. The building, most recently Bailiwick Arts Centre, still has a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross before the city of Chicago grants its Public Amusements Venue license. Wechsler expects it in mid- Theater Wit lobby (photo by Joel Wanek) May; for now, Wit is running its inaugural play, Spin (our review ★★★), on a "suggested donations" basis. Valet parking isn’t in place yet, either, but for the time being, Wit has arranged free parking in the lot behind Cooper’s restaurant across the street.

The building now houses three 99-seat black-box theaters, providing a new showcase for intimate local productions.

"This is a size of theater that didn’t exist," Wechsler says. "There were (too small) 70-seat theaters, in which you could never turn a profit on a show, and (too expensive) 150-seat theaters … in which you could never turn a profit on a show. I really wanted this size of theater for myself."

Along with Wechsler’s Theater Wit company, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, Shattered Globe Theatre and Stage Left Theatre will share the space as resident troupes, contributing work to the building and using about 75 percent of the performance time, with the remainder available for rental. In the fall, once all the theaters are up and running, Wit will introduce a flex-pass arrangement for tickets to all productions.

Architect Richard Kasemsarn explains that the theaters are cleverly separated by dressing rooms to create easy backstage access and keep sound from bleeding from one to the other. They are also insulated from exterior noise, save for occasional seepage through the brick wall from the adjoining Theatre Building. New metal joists support a variety of lighting configurations.

Theater Wit lobby (photo credit: Joel Wanek) One of the three theaters will feature flexible seating, not yet installed. Seats in the other two, salvaged from a Bolingbrook high-school auditorium, are surprisingly wide and comfortable, and they’re spaced with reasonable leg room, although their incline and offset don’t quite keep tall people from blocking your sight lines.

Theater Wit exterior (photo credit: Joel Wanek) Architectural salvage provides handsomely quirky decorative elements through the space, although you won’t mistake this for a posh downtown theater. It does retain that hand-built, slightly rough quality common to Chicago storefronts. Kasemsarn, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute, recruited students to help with the finishing.

The modest lobby features a bar, and the building has ample restrooms — a seven-stall ladies’ room should minimize lines at intermission. Oversized ductwork is intended to keep theater goers at comfortable temperatures without contributing noise.

"I really want to control everything from the time you hit that lobby door," Wechsler says.

Theater Wit architectural drawings (photo by Dick Smith)

Bailiwick announces change in management – Kevin Mayes takes on David Zak’s position of Executive Director

KevinMayes Bailiwick Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director, David Zak, and its Board President, Don Cortelyou, have announced that Artistic Associate Kevin Mayes has assumed management of the company as Executive Director. Mayes will be leading a group of dedicated Bailiwick artists to reorganize the company and reenergize its artistic mission. David Zak will continue to be involved in the company, and will transition into the role of Artistic Director Emeritus.

“We are excited that Kevin has agreed take on this challenge,” said Board President Don Cortelyou, “and look forward to supporting him, along with a core team of Artistic Associates, as they work together to continue Bailiwick’s remarkable 27-year legacy.”

Says David Zak:

Running the Bailiwick has been an incredible life experience, and I’m so proud of the work we’ve done, especially the world premieres we’ve produced with artists like Larry Kramer, Dennis DeYoung, and Claudia Allen, among many, many others. But I look forward to handing the reigns over to Kevin. He has worked closely with me over the past five years, and he cares deeply about the mission of the Bailiwick. I know that he, along with the other extremely talented and motivated Artistic Associates who have stepped up to the plate, will do great things together. I look forward to working with them as a close advisor and director of future productions.

Kevin Mayes has been an active member of the Chicago theater scene for the last decade. He has twice been nominated for Best Actor in a Musical by the Jeff Committee (My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance), and has worked as a Director and Musical Director in both Chicago and New York. He worked closely with Lloyd Richards at the O’Neill Theater’s National Playwrights Conference, and with Wendy Wasserstein on the original production of The Sisters Rosensweig at Lincoln Center. He has his degree in Theater and Music from Yale University, and has more than 15 years executive management experience working with large corporations as well as small start-ups.

Says Kevin Mayes:

We’ve had our challenges over the past few years, many related to the state of the economy, and others due to the dynamic nature of the Chicago theater market,” said Mayes.  “But I’m extremely excited by the opportunity to lead this organization forward. My initial focus will be on improving our operations and fiscal stability. Meanwhile, I hope that the artistic community and our faithful audiences will support us as we redefine – and recommit to – our artistic mission. I’m very excited to work with this passionate group of actors, directors, designers, and stage managers. I’m also extremely thankful to David for his vote of confidence, and look forward to his advice and counsel over the coming months in his new role.

Plans for the 2009-2010 season are currently under review, and will be announced at a later date.

Celebrate Bailiwick with Alexandra Billings (and friends)

billings

 

On Sunday, July 26, at 8:00, Bailiwick family and friends will gather in Center on Halsted’s Hoover-Leppen Theatre, to

 

 

 

Celebrate Bailiwick 

with Alexandra Billings 

*and friends*

 

Alexandra_Billings 

Artists scheduled to perform include Alexandra Billings, Bailiwick Artistic Associate Alanda Coon, Susan May, Dana Tretta, George Andrew Wolff, Jeremy Rill, Danni Smith, (from the cast of The Cousins Grimm) and Rus Rainear and Eric Martin (from the cast of Bombs Away)
.
Musical Direction is by Robert Ollis, with bassist Larry Gray
The event is produced by Lampkin Music Group.
Sponsored by Rick Kogan and WGN

I hope you will join us for an evening of music and stories, celebrating my long association with Bailiwick.  How many years has it been since Gypsy with Susan May at 1229 W Belmont?  Or Son of Fire with Will Chase at Theatre Building Chicago? Oy!  Come join me for a fun evening celebrating friendship and music.

                                                                           Alexandra Billings

Tickets: $25 General Admission, or $30 for reserved priority seating.
Call 773 883 1090 to reserve or 1800 838 3006, or order on line at www.brownpapertickets.com.

From Artistic Director David Zak:

Whether of not you can attend, please consider supporting Bailiwick by making a donation. Checks may be mailed to Bailiwick, 3023 North Clark 327, Chicago, IL 60657. Credit card donations can be made by calling 773 883 1090 or emailing DGZak1@gmail.com. Donations can also be made on-line at www.guidestar.org.

Thank you for your support.

David Zak, and Bailiwick’s Artistic Team

========================================================

About Bailiwick:

Founded in 1982, Bailiwick has been a leader in Chicago’s vibrant off-Loop theater scene, earning over 150 Jeff Awards, Citations, and Nominations in every category of artistic excellence.  Bailiwick’s current offerings include the world premiere musical The Cousins Grimm and the Chicago premiere of the comedy Two Spoons, playing in repertory in the Hoover-Leppen Theater of the Center on Halsted, 3656 North Halsted.

View performance schedule on line at www.bailiwick.org, or call 773-883-1090 or 1800 838 3006.  Or order tickets on line at www.brownpapertickets.com.

Picture courtesy of Windy City Media Group.

Chicago Theaters offer up stocking-full of Christmas Shows

A Wonderful Life  (info)   A Christmas Story  (info)
Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN   Noble Fool Theatre, St. Charles
Nov 17 – Dec 14   Nov 15 – Dec 27
     
Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure  (info)   A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol  (info)
Lifeline Theatre, Chicago   The Neo-Futurists, Chicago
Dec 14 – Jan 4   Nov 22 – Dec 23
     
A Christmas Carol  (info)   Dublin Carol  (info)
Goodman Theatre, Chicago   Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Nov 21 – Dec 31    Half-Off Tickets!   Nov 19 – Jan 9
     
Radio City Christmas Spectacular  (info)   Anung’s First American Christmas  (info)
Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont   Vitalist Theatre, Chicago
Nov 19 – Dec 21   Nov 18 – Jan 4
     
Meet Me In St. Louis  (info)    500 Clown Christmas  (info)
Drury Lane Water Tower, Chicago    North Central College, Naperville
Nov 20 – Dec 7   Dec 18 – Dec 23
     
Christmas Schooner  (info)    The Santaland Diaries  (info)
Bailiwick Repertory, Chicago   Theatre Wit, Chicago
Nov 28 – Jan 4   Nov 22 – Dec 28
     
Tommy Guns Garage Holiday Show  (info)    A Christmas Memory; The Thanksgiving Visitor  (info)
2114 S. Wabash, Chicago   Provision Theater, Chicago
Nov 28 – Dec 31   Nov 10 – Dec 21
     
 Snow Queen  (info)    Black Nativity (info)
Victory Gardens, Chicago   Congo Square Theatre, Chicago
Nov 28 – Dec 28    $15 Tickets!   Nov 21 – Dec 28
     
 Winter Pageant Redux  (info)   2nd City’s Holiday Show  (info)
Redmoon Theater, Chicago   Second City Improv, Chicago
Nov 10 – Dec 21   24-hours non-stop, Dec 9 – 10
     
Jacob Marley’s Xmas Carol    Holiday Sing-Along  (info)
Theatre Wit, Chicago (info)   Porchlight Music Theatre, Chicago
Nov 22 – Dec 28   December 15th, 7:30pm
     
A Holiday Evening of Mime    A White Christmas (info)
The Mime Company, Chicago (info)   Village Players Theatre, Oak Park
December 11 – 28   December 13 – 14
     
Sexy Santa’s Spectacular    A Christmas Carol    (more info)
Gorilla Tango Theatre, Chicago   Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe
Nov 28 – Dec 20    (more info)   Dec 13 – Dec 23         Tickets for $14 !

For WGN Radio – My summer picks…

Chicago - My Kind of Theater Town - cropped

For Kids and Families:

  • Lyle, Lyle, the Crocodile, Lifeline Theatre
    • June 13th -July 13th; Friday-Sunday at 1pm
    • Tickets: $10
  • Cirque Shanghai: Gold ; Navy Pier outdoor theater
    • Runs all summer through Sept. 1st
    • Performed at outdoor theater at Navy Pier (just east of Ferris Wheel), so take in the show, then experience the huge fireworks display every Wednesday and Saturday evening.
    • Tickets: $12.50-$30
  • Willy Wonka, Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier
    • July 8th – August 17th
    • Tickets: $18-$23
  • Blue Man Group, Briar Street Theatre
    • Super-fun for kids of all ages
    • Tickets: $49-$59 (box office: 773-348-4000)

For Teens (and the young-at-heart):

  • Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Neo-Futurists
    • Experience Chicago’s longest running play – 20 years and counting!
    • Days/Times: Friday-Saturday, 11pm, Sunday 7pm
    • Price: $6 plus the roll of a dice (so $7-$12 – is that cool or what?!?)
  • That’s Weird Grandma, Barrel of Monkeys
    • Monday nights, 8pm
    • Adults: $9 // Kids: $4

Broadway In Chicago (the big downtown shows):

  • Wicked, Ford Center for the Performing Arts (Oriental Theatre)
    • After 4 super-successful years,Wicked, has announced that it will officially close in January 2009.  So catch it while you can!
    • Ticket Price: $30-$95 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)
  • Jersey Boys, Bank of America Theatre (formerly Schubert Theatre)
    • Open run
    • Ticket Price: $30-$95 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)
  • Shout!, Drury Lane Watertower
    • Through July 20th  
    • Tickets: $45-$55 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)

For Date Night:

My two-pennies worth:

You haven’t experienced Chicago until you’ve ventured north to The Heartland Cafe in East Rogers Park.  First opened in the 1970’s, this earthy restaurant and bar jettisons you back to the late 1960’s and early 70’s (in a granola and incense kind-of-way).  The musical review, Lonesome Losers of the Night, is performed in an intimate coffee house down the street from Heartland, so first grab a bite to eat at Heartland, walk down the block to the performance, then mosey back down to The Heartland for drinks and nightly live music.

 

Comedy

  • Campaign Super Nova: or How Many Democrats Does It Take To Lose An Election?
    • Second City’s newest review
    • Open run, tickets: $19-$25 (Box Office: 312-337-3992)
  • Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Steppenwolf Theatre
    • runs through July 27
    • Tickets: $20-$68 (Box Office: 312-335-1650)
  • Co-Ed Prison Sluts, Annoyance Theatre
    • Annoyance Theatre brings back their raunchy long-running hit of the 80’s and 90’s.
    • Runs July 4th – August 29th
    • Tickets: $15 (Box Office: 773-561-4665)
  • Comedy Sportz – Comedy Sportz Theatre, Belmont and Clark
    • audience-interactive comedy competition between two teams of improv comedians, who perform a series of scenes and songs, all based on suggestions from the audience
    • Open run, now in their 21st year
    • Ticket prices vary, (Box Office: 773-549-8080)

Drama

  • A Steady Rain, Royal George Theatre
    • extended through Oct 5 (then on to Broadway?)
    • Tickets: $50 (box office: 312-988-9000)
  • Taste of Honey, Shattered Globe Theatre Ensemble
    • runs through July 5th
    • Tickets: $15-$35, (box office: 773-871-3000)
  • Hizzoner, Prop Thtr (performed at Beverly Arts Center)
    • Running for over 2-years, this play eerily depicts the infamous Mayor Richard J. Daley and inner-workings of “The Machine”
    • runs through July 29th
    • tickets: $40

Musicals:

  • Fiorello, Timeline Theatre 
    • runs through July 20th
    • Tickets: $15-$30 (Box Office: 773-281-8463)
  • Ain’t Misbehavin’, Goodman Theatre
    • running June 21st – July 27th
    • Tickets: not yet announced (Box Office: 312-443-3800)
  • Jekyll & Hyde, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble
    • through July 20th
    • Tickets: $20-$27 (Box Office: 773-327-5252)
  • Hunchback of Notre Dame, Bailiwick Repertory
    • composed by Dennis DeYoung of the band “Styx
    • runs through July 6t
    • Tickets: $25-$45 (Box Office: 773-883-1090)
  • Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace
    • runs through July 27th
    • tickets: $28-$33

TimeOut Chicago’s Ten Best Shows of 2007

It’s that time of the year again – when theater critics, websites and periodicals post their Best-of-the-Year lists.  So here’s the first, a “Year’s Best” list from TimeOut Chicago:

1.  The Adding Machine (Next Theatre – and soon Off-Broadway)

 2.  August: Osage County (Steppenwolf – and now currently receiving rave reviews on Broadway)

 3.  The Strangerer (Theater Oobleck)

 4.  Merchant on Venice (Silk Road Theatre Project)

 5.  Jerry Springer – The Opera (Bailiwick Repertory)

 6.  The Resistible Rise of Aruturo Ui (Steep Theatre)

 7.  Weapon of Mass Impact (A Red Orchid Theatre)

 8.  Mr. Spacky..The Man Who Was Continuously Followed byWolves (Strange Tree Group)

 9.  Another Day in the Empire (Black Sheep Productions)

 10. The Dining Room (New Leaf Theatre)

To see the complete list, along with TimeOut’s descriptions of each show, go to the article on TimeOutChicago’s website.