Chicago theatre vs. Broadway


ChicagoNow, a new “network of more than 70 blogs on a wide range of topics that reflect the city’s passions and interests,” just released their Chicago theatre-focused blog: Off Broadway in Chicago

While it’s great that Chicago theatre is represented as a “passion and interest” of Chicago, the title of this new blog concerns and irritates me, for this simple reason: why compare Chicago theatre to Broadway?

It makes absolutely no sense. Especially considering ChicagoNow is part of The Chicago Tribune. They should know better.

Chicago has one of the most diverse theatre scenes in the nation, with world-class groups like Steppenwolf, Goodman, Victory Gardens, Writer’s Theatre and Court Theatre producing Pulitzer-winning new works and inventively re-imagined stagings of classics. Chicago theatre is a major force in evolving theatre around the nation and the world. In fact, if you want to compare Chicago theatre to Broadway, our city’s productions are actually becoming the “it thing” on Broadway, with five shows transferring to Broadway this season. Chris Jones recently discussed this observation here.

Not to mention the talent that our city produces, with directors such as Gary Griffin, Mary Zimmerman, Anna D. Shapiro, and Frank Galati; and a list of actors and theatre-related artists too numerous and varied to even highlight properly.

Why represent Chicago by comparing it to Broadway? Why? It’s in its own league, its own class. Doing so seems to support the frequently misinformed idea that Chicago theatre only exists within a mile radius from the intersection of Randolph and LaSalle.

Which is highly unfortunate.

EDIT (9/23/2009): Follow-up posts and discussions inspired by this topic by fellow Chicago theatre bloggers:

17 thoughts on “Chicago theatre vs. Broadway

  1. Chicago Now tapped two sources of information to create this new site: Broadway in Chicago and Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune. Look at what they cover, and you’ll find your answer!

    Glad you’re asking the question.

    1. Good point regarding the contributors to the site. But they’re also doing a call for press releases and news for all Chicago theatre…which seems incongruous to Broadway In Chicago.

      Any way you slice it, it’s B.S.

  2. Right… I do think that the impetus here is that there is financial incentive to being the trusted source that frames the industry to the public in terms that benefit you. BiC – and many other entities – try to define Chicago Theatre writ large in their own terms – so that they can continue to exert marketing influence on what people end up seeing in a market that is sure to expand. I’m a guy who loves and works in storefront theatre. I think that’s the future – a ton of low-cost variety and choice that banks on the power of intimate performance. So my attempts at framing the scene ( tend to equalize theatres and not take into account things like budget size or total audience attendance – because that shuts certain voices out. But neither is truly fair, depending on your perspective. I think the increased exports to NYC increase the value of getting one’s finger on the pulse of what’s happening next, because shows like August: Osage County proved that there’s a lot of potential audience in what’s happening next in Chicago.

    Don’t get me wrong: I agree with you, it’s not a service I’m going to be using much. But it does make a kind of marketing sense – it collects a lot of valuable data about buzz, and it keeps the talk about theater framed in terms of the income-rich BiC instead of the financially lukewarm but artistically scorching forge of chicago theater.

    1. Wow! That Chi theatre database is amazing! It’s wonderful that there are dedicated people like yourself capturing the history and organizing it in an archival fashion.

      So, thank you.

      And you make some valid points above.

      I just know the intention for a while was to create a storefront theatre blog on ChicagoNow, and instead it seems this was the result.

      I hope this isn’t the case, and Storefront theatre gets exposure on this new site/network. I mean, what’s the harm and building awareness for smaller, off-loop theatres outside of BiC?

  3. Granted Chicago has the greatest theatre scene in the US outside of NYC. Chi boasts well-respected theatre companies such as Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Goodman, etc. But the bottom line is that the term “Broadway” is synonymous with theatre. And every single theatre you mention measures success by “did it make it to Broadway?” So in a way it seems like Chi theatre wants to have it both ways. Associate themselves w/Broadway when it suits marketing, but shy away from it otherwise because they want their own identity.

    IMO I say get over it. Enough with the self-esteem issues of being compared to NYC. Just make good theatre and use this website for it’s designed purpose. It only helps the theatre scene in the long run.

    1. Hi Ryan –

      Thanks for commenting.

      However, to be frank, I won’t simply “get over it,” especially considering the fact that if you were to ask the average Chicagoan to define the location of Chicago theatre, I guarantee they will most likely recognize those theatres that make up Broadway in Chicago. Off loop theaters are simply not on their radar. And this ChicagoNow blog/bulletin board doesn’t seem to want to change this perception.

      That said, I do not think BiC is some evil empire overpowering off-loop theatre. I mean, they have their work cut out for them in promoting their season. I know for a fact that many of my casual theatre-going friends have said, numerous times, that the time they learn about a BiC show they want to see, it’s gone — particularly shows like “Spring Awakening” that were here for a week or two.

      Also: I have a hard time believing that “every single theatre” mentioned in my original post measures their success by a Broadway transfer. Have you administered some sort of Chicago-wide theatre survey to justify this claim?

  4. Huh.

    Ryan, you’re not gonna win points or arguments with a bullying tone. Neither am I. So let’s move beyond that to the facts we know rather than speculation, shall we?

    Chi Theatre doesn’t have a single agenda. There are plenty of theaters who love to add the feather of a Broadway run to their cap (I know Chi Dramatists, as a fairly small equity theatre is lovin’ that dance right now with Steady Rain) but there are also plenty who would rather not deal with that noise and simply focus on their work. Very few theatres here, however, actually measure their success by their ability to export theatre to other cities. It’s not always about quality, it’s not always about attendance, but as far as theatre missions go – how each theater measures success – exactly zero of them do theater with the purpose of being picked up by NYC. That’s always icing on the cake, and it’s always done largely for financial and publicity benefit rather than mission. Even little Chicago Dramatists still measures success by – how much can we support our resident playwrights through development and featuring their work?

    In my world, Broadway is not in fact synonymous with theater – it’s synonymous with glitz and large budgets. Which is great – I love getting paid. The gritty and intimate work that I enjoy, create, and share with my community, however, is not covered by that term. But it is covered by the word “theater.”

  5. Well – it’s pretty obvious what they were trying to do. But honestly, it just doesn’t make sense.

    “Off Broadway” is a reference to theater produced in a specific radius of New York City. Period. Their implication is that pretty much ANY theater that is not ON Broadway is OFF Broadway.

    I highly doubt that there will ever be a blog in NYC called “Chicago Storefront in New York.” And if there is – well, it had better be a blog dedicated to Chicago storefront shows that have transferred to NYC.

    To piggy-back on Robert’s point that Chicago theater is the “it thing” on Broadway right now – it just seems silly for anyone to be trying to tuck our scene under the moniker of “Off Broadway” when Broadway itself is sending a fairly clear message: NYC wants CHICAGO theater.

    So let a blog about Chicago’s theater scene actually call itself what it is rather than follow the obvious tactic of naming itself after something they think will get more hits on a Google search.

  6. First of all, it really irks me that the “Broadway” in the header looks a hell of a lot like the Broadway in the BiC logo. Isn’t that copyright infringement?

    Second of all, I can put up with BiC and every once in a while I do want to see a Broadway show. (I can name off the ones coming to Chicago I am looking forward to). It is a nice thing to have. But the fact that it is “Off Broadway in Chicago” does irk me because it almost makes it sound like Chicago is just an extension of New York’s theater scene. Which it’s not. There are about 200 theaters in the League and I think it’s safe to say that most shows that premiere there don’t get a New York transfer.

    Third of all, this blog is not showing up under ChicagoNow’s Our Blogs page. Which I find very peculiar.

    And I do agree that Broadway is not synonymous with theater. If you have a blog entitled “Off Broadway in Chicago,” can’t you have a blog that’s “Off Broadway in” any city that has a Broadway series?

      1. I hadn’t looked at it under “Our Blogs” until a few moments ago. I had just been going to the link you had and I had seen on Twitter when someone pointed out “Hey look, another connection between the Tribune and Broadway.” But it is very odd that it’s not under Our Blogs anymore.

  7. Chicago has one of the most diverse theater scenes in the nation. Cirque is coming to Chicago. Sounds great!!!

    1. Hi Leah. Thanks for commenting. I’m excited to see Cirque, too. However, your comment above seems rather “shill”y to me. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m right, please stop.

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