What’s wrong with Chicago theatre?

Probably what most people think about when they hear the term “Chicago Theatre.”

I’ve a sad story to tell.

As a proud member of Corporate America, I work with some talented, cultured, educated people — many of whom haven’t a clue as to what’s happening in the this city’s theatre scene. Beyond Goodman, Steppenwolf and Broadway in Chicago? Forgedaboudit. Ok, maybe Victory Gardens and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, but even that’s stretching it.

People at my office know I see a good deal of theatre, so they come to me for suggestions or to discuss what they’ve recently seen. (Usually? Steppenwolf.) And many times, when I tell them about shows like The Pillowman at Redtwist, for example, or companies like House Theatre, Remy Bumppo or Stage Left, they stare back at me with blank expressions. Even more mainstream fare like Drury Lane isn’t immune — nearly everyone I talked to so far this week about DL’s amazing production of Ragtime seemed to think Drury Lane is a dinner theatre, and scoff at the idea. As in: would you like some “Crime of the Century Salad” with your “New Music Mac and Cheese?”

I’m not sure what the solution is, but it seems like something is broken. I mean, when smart, educated people who attend the theatre on a semi-regular occasion — like the ones I work with — are completely unaware of a group that’s been producing shows in the area for 15-plus years, something’s wrong. It’s sad. On everyone’s part.

How do we fix it?

9 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Chicago theatre?

  1. I think that’s a general situation with theater in Chicago and I wonder if maybe the Loop being the “Theater District” might have something to do with the problem, although Steppenwolf isn’t in the theater district.

    I had theater professors that didn’t know of some of the more prominent theaters like Stage Left. Most of them only knew about a storefront company if Chris Jones bothered to see a show there.

  2. Not sure what to say except people like what they know, especially when they’re spending money on tickets, babysitters, dinner, etc. It’s predictable and safe and free of surprises and yes, unfortunate.

    1. Yup: why take a risk when you can live in pleasant predictability? Risks can mean failure — and who has time for that? I mean, when there’s so much Farmville to be done!

  3. So much talent in Chicago! Actors, writers, directors, designers putting it out there every day! Maybe familes can’t afford “Beauty & The Beast” at $75 a ticket but Emerald City’s “Peter Pan” is $12 with more animated kid interaction.

    1. Hi, Katy!

      There are many viable, affordable options out there for families in Chicago to enjoy theatre together. Not to mention discount ticket sites. Again, from my experience, not many people know about hottix or goldstar, either.

  4. I never knew any of those theatres when I was living there either. But now, we have people like you to spread the word!

  5. The important question, and I don’t know what the answer is, is what element needs to be fixed. Is it that small theatres are doing shows that don’t connect with wide audiences? Are they not getting the word out? Is the theatre media (what little is left) not focusing enough on them? Do they somehow (with what budget?) need to do a better job getting the word out? Or is this just the way it is?

  6. All good questions, Zev, and I’m not sure. I think word of mouth may be the one major solution — and bloggers fill that gap.

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