Words from the Windy City

In the wake of the surge of new projects that resulted from the Freedom Art Retreat, I’ve been chatting with some of my old Chicago friends and looking up some things that remind me of the way theatre is born and grows.   Folks who have spent time in Chicago know the phrase “storefront theatre” – a descriptive for the kind of theatre that happens on with small budgets in unconventional spaces (frequently retail storefronts, hence the name) – and get a funny kind of grin on their face when it comes up in conversation.  Finding someone that gives you that grin is like finding someone who speaks your language in a crowd of foreigners, and it opens the door to a collaborative banter about what it means to be a tiny company, or single artist, fighting for space in the artistic world.  Phoning up/internet searching some of my favorite people/places/things have yielded the following Very Important Ideas:

From Chad:

Filament Theatre’s sustainable model of artistic creation.  For example, on August 24 they will embark on a 36 hour creative process to write a play from scratch.  According to their Web site, they will look to the community for all aspects of the production, allowing interested parties to use a Web-based platform to share time or resources.  Theatre, community and technology working together?!?  Amazing.

But even more amazing was this bit from their mission statement:

A Note About “Theatre in a Folk Tradition”
In the words of William Brooke, “The telling of a tale links you with  everyone who has told it before.  There are no new tales, only new  tellers in their own way, and if you listen closely you can hear the  voice of everyone who ever told the tale.”  Drawing upon these age-old  tenets of storytelling, the Filament Theatre Ensemble seeks to tell  tales that speak to universal human truths, while celebrating the  individual.  We strive to listen to those who have told the tale before,  celebrate those who tell it now, and reach out to those who will tell  it later.

You can hear the voice of everyone who ever told the tale?   And what are the implications for us as theatre makers telling other people’s tales on stage?

From Theatre for the Future (the blog of Nick Keenan)

His May 22 blog post “The Chicago Theatre Recipe” followed a lesson in Chicago Theatre History given by the Chicago Artists Resource.  Nick credits Sharon Phillips, one of the presenters at the event, with the following three ingredients that a theatre company needs to thrive:

1.) Heart

2.) Close collaboration between artistic collectives

3.) A deep, lasting connection to a unique audience

All three are very important, no doubt, but this section from “Heart” really struck me:

“Heart is the primary fuel of all theatres in Chicago, in that when a company doesn’t have enough of it any more, shuttering the theatre is not long behind.  This life cycle is in some ways a bittersweet gift: if a theatre loses its heart, better to close before the integrity of the theatre is lost than to keep it alive beyond its usefulness with more artificial business practices.  Unmanaged heart is often in direct competition with a stable, well-incomed lifestyle.”

That last sentance gets me in the ribs.  It is right at the center of what it says on my home page about wanting to quit theatre when it gets hard (and when the shinyness of a stable, well-incomed lifestyle starts to be really distracting).  But it makes me ask, when does the unmanaged heart win?  And what do we make when that happens?

Many questions for a Thursday.

(P.s. I encourage you to visit both of the sites refernced in this article and read the full content.  Very exciting things).


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