The soon-to-be art gallery is a heap of drywall. The performance space is a pile of red velour seats, their backs nipped off, from the old Granada theater. The dressing room is currently doubling as the food-storage area, supplying those long nights of manual labor.

But the Lookingglass is–or will be, come Saturday night–something of a dream come true, not only for the artists involved in its creation but for the Chicago art community as a whole. It is a multidisciplinary art space, with a technologically advanced film-projection studio, a visual-art gallery, a 100-seat black-box theater, and a sound-design studio.

Imagine a play in an intimate theater with the technical support of computerized lighting and multichannel stereo sound. Imagine an experimental jazz group performing while a film that’s been inspired by their music is projected, perhaps right on them. The Lookingglass will not only make such cross-fertilizations possible but actively encourage them.

The project began as the brainchild of Seth Green, poet, performance artist, filmmaker, and sound technician. As a member of the Oxygen Jukebox performance ensemble, he has spent the last decade or so developing his expertise in sound design, creating stunningly beautiful and complex scores. Last year, with his wife (now his ex). he decided to create his own sound studio and performance space, and they found an empty storefront on East 13th Street for the purpose.

Not only will the sound-design studio give Green the opportunity to develop his composition skills, it will allow him to apply his sound technology to film. “I don’t know if you know it,” he says, “but film sound is generally very primitive and terrible quality. But we can do multichannel digital sync sound first-generation. It would be like having stereo CD sound with film. Of course, you would have to project your film here, but the sound would be better than 70-millimeter Dolby.”

The kind of electronic support that Green’s work requires is staggering. All of his equipment is centralized through his Mac II computer. In order to create multichannel digital stereo sound, his computer must be programmed with 160,000 bytes of information per second. At that rate, it takes almost 300 standard floppy discs to produce ten minutes of music. And Green can also use his computer to link his music to the theater’s lighting board, allowing light and music to be perfectly synchronized.

“What we can do is better than Broadway,” he says.

Early this winter, Green invited the Lookingglass Theatre Ensemble to become a partner in his venture. The ensemble, an eight-member company of Northwestern University graduates, was certainly in the market for a permanent facility. They had spent a good part of the past few months carting their props and costumes around with them, rehearsing their original production of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in two or three different locations every week. Green’s space provided a much-needed home.

The flexibility of the space also suited their needs. “Only two or three of us have directing experience,” explains Thomas Cox, a member of the ensemble. “While we’re presenting a piece in the main theater, we can also do workshop productions in the gallery space.”

Last to join the project was Chris Murray: he directs (with Tony Fitzpatrick and Chet Witek) the Edge, a nonprofit art gallery that has been located in Villa Park for the last five years. The Edge will move into the Lookingglass, enabling Murray to bring his gallery into the heart of Chicago.

“We’re interested in making an art space that has a good feeling,” Murray explains, “a place that people feel comfortable coming to.

“We don’t have to rely on name artists to draw crowds and make money,” he continues. “Being nonprofit, we can experiment. We’re looking for work that has either brains or soul.”

Murray, who used to live in New York and watched the once-promising East Village art scene dry up, finds in Chicago a healthy art community, characterized by artists who work hard at their craft and ignore the demands of fad art. “New York is a rather ruthless place,” he says. “Big money, big business. When you see 100 East Village galleries go down to 4, there’s obviously a problem. I think we’re going to see a shift in emphasis in the art community away from New York toward other cities like Chicago.”

For all involved in the Lookingglass, the emphasis will be on the development of new work, whether their own or other artists’. “I think it’s important to note that this is an artist-run space,” Murray explains. “We want this place to be something of an open door to at least look at work and talk to artists.”

“And that’s the intangible element here,” concludes Green. “I could say that one of the advantages of working here is working with me. But if someone isn’t sympathetic to that, it doesn’t mean spit.”

To inaugurate the space, the Lookingglass is holding a gala benefit Saturday, March 4, from 8 PM to 4 AM, with music, performance, a live DJ, free food, and a full bar. Some of the acts featured are the Loofah Method, a dance-poetry band, Liof Munimula, an improvisatory musical trio, and Paula Killen, an experimental monologuist. The Lookingglass is located at 62. E. 13th St. $5 donation at the door; call 939-4017 for information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.