When Michael Gellman came to Chicago from Canada in the winter of 1983-’84, he noticed that despite the city’s reputation as a theater town there was little happening in the way of collaborative play development–which was what he had come here for. As resident director of the Toronto branch of Second City Theatre from 1980 to ’83, he says, “I learned about developing plays through improvisation with actors, playwrights, and directors, and I wanted to take that process beyond the comedy revue format and into more expansive work.”

Though Chicago had improv acting companies and playwrights’ training centers, Gellman saw a gap in the area that interested him. So he launched the Seed Show project at the Organic Theater, where extensive collaborative development produced new works, which then received low-budget productions. In 1988 he founded Theatre Works to continue the effort. Though Theatre Works sponsors occasional public performances (such as last year’s The Liars Opera at Second City E.T.C.), the emphasis is on development, not final performance. While income is generated by classes in improvisation, play writing, and other subjects, says Gellman, “We need to find innovative ways to raise money. Our problem financially is that we generate but we don’t produce–just like the Chicago City Council.”

So Gellman hit on Alder-Mania, an audience-participation performance and party sponsored by Theatre Works as a benefit for itself. The Chicago City Council has frequently seemed like an exercise in theater of the absurd, but on March 18 the activity in council chambers will be more theatrical than usual. Political humorist Aaron Freeman will take over as “mayor” for a mock council meeting. The “aldermen” for the evening will be various arts supporters who have–fittingly–paid for their seats ($35 a pop) and who will float ideas both serious and satiric for arts-related legislation. Audience members can pay $15 to watch from the viewers’ gallery, where they need not restrict themselves to passive observation.

Doors open at 6 PM, and the “meeting” will begin at 6:30 with remarks by “Mayor” Freeman; then the floor will open for debate for the next 90 minutes. Other participants will include actor and veteran improv director Del Close; arts gadfly Michael Flores of the Psychotronic Film Society; casting director Carol Verblen; political publicist Thom Serafin; Joe Ehrenberg, executive director of the Joel Hall Dancers; former Organic Theater managing director Ron Falzone; Carrie Kaufman, editor of the theater newspaper Performink (which will publish all the resolutions introduced in the meeting); and Kit Duffy, a longtime aide to Mayor Harold Washington.

The evening’s intended prevailing mood is comic, but Gellman thinks it can also serve as a forum for innovative ideas about how to forge more productive connections between the Chicago arts community and public and private funding sources.

City Hall is located at 121 N. LaSalle; the City Council chambers are on the second floor. For more information, call 549-6200.

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