When the Daley administration launched the city’s “downtown theater district,” some observers–myself included–assumed that only the big-budget commercial houses and a few high-profile nonprofits like the Goodman would benefit. But cultural affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg has put together a crack team of programmers who are well aware that Chicago’s international reputation stems largely from the work of low-budget, neighborhood-based troupes, some itinerant and others housed in small storefronts. Seeking to give the Loop entertainment scene an off-Loop sensibility, this week’s “North Side Theater Sampler” showcases work by companies producing in spaces that seat 150 or fewer. (This is the first in a series. Still to come: the south and west sides and the central city.) Organized in cooperation with the North Side Theatre Collective, an informal group dedicated to presenting new work, the sampler features short presentations by 18 companies; performances run simultaneously in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater and G.A.R. Hall. The 90-minute programs are divided into 10-minute slots, and the stylistic range is impressive. Two hosts–Neo-Futurists founder Greg Allen and onetime Annoyance Theatre stalwart Mark Sutton–will do their best to keep the whirlwind whirling. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Thursday, February 19, 7 PM. Free; see listing for the schedule, which is subject to change.

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