As this cold, wet June wore on and no schedule had been posted for Theater on the Lake’s annual storefront-theater festival, which was supposed to commence June 23, concern grew among longtime fans that it might not be happening.
Then, midmonth, phew! A schedule popped up on Facebook and the TOTL website, albeit for a short season: six productions in five weeks, starting July 16 and running (with two weeks off) through August 30, Tuesdays through Fridays, for a total of 20 days, supplemented by three staged readings.
Thanks to a contract that enabled a privately funded $6.5 million makeover of the 1920s-era Prairie-style facility (after federal and city money paid for a $31.5 million project to stabilize the bordering Lake Michigan shoreline), we won’t be seeing theater there on weekends. Saturdays are reserved for private events, mostly weddings and concerts, booked through Lakefront Hospitality Group, which sells the liquor for those events; it also operates the main business in the building, the Lakefront Restaurant, presided over by chef and rapper Cleetus Friedman. Sundays are for changeover.
There’s some good news, however: the tickets for those 20 days of plays will be free.
TOTL managing director Angelique Grandone says that the switch from low-cost to no cost was done to make the plays more accessible. It also brings the festival in line with most everything else operating under the umbrella of the Park District’s Night Out in the Parks program. This year, Grandone says, Night Out in the Parks will partner with at least 43 theater companies to present more than 200 free performances in more than 125 city parks.
She also says the delay in posting the schedule was due to two companies that backed out and had to be replaced. (Remounting a play months after it closed is a “big ask” for these small companies, Grandone says; it doesn’t always work out.)
So, here’s what this year’s coartistic directors Tony Santiago of Arts Alliance Illinois and Quenna Lené Barrett of the Goodman Theatre have lined up: Manual Cinema’s The End of TV (July 16-19); a double bill of 2nd Story’s Stories From 2nd Story and Alex Grelle’s The Grelley Duvall Show (July 23-26); the Neo-Futurists’ Tangles and Plaques (August 13-16); Pegasus Theatre’s Eclipsed (August 20-23); and Steep Theatre Company’s Red Rex (August 27-30). Picnic meals from the Goddess and Grocer can be preordered with a reservation; TOTL will lend patrons a blanket on which to enjoy them.
The staged readings of plays by Keyanna Khatiblou, Tina Fakhrid-Deen, and Nancy García Loza, finalists in TOTL’s In the Works new-play commission project, will be held at other Park District locations.
And there’s a major “Prologue” to the season that’s happening this week: a free three-day event (June 26-28) to “celebrate and shape the future of performance.” Its target audience is the theater community, but it’s open to the public, and Grandone says anyone with an interest in Chicago theater is welcome.
Prologue runs from morning into evening all three days (schedule at chicagoparkdistrict.com). It’ll launch with an interactive discussion of whether Chicago should become the first city in the nation to adopt a Cultural Bill of Rights. That’ll be led by Arts Alliance Illinois, which will be submitting the idea to Mayor Lori Lightfoot later this summer. Lest we get too excited about that, note that AAI executive director Claire Rice says this bill of rights would be a guide for policy and programming, not a legally binding amendment to anything.
Also on tap: presentations and workshops by the Chicago Inclusion Project, Not in Our House, the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium, and 2nd Story; bus trips to theater facilities at three other parks; a “CircEsteem” showcase; a barn dance; and a pitch session intended to introduce Chicago shows that want to tour to programmers who might book them. (The workshops have attendance limits and require preregistration.) It’ll all conclude with a TOTL reunion party Friday night, celebrating 67 years of Chicago theater in the newly slick old space.
Grandone says her major takeaway from TOTL’s inaugural season in the renovated digs last year was “how isolating the design of the festival is” for the performers. “Companies come in, one by one, they do their show, and leave. But the joy of festivals is seeing other people’s work and spending time with them.”
Whatever else it accomplishes, she says, Prologue will address that: “It’s a chance for everyone to get together.” v