Dear editor,

Let me respond to Tom-from-the-Cocoabean’s letter [September 24] regarding Deanna Isaacs’s column “Gooned, Gooned, Gone” [September 10], about the impending departure of Curious Theatre Branch, my theater company, from Glenwood and Lunt in Rogers Park. (Here it’s important that I acknowledge that this letter represents solely my opinion, not that of my cohorts nor any “official” Curious position.)

First, Tom-from-the-Cocoabean: I don’t write or edit copy for the Chicago Reader. My version of the story about our leaving would have included passages about the problems of an overheated performance space, sharing a building with residential space (sound issues), the loss of company members’ time to family health issues, the need to make a living, and the lack of imagination of the current crop of Chicago theater reviewers. None of this would have gotten into the paper as it’s not newsworthy. Theater closings because of street violence are.

Deanna and her editors determine the tone. A transcript of my interview, for instance, would include a sequence where I described five kids beating up an adult. Deanna asks, “Were they black, black kids?” I answer, “Yes.” Deanna, perhaps for good news reasons, thought it important to include that fact. When I stated that the pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers had moved onto our corner from their former spots under the Morse el one block over, I suggested that the police had pushed them off the Morse corner in response to years of complaints. They just moved up a block. Deanna chose not to print my theory as to why crime increased on our corner. I thought it was an important part of the story.

Whenever one talks to the Reader one should expect the story to underline the Reader’s concerns: controversy, gossip, depressing failures, remarkable successes, artistic and political oddities. All that being said, I don’t regret talking to the Reader–one will get a fairer shake from it than from the dailies–or the story. Kids beat up people in the neighborhood where I, members of my family, and many of my friends live. This happens especially on the corner where I go daily to make art and to invite audiences to see that art. There is a prostitute who spends the day shuttling between the corner to the doorway of the apartments above us. It is also the door to our office and the door to the building where a member of my family lives.

In Tom’s new version of his letter (the latest of four that I know of) he indicates not even slight awareness of me and my cohorts. I have a suggestion as to why we don’t attend your neighborhood meetings, Tom-from-the-Cocoa-bean. We’re busy! We are a group of seven part-time theater artists producing full-time for no pay. We produce six shows a year, plus a theater festival that presents 70 other artists. Every year we do this. For over a decade and a half. This is our fourth theater.

Between the seven of us, we teach at Free Street, Columbia, Roberto Clemente High School, SAIC, Loyola, and DePaul. Many of our students are minority. I live in Rogers Park and have for four years. And I lived here just out of high school. My Curious cohorts live in Albany Park, Humboldt, Logan Square, Pilsen, and Ravenswood. I have been a Chicagoan for 25 years and feel that I have every right to comment on how we live here. About our lack of “presence in the neighborhood”: We were in the last Glenwood Arts Fest. We’ve met with Alderman Joe Moore, Michael James of the Heartland Cafe, and the city, and attend licensing hearings regularly. I eat daily at the Heartland, weekly drink coffee at the Cocoabean, and have sent our actors and audience there as well. As recently as the Wednesday before the original article came out, I rented the Cocoabean for $25 for a rehearsal.

We have access to our own lists of thousands of e-mail addresses. I don’t find that a good way to get people to attend the theater. Word of mouth, good actors, smart plays, good seats to sit in, enough sound control so as not to interrupt the performances. These things get people to come and come back. This is what we have been working on. Perhaps Tom-from-the-Cocoabean doesn’t know this. I’ve never seen him at a Curious show, despite all of his best wishes. Neither have I seen Michael, Alderman Moore, or our landlord. We’ve done a dozen shows and a three-month festival already, and are deep into our second festival. Perhaps Tom and everybody has been busy doing what they do. As we at the Curious do what we do.

Since the stories from NPR, CBS News, NBC News, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Reader (only two of which I was quoted in), there has been an increased police presence, arrests for the beatings, a complete investigation of one of the deaths on the el, and no new beatings. Perhaps the coverage has had an effect. I’ve heard from dozens of Rogers Parkers. Most of them thought the coverage was important and good.

You’re obviously angry, perhaps scared, Tom-from-the-Cocoabean, and for good reason. But I don’t beat people up. I don’t determine where people shop.

Beau O’Reilly

Curious Theatre Branch