I know that we generally write about the Los Angeles Theater community, however the City of Chicago is scheduled to lay off the entire staff of the DCA Storefront Theater (Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events) on June 30th. Storefront theater can be compared to 99-seat theater’s here in LA. The space is funded by the city, yes, but in that way it is able to provide those companies with a free venue, front of house staff, and marketing. It is a place for artists to do art without having to worry about the funding. If only such a place existed here in LA. Smaller companies who don’t pay their actors much (ahem, 99-seat theater) get to produce work that otherwise would not be able to be produced. This is a space that provides artist a place to do art. It’s not about making a profit, it’s all about the art, and they are making that road a bumpy ride by getting rid of a competent staff that loves their work, and I’m sure the DCA staff isn’t getting rich off of working there either. I’m sure we can all relate to the staff there as well as the companies and artists producing work in that venue.
When I asked my good friend Mikey Laird, Artistic Director of Nothing Special Productions in Chicago, IL what he knew about this issue he said, “Basically, due to the city dissolving/merging departments that concern art and culture, a city funded theatre, called the DCA (Department of Cultural Affairs, which was merged last year) Storefront Theater is being laid off because of governmental policies on hiring. Essentially, the programs have to have their staff cleared out in order to prevent any sort of nepotism or favoritism. Which makes sense, but honestly, this is just some horseshit. the staff of the theater had no say in the decision to merge these departments, and when you have a dedicated staff for a theater, you don’t just dump them and start from scratch. It’s extremely difficult to find a balanced staff that can do their jobs well, and I’ve only ever heard good things about their staff and had positive interactions with that theater. It’s silly to me: not only are you disrupting these people’s lives by laying them off, but you’re bound to disrupt the work that’s contracted to go up at the theater. There won’t be a staff there to support them, and the folks in charge will be tied up hiring and familiarizing new staff.” Well put Mikey.
I then told him that I loved interviewing him because I only had to ask him one question and he replied with, “Hey man, I’ll talk about theatre endlessly any time.” My kind of folk. I think he is your kind of folk too, so you should probably sign the petition.
This is important, not just to the City of Chicago, but to the nations theater scene as a whole. Chicago has an amazing theater community, that does great work out of sheer passion. They do some of the best work in the country, and nurture up and coming plays, theater companies, and theater artists. It is vital to all of us to allow this theater community to continue to thrive and function. Chicago based playwright, Jeff Helgeson, on the Change.org petition comments section said, “Chicago’s “Off Loop”/storefront theatre movement beginning in the early 1970′s has vitalized the Chicago community and created such institutations as The Steppenwolf, Organic, and Victory Gardens theatres. The acknowledgement and support for this significant, grass roots movement that is demonstrated by the downtown Storefront Theatre is something which the city, in its efforts to vitalize the arts community in Chicago, should actively seek to sustain.” Allison Amidei, Artistic Director of WildClaw Theatre posted in the Time Out Chicago article (where you can find more information on this issue) in the comments section, “My theatre, Wildclaw, is slated to produce in the fall and we are just sick thinking about making our show happen without the wonderful DCA Staff…Jim and Nate especially…who were so wonderful when we did Carmilla in January 2011. This program has been crucial to the growth and success of small theatre companies like mine and these wonderful people are a BIG part of why the DCA Storefront is an integral part of the Chicago cultural scene.”
There are many more comments on the Change.org petition that are relatable to any theater practitioner in any part of the country, check them out and support your fellow theater artists!
Now is the time to come together, sign the petition here to help save the Chicago Storefront Theater!