Chicago’s House Theatre Company

season ticket art by Chris Burnham

Season ticket art by Chris Burnham

Greetings from Chicagoland. My name is Ellen Ratchye-Foster. Andy & I met in NYC a while back. I’ve since migrated westward & he’s invited me to write some Chicago-based posts on Culturebot (see my post on Tinariwen) What else to set the scene? I grew up in Minnesota, my day job is consumer research, I am a Honda Accord-driving suburban mom, prone to sidebar-ing & for the most part a fangirl

Accordingly & just having seen Funny People, I’m still wondering as I write this how Adam Sandler’s character would write and perform this intro differently (for the record, it’s a really messy flick & mostly the better for it, Manohla Dargis’ peevish review notwithstanding) (yes, I have grown weary of her slapshots, particularly her having completely missed the point of the Reader – a painful movie about not one but two despicable people, and not simply 21st century Holocaust porn, as she so quickly dismissed it)

Got it? Where was I? I think Adam Sandler’s alter ego was rewriting my intro, flashing the shiv a little earlier on & certainly swinging a little more dick. I’m going to leave him to it & talk a little bit about one of my favorite things here in Chicago – the House Theatre Company

the first time I went I was enchanted twice over before anyone ever appeared onstage. number one, the production was in the kind of venue where you can bring your drink to your seat & number two, the atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever encountered in the “arts”. everyone in the audience was kind of happily bouncing in anticipation & unabashedly a fan of the company *

so anyway, by the spring of ’07 they were definitely on the traditional trajectory to the bigger time, complete with a transfer to the Steppenwolf experimental space that was reviewed in the NYT, a benefit with a silent auction & replete with baby boomers, productions in new venues, a customized Nutcracker, etc. and then the economy collapsed. I’m happy to report that they’re still in business, with three all-new productions scheduled for the 2009-2010 season

what I’d like to dig into over the next few months is how they’re doing this. what happens to a “coming of age” story when the circumstances shift radically? I’m especially interested because their central theme is coming of age. their stories tend to focus on teenagers in the crucible or parents considering the price paid & by whom, or both. indeed I’d become a bit annoyed & even a bit sad about the constant stream of teen-age protagonists

now however the stakes are higher for everyone. maybe their response will simply be a variation on a theme, but I’m very curious about how they made it through, how the new challenges may manifest in the new productions & what it feels like

enough twee speculation. the company is the House Theatre (http://www.thehousetheatre.com) Nathan Allen is the AD; Ryan Butts has recently been made MD. Phillip C. Klapperich was the founding ED. mainly the members are SMU grads from the class of ’00 & there seems to be a secondary correlation with Arvada, CO

The original House production “The Sparrow” featuring Carolyn Defrin was a phenomenon here in Chicago in the spring of ’07 (it will have its East Coast premiere outside Boston this fall at the Stoneham Theatre) Anyway, they’re now working from the Chopin Theater, having parted ways with the Viaduct Theater. Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, is the chairman of their board of directors. my favorite productions have been Hatfield & McCoy and The Magnificents. I want to single out their frequent composer Kevin O’Donnell as a singular talent. the first show of the upcoming season will be “All the Fame of Lofty Deeds”, which title & notes already suggest occupancy – at least temporarily – in a new & differently tempered universe

stay tuned. I appreciate your time

* with apologies to the late lamented Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis. the atmosphere there was always sparkling, but never had the pure bouncy excitement I’ve experienced with the House

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