Since Chicago’s founding, theater has blossomed in the city’s makeshift spaces, from taverns to parks, living rooms to storefronts. Makeshift Chicago Stages brings together leading historians to share the history of theater and performance in the Second City. The essays collected here theorize a regional theater history and aesthetic that are inherently improvisational, rough-and-tumble, and marginal, reflecting the realities of a hypersegregated city and its neighborhoods. Space and place have contributed to Chicago’s reputation for gritty, ensemble-led work, part of a makeshift ethos that exposes the policies of the city and the transgressive possibilities of performance.
This book examines the rise and proliferation of Chicago’s performance spaces, which have rooted the city’s dynamic, thriving theater community. Chapters cover well‑known, groundbreaking, and understudied theatrical sites, ensembles, and artists, including the 1893 Columbian Exposition Midway Plaisance, the 57th Street Artist Colony, the Fine Arts Building, the Goodman Theatre, the Federal Theatre Project, the Kingston Mines and Body Politic Theaters, ImprovOlympics (later iO), Teatro Vista, Theaster Gates, and the Chicago Home Theater Festival. By putting space at the center of the city’s theater history, the authors in Makeshift Chicago Stages spotlight the roles of neighborhoods, racial dynamics, atypical venues, and borders as integral to understanding the work and aesthetics of Chicago’s artists, ensembles, and repertoires, which have influenced theater practices worldwide. Featuring rich archival work and oral histories, this anthology will prove a valuable resource for theater historians, as well as anyone interested in Chicago’s cultural heritage.
Introduction: Chicago Theater as Makeshift Performance, Megan E. Geigner, Stuart J. Hecht, and Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud Section I: Theater: Artistry Born of Ashes, Stuart J. Hecht 1. Entertaining People: The 1893 Columbian Exposition Midway Plaisance, Rosemarie K. Bank 2. From Marmalade to Gingerbread: The Columbian Exposition, Chicago’s 57th Street Artist Colony, and the Theaters it Spawned, Stuart J. Hecht 3. All Passes – Art Alone Endures: Staging the New Drama at the Fine Arts Building, Shannon Epplett Section II: From Mainstream to Institutionalized, Megan E. Geigner 4. Pillars of the Community: Reversing the Flow between the Goodman and Immigrant Theater, Megan E. Geigner 5. Theatrical Geographies of Segregation: Spatial Displacement in Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog, Aaron Krall 6. Lincoln Avenue and the Off-Loop Scene: Urban Renewal, and the Early Years of the Chicago Storefront Movement, Cat Gleason 7. Object Permanence: ImprovOlympic and the Legitimacy of Improv in Chicago, Travis Stern Section III: Centering the Decentered, Itinerant, Civic, and Home, Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud 8. Reclaiming Space: An Oral History of Teatro Vista, Laura Lodewyck 9. Temple-Swapping in the City: The Spatial Imaginary and Performances of Place-Making in the Work of Theaster Gates, LaRonika Thomas 10. Staging Private Homes and the Transformations of Public Lives: A conversation with Irina Zadov, Laley Lippard, Aymar Jean Christian, and Meida McNeal of the Chicago Home Theater Festival, Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud Epilogue: Chicago Theater amidst Pandemics, Megan E. Geigner and Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud
MEGAN E. GEIGNER is an assistant professor of instruction in the Cook Family Writing Program at Northwestern University.
STUART J. HECHT is an associate professor of theater at Boston College.
JASMINE JAMILLAH MAHMOUD is an assistant professor of arts leadership at Seattle University.
"Makeshift Chicago Stages is a fascinating account of the spatial histories of Chicago theater. Filled with evocative detail, this volume is a study of how aesthetics are shaped by architecture, opportunities, and chance." —Chloe Johnston, author of Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Devised Theater (Northwestern University Press, 2018)
"Makeshift Chicago Stages authoritatively chronicles the rise of the performing arts in Chicago, the world’s most exciting theater city. Featuring esteemed cultural historians alongside the vanguard of emerging theater scholars, this important collection reveals how artistry staged on the margins—from the 1893 Columbian World Exposition to contemporary storefront theater—became a central concern of Chicago culture and built American theater." —Harvey Young, coauthor of Black Theater is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater and Dance, 1970-2010 (Northwestern University Press, 2013)
“’All Passes—Art Alone Endures,’ which is emblazoned on Chicago’s Fine Arts Building, is emblematic of theater practice in Chicago and of this fine volume of essays.” —M. S. LoMonaco, Fairfield University, CHOICE
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