A Love Letter to Storefront Theater Artists – Alcyone ’13

Alcyone ’13 “A New Dawn, A New Day”

If you’re in Chicago this weekend, go and see a show at the Alcyone Festival. It’s the last weekend of Halcyon’s sixth annual festival of female playwrights with the theme “A New Dawn, A New Day.” (Tickets)

Being in New York I won’t get to see any shows myself but I know the experience will be thought-provoking and I WISH I COULD BE THERE. It’ll have the energy of ambitious artists – many still young in their artistic careers – who signed up for a project much bigger than they anticipated.

This post is for those artists, especially Halcyon’s company members. Thank you for letting me listen in on last Saturday’s company meeting; you talked about audience reactions, if more concessions were needed, AND the frustrations/difficulties of putting up plays without enough time, money, or manpower. It actually made me smile a little because I remember what it was like. And I even miss it – the ideas, the collaborating, the WORK.

I’m a couple years removed from being either an actor (in multiple shows as you do) or a replacement director (did I really direct a pre-cast full-length play with of 8 adults and 2 kids?) and here’s what I have to say:

1. Producing storefront theater is hard. Very hard. You’re a badass.

This is probably true of most storefront (read: underfunded) theater being produced by artists without a lot of experience, but the Alcyone Festival is particularly difficult with up to 10 (is that right?!) rotating shows. Sharing one space. Every weekend. With so many actors, designers (if you’re lucky), tech needs, and never enough time, getting through the festival is basically like trying to herd 100 cats through Grant Park. Or Ikea. And it will try to break you.

My Angel/Jesus costume from Callimachus in Alcyone 08)

My Angel “omg, it’s Jesus” costume from Callimachus in Alcyone ’08)

You will not have enough time to rehearse and you’ve won the lottery if you don’t have distractions like doing run-throughs in someone’s apartment or creating your own angel costume. If you’re a director, you may also have to be the costumer, props master, and at least know what you want for the set/lighting/sound design. Oh you don’t have any experience doing that? Welcome to the festival.

And it’s like this every year. With each new season, there’s usually a new crop of artists (because people quit or got broken the year before) that sign up to go through the wringer all over again. Maybe there can be a warning or waiver for next year’s participants.

But before you bemoan why you volunteered for this theater bootcamp hell, let me make point 2:

2. You’re doing it, the balls-to-the-walls theater Chicago is known for.

You’re doing the good work. (See Tracy Letts’ Tony acceptance speech)

At a recent film audition, I met another actress who when I told her I was from Chicago was immediately in awe and said she would LOVE to live there. “I just want to do good work, you know?” I do know. I get it; I’m really happy and grateful to get the 3 minutes to audition for someone else’s project, but it’s not the same as immersing for weeks in a show you can sink your teeth into and actually have a say in.


Alcyone ’13: one week in spring
Photo by Halcyon’s Artist-in-Residence Charlotte Woolf

So know that you’re already awesome and growing from this experience. Unpaid, non-union storefront theater prepared me for the Goodman (where I earned EMC points) and Broadway. It built my stamina and taught me to make the most out of what I have (the lines, my attitude) and not take anything (or anyone!) for granted.

The process will ask you to give more than you are prepared or know how to. Do the best you can with what you’ve got with patience, understanding, and a smile. Discover your potential and make peace with your limits. Make art and friends in spite of it all!

When the lights go up, you may not have all of the cues set correctly or enough people in the audience, but at least you don’t have to worry about if your show will close before opening night. The festival WILL go on. And you get to be a part of that creation. You badass artist, you.

Alcyone ’13: Ensemble of The First Woman
Photo by Halcyon’s Artist-in-Residence Charlotte Woolf

So enjoy the journey while it lasts because you might just miss it when it’s over. Congratulations and a very happy closing weekend to Halcyon’s Alcyone Festival 2013! Rock it out!

This weekend’s schedule:

Christ Lutheran Church
4541 N. Spaulding
Tickets: $20 per performance

Check out more gorgeous show pictures on Halcyon’s facebook page and the festival writeup in the Chicago Reader.


2 thoughts on “A Love Letter to Storefront Theater Artists – Alcyone ’13

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