An Advocate’s Love Letter to the Chicago Storefronts
By Amanda Finn
Photo Credit: Photo by Andrea Klohn.
Monday was the “official” launch of the Year of Chicago Theatre here in the Windy City. It’s a year commemorating our fabulous theater scene here in Chicago. Moreover it’s a chance for tourists and even fellow Chicagoans to uncover our “hidden gem” of a storefront scene through performance opportunities and increased marketing efforts.
That’s where my heart always skips a beat.
I love the idea that our storefront scene is a gem, but I have a love-hate relationship with the concept of it as a “hidden” gem. Granted, I haven’t lived in Chicago for a long time - I’ve been here just shy of a year - but the storefronts don’t seem very “hidden” to me. They appear more like a North Star, especially for folks who aren’t sure they “like” theater. With so many storefronts out there I have a hard time believing there isn’t something for everyone. Still, “hidden” they are not.
Sometimes they may just be a little hard to find. Red Tape Theatre, for example, tucked away on Western Avenue, took a minute for me to locate the first time I visited. But, as is common in the storefront scene, the location is now cemented in my mind. When you see a show like In the Blood it’s hard to walk away without etching that space deep in your memory.
“Hidden” connotes the idea that something or someone is trying not to be seen. It makes the storefront scene sound like it is tiptoeing around the community not trying to make waves or attract attention to itself when that couldn’t be further from the truth. The storefront community is a powerful and passionate group of people in Chicago. Their dedication to the work and the craft is forever inspiring to me.
Storefront theater is what drew me to Chicago in the first place.
What could be better than living in a city that boasts such an extensive arts scene? A city with its own ecosystem of unconventional theater spaces that are constantly pushing the boundaries and craving artistic nuance is a place worth knowing. I couldn’t imagine living in a more perfect artistic space. I’m sure other cities are proud of their storefront communities as well, I just think that Chicago has perfected the art of the storefront - now we just need to make sure we support them enough to keep them around.
In 2019, a year when I promised myself I would enjoy life more fully, I’m seeing theater with a fuller heart. As a writer I tend to remember the small things which, to me, loom large. The Year of Chicago Theatre will hopefully increase traffic for both the short and long term for our cherished storefronts leading to increased revenue and support. But no matter what I want those organizations to know something.
I’m from a small town. I mean a VERY small town in Wisconsin. Think Grover’s Corners from Our Town except, maybe a little bit bigger. With a few more bars. And a few more churches. And a massive elder care facility owned by the Masons. Needless to say visiting Chicago on a school or family trip almost felt like visiting another planet. There was something so foreign about a twinkling city so massive that it didn’t feel possible for me to even consider living there. When I got a little bit older, about 13 seeing Wicked for the first time, I set my sights on Chicago. It was my dream to call the Windy City my home. And when my young adulthood came and I was exposed to storefront theater for the first time - I was hooked.
There is nothing small or hidden about Chicago’s storefronts. For the art of theater they are a beacon of hope. They are telling stories that need to be told, that need to be heard and need to be done. Theirs is a heavy burden. They must remain afloat while staying true to their ideals as representatives of the communities they serve.
Storefront artists: know that whether we have butted heads, bonded over a work, agreed or disagreed about a production, I am forever grateful for you. The work you do brought me to this city, made me fall in love with it and forever gives me hope that theater will survive.
So, cheers to you Chicago’s storefront theaters.
Cheers to another year of appreciating you and here’s to hoping even more people will fall in love with you as I have.