The Playgoer: "Chicago Theatre Tends to be Ensemble Theatre"

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Monday, August 07, 2006

"Chicago Theatre Tends to be Ensemble Theatre"

Playwright Jeffrey Sweet floats some interesting connections, on the Backstage blog, between the Second City influence and the prevalence of ensemble writing and "poor theatre" in Chicago theatre. These very qualities--the opposite of Broadway--are the hallmark of the Chicago aesthetic (if there is one) and give it its vitality.

To stretch the connection even further, these qualities also distinguish John Doyle's exciting Sweeney Todd revival on Broadway, which, of course, started in much humbler circumstances at Doyle's UK regional Watermill Theatre. Anyone familiar with the idea of ensemble theatre got it. Others merely shook their heads and either wrote off the actor-musicians as a "gimmick" or wondered why they were paying top dollar for such a "cheap" show.

I mention this because this Sweeney is now closing September 3, after playing to 2/3rds houses much of the summer. It had a fine enough run financially, recouping its initial investment within months. But it will have run short of a year and fizzled out at the box office. Telling.


Anonymous said...

Not only that, but much of it is NON EQUITY too ! Which means, more productions being done.

Buddha Cowboy - NYC

Mark said...

No, BC, it just means that they have a more prohibitive arrangement with AEA (i.e. no showcase code) and that's the way their scene has evolved. It does mean longer RUNS for small shows, however.

Anonymous said...


What the F"" is with AEA?

I don't understand how they can have different rules in different parts of the country. That seems like a bunch of bull.
I just don't get that. Bitter taste in my mouth.

Buddha Cowboy - NYC

So wait. If I take a bunch of AEA actors from NY and bring them to Chicago, I don't worry about a showcase code ?????

Mark said...

No, if you take a bunch of AEA actors from NY to Chicago, they can only appear in productions under an AEA contract, which does not include the many respected non-Equity theaters. Conversely, because NY has the showcase code, the small respected theaters use that and there's no reason not to go Equity.