Fall Winter 07

The Core


Summer in the City

In Fermi’s Footsteps

Seeds of Change


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Science Beyond Boundaries

Supporting Students as They Are

Summer Stock

Head of the Class

Geeking Out

Goin' West

Go Ask Alumni

Eye on the Quads

Summer Stock

University Theater reaches out to professional Chicago companies.

What do a bunch of clowns, a film about Persephone, a critique of architecture, and sworddueling women have in common? They are all part of Summer Inc.’s performance residency, now in its second year. Sponsored by University Theater(UT) and Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) in the College, Summer Inc. welcomed eight professional companies to rehearse new works in Hyde Park this past summer. Works gestated in the program’s 2006 inaugural year have already gone on to performances at Chicago’s Steppenwolf and Athenaeum theaters.

The beauty of Summer Inc. is its simplicity: gather young, but professionally seasoned, performers, turn on the lights in the Reynolds Club theaters and the Bartlett dance hall, offer free advice from UT’s technical staff, and provide dedicated support by students in the TAPS program. Then step back and let the work begin.

“We are committed to supporting the Chicago art scene,” said Heidi Coleman, director of University Theater and director of Undergraduate Studies for TAPS. Coleman and UT staff decided that the best way to support the arts was to give professional companies a most precious commodity: free rehearsal space with all the technical trimmings. A set shop, lights and rigging, complete multimedia and prop materials, a dance space with sprung floor and full mirrors—even a sewing machine or a panel van—are enough to make any troupe of players envious. Chicago is home to a burgeoning theater community, but only the most established companies can afford rehearsal space for the time needed to develop innovative and complex pieces. Summer Inc.’s two- to three-week residencies sustain artists during their lean early years when just this kind of hospitality can make the difference between continuing or disbanding.

The eight companies were staggered across the summer, from mid-June through mid-August, and they were purposely chosen from 30 applicants for the range of their performance techniques. Anna Brenner, AB’03, and Paul Francke, AB’03, finished a video project for their band, Alsace Lorraine. Jack Tamburri, AB’05, took a break from his day job at Court Theatre to develop a new script. While 500 Clown was perfecting its multimedia recreations of Macbeth and Frankenstein, Big Picture Group, a collective based in Chicago (and three other cities), was tackling Architecture with a Big A, and Blank Line Collective was workshopping Anne Carson’s poem “Lots of Guns: An Oratorio for Five Voices.” The modern-day loss and fantasy portrayed by Jared Ranere, AB’03, and other dancers were echoed by Blue Damen Pictures’ depiction of death and resurrection in a short film based on the Greek myth of Persephone. Finally, Duela de Mujeras, or Babes with Blades, demonstrated that real women use swords, in a 16th-century Spanish tale of love and intrigue. Such a surprising mélange is only fitting at a university where a group of students in the staid 1950s joined Brechtian theater techniques with children’s games to devise a style of improvisational comedy that would become the basis of Second City and Saturday Night Live.

The summer verdure of Hyde Park proved to be an unexpected handmaiden to the creative process. Performers accustomed to rehearsing in the bustling Chicago neighborhoods of Wicker Park or Pilsen were happy to “take five” in the courtyard of the Reynolds Club. The peaceful courtyard, with its central fountain and surrounding trees, encouraged dreaming and reflection— indispensable habits of mind for any form of thought or creativity.

Not only the artists benefited from a summer of experimentation. Paid positions as production managers for TAPS students are a key component of Summer Inc. “This is more than an internship,” stressed Coleman. “These are positions of responsibility that carry more weight on a resume.” The five College students, all rising juniors or seniors, have already taken theater courses and participated in UT productions. With companies often rehearsing late into the night, it was essential to have experienced managers with the expertise and ingenuity to solve problems and keep the creativity flowing. It is a testament to the trust established between the professional artists and the students that several participants in last year’s residency asked their student managers to help nurture their productions through to public premieres. Lessons learned from a summer spent managing eight professional productions, experiencing a range of theatrical genres, and serving as the public face of University Theater travel far beyond the stages of the Reynolds Club. In its first two years of granting bachelor degrees, Theater and Performance Studies can already celebrate a host of students working throughout the Chicago theater community.

What’s next? Coleman wants to expand Summer Inc.’s residencies to sculptors and designers who can use the University’s scene shop and equipment. How important is that, you might ask. Just try to find an acetylene torch at one in the morning.—Joanne Berens, MFA’93