The House Theatre of Chicago has made a name for itself by producing ambitious new plays that meld storytelling, myth and spectacle, from its original fairy tale Rose and the Rime to its dance-filled adaption of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In July, the company will undertake an epic journey of its own when it begins a three-year residency with the University’s Theater and Performance Studies program. For the next three summers, The House will spend five weeks incubating a new piece at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in preparation for its upcoming season.
This summer, the company will develop the final installment in The Hammer Trinity, a reinterpretation of the legend of King Arthur set in the American West.
House has presented the two earlier installments of The Hammer Trinity—which include, among other fantastical elements, a dragon voiced by Tony-winning playwright Tracy Letts—in previous seasons. For their 2014-2015 season, they will present the trilogy in its entirety.
“We have really high hopes for this partnership—that the incredible level of resource that the university brings is met with an incredible level of artistry,” said Nathan Allen, artistic director of The House Theatre.
Heidi Coleman, director of undergraduate studies for TAPS, said The House was an ideal fit for a sustained partnership with the University because of the “ambitious reach” and collaborative spirit of its work.
The company also shares the University’s interest in uniting theory and practice. “They’re engaged in a process of intellectually reflecting while they’re creating,” Coleman said.
During the residency, Allen plans to work with UChicago faculty who study myth and the Arthurian legends, and hopes the scholarly collaboration might be a source of inspiration for the new piece: “We’re in the ‘sponge phase,’” he said of the work-in-progress.
The artistic team will also work closely with students during each year of their residency, including a Jeff Metcalf Intern and other TAPS student staff. Unlike many summer theater internships, which are limited to administrative work, these positions will allow students to witness and participate in the creation of a new piece. “This is a chance for students to get in the room and really be a part of the process,” Coleman said.
The House’s long-term residency is an expansion of TAPS’ Summer Inc. program, which offers emerging theater companies access to the space and resources of TAPS and the Logan Center as they develop new work. This year, in addition to The House Theatre, Summer Inc. will host Manual Cinema, Salonathon, Flip Flap productions, The Mill Theater and First Floor Theater, a company founded by College alumni.
The program’s impressive track record includes several new pieces developed in part through Summer Inc. that are set to premiere in 2014-2015. These include two distinct adaptations of Moby Dick at Lookingglass and The House, Manual Cinema’s production of Momentos Mori at the MCA, and Sean Graney’s production with The Hypocrites of All Our Tragic.
Coleman plans to build on the success of Summer Inc. by developing a new, larger-scale program for the development of new devised work by artists from all over the world. She hopes the sustained collaboration with The House Theatre will fuel that new effort, and provide a model for future collaborations with other companies.
The long-term relationship with The House Theatre “means we have another partner in the professional world," Coleman explained. "As we’re creating additional residencies, companies will know that their work has somewhere to go, and they will benefit from relationships with producers at The House and elsewhere who can help them bring their work to wider audiences."
Allen shares Coleman’s ambitions for the partnership and the possibility to foster and produce additional artists in Chicago. “Together, I hope we can create something that supports and sustains more art and stronger artists,” Allen said.