Chicago Performance Lab builds bridges with professional theater companies

Susan Allen
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesUniversity Communications

A Theater and Performance Studies residency program will support the development of new work by innovative performing arts companies—part of an ongoing effort to support collaboration between the vibrant arts communities of the city and University.

Through the Chicago Performance Lab, both emerging and established ensembles are invited to spend a month in residence at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts focused on the development of a new performance work.

This summer, five groups are participating in the Chicago Performance Lab: The House Theatre of Chicago, Salonathon, The Syndicate, The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, and The Hypocrites.

The Chicago Performance Lab is an expansion of what began in the Reynolds Club as Summer Inc. in 2007. Following the opening of the Logan Center in 2012, that program yielded world-premiere productions across the city in 2014-15, including two distinct adaptations of Moby Dick at the Lookingglass Theater and The House Theatre of Chicago, Manual Cinema’s production of Momentos Mori at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic.

The Chicago Performance Lab is more than an act of hospitality—it also benefits UChicago students, who gain valuable professional experience in the development and production of new work while providing technical and administrative support to Chicago Performance Lab collaborators.

Heidi Coleman, who founded Summer Inc, and leads the Chicago Performance Lab, said the lab will foster the development of vibrant, constructive relationships among individual artists, ensembles, Theater and Performance Studies, and the broader Chicago arts community.

“This initiative reflects a sincere desire to be an active collaborator with the Chicago arts communities and resolutely commits to creating an environment for new work to be created beyond existing scarcity models,” said Coleman, director of undergraduate studies for Theater and Performance Studies. “Artists are told too often, ‘Limits inspire creativity,’ and not asked, for example, ‘How many projectors are too many?’ Within a very short time, CPL has had a radical impact on work in the city and looks forward to ongoing sustainable relationships in years to come.”

Key support for the lab has been provided by the Center for Theater and Performance Studies, which supports student and faculty initiatives at the intersection of performance theory and practice. The Logan Center and Office of the Provost also have provided support for the initiative.

“One way to judge the program’s success is by reviewing the performance schedules of leading Chicago theater and performance companies like The House, Lookingglass, Manual Cinema and The Hypocrites. A lot of really important work is being incubated here,” said Prof. David Levin, chair of Theater and Performance Studies.

“When the history of Chicago theater in the early-21st century is written, the CPL will form an important chapter. The Center for Theater and Performance Studies is thrilled to support that work,” Levin added.

The House Theatre is returning to the Logan Center for the second summer of its three-year partnership with the Chicago Performance Lab. The House’s artistic director Nathan Allen said the program “is raising the bar for poetic storytelling in Chicago.”

“The results are certainly felt in the work produced on The House’s stage, but also in a greater depth of discussion and connection among many of the city’s playwrights, devisors and designers,” Allen added.

Last year, The House incubated the final installment of The Hammer Trinity, a reinterpretation of the legend of King Arthur set in the American West. During the development of The Hammer Trinity, The House sought input and insight from UChicago scholars including Lauren Berlant, Elizabeth Davenport and Larry Rothfield.

Now, Allen has turned his attention to The Last Defender, an experimental piece that is “part performance, part puzzle hunt, part live-action game.” This summer, Allen once again looked to faculty members like game expert Patrick Jagoda for their expertise.

More than a dozen pieces will be incubated over the course of the summer. These include Afterword, an experimental opera developed in partnership with the Gray Center and set to premiere at the MCA in October, as well as The Hypocrites’ production of The Ring Cycle, playwright Sean Graney’s adaptation of Wagner’s masterwork.

New York-based ensemble The Syndicate (which features alumna Ellenor Riley-Condit, AB’11) will continue work on Civility!. a new adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae. Salonathon, curated by Jane Beachy, a previous Chicago Performance Lab collaborator, will develop three pieces set to premiere in September, including Carbon Copy, a multimedia piece featuring dance and spoken-word performance set to original music by Chicago artist Fee Lion.

“Developing meaningful connections and collaborations between the University of Chicago and Chicago’s other arts communities is an essential element of our vision for the future of the arts at this institution, and for the future of the arts ecology of this extraordinary city,” said Bill Brown, deputy provost for the Arts. “The Chicago Performance Lab has fashioned a model for sustaining robust interaction between some of the city’s most innovative art ensembles and our own amazing students, artists and scholars.”