Theater on Campus

The U of C’s drama queens and kings

By Jessen O'Brien

Whether you’re looking for a show to watch on a Saturday night or one to star in, the U of C has plenty of options to satisfy your theatrical cravings. Campus theater groups produce shows ranging from traditional to experimental, tragedy to sketch comedy, Shakespeare to dance.

University Theater (UT), the largest student theater group on campus, produces over 35 shows a year with the help of approximately 500 students. Productions include mid-quarter “workshop” performances featuring one-act plays as well as larger shows that go on stage at the end of the quarter.

“What’s incredible about UT is the resources,” said fourth-year Elle Riley-Condit, chair of UT. “It’s kind of a ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ environment. Whatever show or project or workshop or anything you want to do, big or small, we can probably make it happen.”

Both extensive resources and limitless enthusiasm allow UT to cover a wide range of material, including experimental new plays by U of C students. Due to the number and variety of shows UT puts on, you will be sure to find a performance that you enjoy.

“UT puts up more shows than any other theater group on campus and has opportunities for everyone, no matter what you’re into: acting, directing, lights, sound, set, costumes—you name it,” Riley-Condit said. “And it’s all student-run, so there’s this extra sense of accomplishment you get from seeing a show go from idea to reality because it’s your friends and classmates that helped make it happen. It’s epic!”

In contrast to UT’s variety, the Dean's Men, another student-run theater group, performs Shakespeare plays exclusively. However, they do not always stick to traditional interpretations, occasionally utilizing modern props and influences, such as potato chips and Regina Spektor. Although most of their plays are performed inside a theater, the Dean's Men sometimes perform outdoors. Rehearsals for these shows are always an attraction for students on their way to class and the free outdoor production inevitably attracts large crowds.

If you are in need of some levity after your last Sosc paper, Off-Off Campus is the group to see. The second oldest continuously running improv group in the country, Off-Off continues to flourish at the U of C.

“Off-Off is perhaps the theater group most immediately connected to the history of its art form of all arts groups across college campuses,” said fourth-year Graham Rosby, who has performed with Off-Off. “We are the spiritual descendants of the Compass Players, one of the first groups to ever perform improv as an art, and not merely use it as a way to generate scene ideas. An alumnus of the Compass Players, Bernard Sahlins, went on to be a co-founder of Second City.”

Off-Off isn’t your only source for comic relief on campus. Occam’s Razor, the U of C’s independent improv troupe, has gotten audiences’ attention in the decade since its inception. Time Out Chicago described the group as delivering “distinctly manic performances, reveling in the absurd.”

U of C is also home to several student-run dance groups, which both perform and offer classes for aspiring dancers. The oldest dance group on campus, UCDancers, works hard to expose students to dance through its modern and jazz classes, study breaks, and annual performances. Rhythmic Bodies in Motion (RBIM) seeks to bring a diversity of skill, style, and culture to dance on campus. Its shows feature everything from first-time tappers to experienced Irish dancers. UBallet, meanwhile, offers ballet classes for different skill levels year-round, in addition to its two annual productions. The group promises that anyone who auditions can participate without being cast as a tree.

If you’d rather leave the shows to the pros, head to Court Theatre, directly west of Pierce Hall. Founded in 1955 as an amateur outdoor summer theater, the Court has now become a professional group devoted to classic drama. Advance student tickets are $10, and rush tickets are $5 or free on Wednesdays and Thursdays, making Court the most affordable professional theater that you’ll pass on your way to class.