September 16, 2020

The Curtain Rises: Theater on Campus

A secret agent and criminal face off on a train in "Much Commotion about Locomotion", written by Jacob Johnson and Gabriel Schneider.

Alexandra Nisenoff / The Chicago Maroon

Theater productions on campus are currently in talks with University administrators and waiting to hear back regarding the 2020–21 school year. More information will follow later in the year. Updates are to follow with Court Theatre.  

Students from different walks of campus life take part in theater productions each year. The largest contingent participates in University Theater (UT), which produces more than 35 shows a year, reaching an annual audience of more than 10,000. With access to the 11-story Logan Center and knowledge of theater professionals and academics, UT offers participants an extensive set of resources. UT’s Theater[24]—a festival held the first weekend of each quarter—invites students to create an entire play from scratch, from playwriting to set design to performance, in just 24 hours. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Theater[24] has been reimagined by its curators as Radio[24], a 24-hour radio play festival. Instead of set designers and other traditional theater tech roles, there are now graphic designers, sound engineers, and composers. Sign up for their list host to receive updates. 

In lieu of their traditional mainstage shows, this quarter UT will have a rolling proposal call for mainstage programming, as well as offer workshops. UT’s Design Cohorts will still be running, and anyone interested can join those. New and curious students can also sign up for the UT list host and check the UT website for specific audition information. If you prefer to stay out of the spotlight, positions for production, stage, and house management, lighting, set design, costume design, and sound design are always available. 

Students with Shakespearean inclinations may want to check out The Dean’s Men. As the University’s resident Shakespeare troupe, they stage one of the Bard’s plays every quarter. The Dean’s Men also hold play readings, film screenings, and a quarterly Shakespeare Q&A with assistant professor Timothy Harrison, an expert on Renaissance and early modern English literature.  

A new theater RSO will be starting up this year: Theatre for All, a group that intends to provide an opportunity for any students interested in theater to participate. They do not currently have plans for any programming fall quarter but hope to put on shows once it is safe to do so. 

Because Hyde Park is the birthplace of improvisational comedy, it’s only fitting that the University boasts not one, but two excellent improv groups. Formed by Second City founder Bernie Sahlins (A.B. ’43) in 1986, you can catch a sneak peek of Off-Off Campus at their virtual O-Week show. Their five-week revue, which runs each quarter from fourth to eighth week, showcases the troupe’s hilarious skits and improv comedy and will be offered virtually during Fall Quarter. Occam’s Razor, an improv troupe known for their more laid-back style, is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. The group puts on three free shows each quarter in the FXK Theater or at The Revival, located on East 55th Street. Previous acts have included on-the-spot PowerPoints, impersonations, and reenactments of scenes based only on visual cues. Auditions for both Off-Off and Occam’s Razor are held early fall quarter.  

Seeking a more unconventional creative outlet? Never fear—unconventional is UChicago’s middle name. Those looking to combine their love for history and theater may be interested in UChicago Commedia, which specializes in the commedia dell’arte theater style of the Italian Renaissance. The Underground Collective is a unique University of Chicago safe-space performance collective composed of student performers who put on quarterly showcases of entirely original work, including poetry, music, dance, and multi-art collaborations. They will be hosting virtual auditions early in Fall Quarter. Check out their spring/summer virtual showcase here

Ever dream of running away and joining the circus? Also housed under UT, the student-run Le Vorris & Vox Circus welcomes all those affiliated with the University the chance to learn a plethora of circus skills, ranging from aerial silks and trapeze to group acrobatics and juggling. They offer specific workshops as well as weekly open gyms and often put on a show at the end of each quarter. More details are to follow about equipment usage and social distancing. 

If you don’t have time to leave Hyde Park but still want to get your fix of professional theater, Court Theatre puts on high-quality shows on South Ellis Avenue next door to Campus North. Once called “the most consistently excellent theater company in America” by The Wall Street Journal, Court will open this season with a new online series entitled Theatre & Thought. Each of the four events in the series will feature scholars from UChicago speaking on plays either in dialogue with various Court artists or accompanying a reading. The season will begin with a discussion on “The World of August Wilson and the Black Creative Voice” and will continue with seminars on Euripides’s The Bacchae, Caryl Churchill’s Fen, and Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs. Court hopes to resume in-person performances in early 2021. While tickets may appear pricier than other campus productions, students are eligible for discounts, including free rush tickets to certain Wednesday and Thursday night performances. 

Fresh thespian blood, experienced or not, is what keeps theater groups alive and improving each year. Whether you love being on the stage or behind it, UChicago has a role for you—check out any of the organizations listed above and start your performance today.