Last week's Time Out Chicago article about Chicago theater made me irate. The main thrust of the article is that the city has spent millions of dollars on reviving the downtown theater district while neglecting the small storefronts that keep the Chicago theater scene hot. All the big investment has gone to rehabbing the grand old theaters (like the LaSalle Bank Theater, the Cadillac Palace), and supporting other big ones, like the Goodman and Lookingglass. And the result is big Broadway-style productions that stay forever (e.g., Wicked) and attract tourists.
Indeed, tourists may come to Chicago just to see a show like Wicked.
As if the tourists who come to Chicago to see Jersey Boys or Blue Man Group would (if only the city poured investment dollars in the correct direction) instead buy tickets for a show at TimeLine or The House Theater or the Neo-Futurarium.
The writers of this article (theater critics for Time Out) don't realize how good they have it. While I'm occasionally irritated by the swarms of people milling about in front of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental at dinnertime (in my way!), and the tourist buses lining Randolph Street, on the whole I'm grateful to have a downtown core that's hopping at night. Busy theaters mean busy hotels, busy restaurants, busy bars, busy shops, and busy streets, rather than the spookily empty ones that characterize the night-time downtowns of most American cities.
I don't doubt that the more edgy, homegrown Chicago theater scene could use more help. Small arts organizations always do. But to look at this as a tradeoff--renovate the Oriental or save Stage Left--is a mistake. These endeavors have vastly different audiences, both from a funding perspective and from a theatergoing perspective.