Monday, January 30, 2012

Uptown Theaters Move, Expand, Hide Speakeasies

from National Pastime's website
Photo Credit:  Warren Winter / PSG
Interesting!  Two Uptown theater companies are making location changes, and they're both staying in Uptown.  Can you say "Entertainment District"?
  • Profiles Theatre, located at 4147 N Broadway, is expanding and will take over the performance space just a couple doors down the street, at 4139 N Broadway (most recently occupied by National Pastime Theatre).  The original space at 4147 will be known as the Alley Stage, and the newly acquired space will be known as the Main Stage.  Alley Stage will have 65 seats, and the Main Stage will have 99 seats.

    More cool news:  In April, the first show at the Main Stage will be the American debut of Neil LaBute's play In a Forest, Dark and Deep.  From London's West End to Uptown... can you say "Entertainment District"?

  • And where does that leave National Pastime Theatre?  Moving north to an historical theater on the fourth floor of the Preston Bradley Center, at 941 N Lawrence.

    "After nearly twenty years in the old speakeasy*, The National Pastime Theater is closing its doors ... and unveiling Chicago's newest theatrical venue in the Uptown neighborhood.  With the support of the 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman, NPT rediscovered the historic Masonic Hall on the fourth floor of the Preston Bradley Center at 941 W. Lawrence, Chicago.  The New NPT is located in the center of Chicago's most historic, notorious neighborhood and the center of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's deemed Neighborhood Entertainment District.

    The new theatrical venue opens to the public this Valentine's Day for The Beginning of the Big Time, a speakeasy-style Jazz Benefit, featuring the Fred Barr's Organ-Ization.  All proceeds from this benefit go to the restoration of this historic theatrical space."

*  What's this "speakeasy" stuff? From BPN's October 2011 newsletter (which we can't find online, but would love to link to if anyone can provide a link):
"National Pastime Theater opened its doors in October 1992 but the space it occupies really opened up a few months earlier. That's when the theater's founding director, Laurence Bryan, cut through the back wall of a shop at 4139 N. Broadway and discovered a cobwebbed, mahogany-hued, Prohibition-era dance hall speakeasy. The shop merchant didn't know it was there. The property owners didn't know it was there. Did Joey "the Clown" Lombardo know it was there? We'll never know. What we do know is that the residents of Buena Park were just as thirsty as the rest of Chicago.

The speakeasy had a secret entrance, of course, and 10 secret exits leading to the basement, the back alley, and a catacomb of hallways in the surrounding apartment building. A terrazzo floor, 17-foot ceilings, and a giant marble clock above a bar adorned the interior. Originally designed as a ballroom in 1921, the space was soon "repurposed" as a hideaway tavern. According John J. Binder, author of The Chicago Outfit, there were thousands of such speakeasies in Chicago during Prohibition and several remain as bars and clubs today. But the secret saloon on Broadway wouldn't be one of those. In 1948 it was walled off, forgotten, and left to the ghosts.

Forty-odd years later, thanks to Bryan's well-placed cut, the old speakeasy got a third life. Seats went in, lights went up. The outlawed imbibing was replaced by outrageously hip acting and cutting-edge plays in the Chicago tradition. From demon rum to drama on tap. So it goes."



    Here's a 1997 Tribune story about the ballroom/speakeasy.

  2. All this is going on while the venerable Pegasus Players are still in limbo. Hope we hear some good news from them soon!

  3. Ahhhh! And what's to become of this gem of a speakeasy?!?!? Larry was gracious enough to take us on a tour of this hidden literal hole-in-the-wall historic Buena Park ballroom a few years back. Best of luck in the new location, Larry!

  4. Any photos of the new space on Lawrence?