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‘Theater Thursdays’ a must for summer stage season

Joanie Schultz

Joanie Schultz

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Theater on the Lake, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 6:30 pm Sunday, Fullerton and Lake Shore Drive. $18. (312) 742-7994;

Now in its 61st season, Theater on the Lake has always been one of the more unique venues in town. Housed in an historic semi-open air building situated on the lakeshore near FullertonAvenue, its longtime mission has been to showcase works staged the previous season by smaller Off Loop theaters.

Last year, under new managing director Samantha Chavis, the mission of Theater on the Lake expanded with a goal to give the series a more festival feel. The addition of Theater Thursdays was a step in this direction, says Chavis, referring to the longtime program run by the League of Chicago Theatres.

“It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” Chavis explains. “The League’s mission is to resource and promote the Off Loop theater community and that fits with our mission as well.”

Packaged together the Thursday series, which was a big success last summer (and kicked off this year on June 12), offers a theater sampler for theatergoers who might not normally check out the storefront theater scene. There are approximately 47 Theater Thursdays throughout the year, according to Deb Clapp, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres. Eight of them are at Theater on the Lake.

“The summer Thursdays are a concentrated effort to give smaller companies some exposure,” Clapp says. “Hopefully, people will like what they see and check out the theaters during the regular season.”

As usual, this season’s co-curators Halena Kays and Joanie Schultz chose eight plays from Off Loop companies; each runs for one week. Each Theater Thursday evening begins at 6 p.m. (90 minutes before showtime) with drinks and appetizers.

Each theater company will also offer special programming on Thursday nights, says Chavez.

“Each company owns it differently in terms of offering something that is unique to the company,” Chavez notes. “Whether that be live music or just having the cast and company members mingle with patrons.”

Kays, artistic director at The Hypocrites, and Schultz, an in-demand director, drew on their knowledge of the Off Loop scene to choose the theaters for the 2013 season.

“It’s a festival of small shows that you may have missed,” Kays says. “And the teamwork of Theater on the Lake and the League reminds you why Chicago is such a great city for the arts.”

The remainder of the Theater on the Lake season is MPAACT’s “Blackademics” (June 19-23); Manual Cinema’s “Lula del Ray” (June 26-30); Theater Oobleck’s “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is” (July 10-14); Barrel of Monkeys’ “That’s Weird, Grandma” (July 17-21); The Den Theatre’s “The Quality of Life” (July 24-28); Jackalope Theatre’s “Long Way Go Down” (July 31 – Aug. 4); and Chicago Physical Theater’s “The Chi-Town Clown Revue” featuring Honeybuns (Aug. 7-11).

Also this season check out the debut of Live Lit on the Lake (9:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday). The free series, hosted by the Write Club’s Ian Belknap, features literary all-stars reading their stories, personal essays and commentaries.

Mary Houlihan is a Sun-Times free-lance writer.

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