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Filament Theatre launches full-out stage season with ‘The Snow Queen’

‘The Snow Queen,’ Jan. 17-Feb. 9, Filament Theatre, 4041 N. Milwaukee. $20. (773) 270-1660;

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Updated: January 17, 2014 7:25AM

In August 2013, Filament Theatre took a big step into its future by signing a lease on its first permanent home in the Portage Park neighborhood near the Six Corners intersection (Milwaukee, Irving Park and Cicero). Since then, the company has slowly and precisely worked on getting the raw, new space ready as well as setting up the usual organizational infrastructure of an ensemble of artists ready to move to the next level.

While Filament has hosted an array of events in the space, including music “house” concerts and short runs of its original ensemble piece “Crossing Six Corners,” an ongoing series looking at the history of its new neighborhood, it is now ready to open its doors for a season of plays beginning with an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.”

For this production, Filament has kept it all in the family. Ensemble member Christian Libonati was familiar with a staging of “The Snow Queen” directed by his sister Allegra, resident director at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., and suggested it for the season opener. The new adaptation (not to be confused with Michael Smith’s version that has played at Victory Gardens) was created by Libonati and playwright Tyler Monroe. Additional puppets and masks for the Filament staging are by artist Jeff Semmerling.

“Andersen has created an incredibly rich and evocative world filled with original and interesting characters that lends itself to a great theatrical rendering,” Allegra Libonati says. “It’s a playful, rustic and delightful story that speaks to all ages.”

“The Snow Queen” is the tale of young Gerda and her best friend Kai. When Kai is lured to the wicked Snow Queen’s palace, Gerda embarks on an unexpected quest to the ends of the world to save him. It’s a story of courage and friendship across the wintery wonders of the North Pole and beyond.

“We’re interested in telling stories that connect with a diverse audience,” artistic director Julie Ritchey says. “Our goal is to create a visceral live aesthetic that draws people in.”

“The Snow Queen” was first produced on a proscenium stage. The Filament version will be up close and a lot more personal, says director Libonati.

“We are reimagining some of the characters to create more subtlety and depth,” Libonati explains. “The ensemble is creative and adventurous and it’s a pleasure to unpack this story and re-examine it with them.”

“The Snow Queen” also will mark the debut of Filament’s 2014 acting ensemble, which includes actors Lindsey Dorcus, Nathan Drackett, Christian Libonati, Molly Bunder, Mara Dale and Andrew Marchetti. The goal of the ensemble is to bring together a committed group of multitalented artists to tell stories, create original work and perform together as an ensemble throughout an entire year which serves to strengthen Filament’s emphasis on community-building and collaboration.

Later this year, Filament will stage Scottish playwright David Greig’s “The Monster in the Hall” as well as two new segments of “Crossing Six Corners.”

Filament, which can seat up to 180 (65 seats is the limit for “The Snow Queen”), is part of the growing arts community in Portage Park. Semmerling’s mask-making studio is located in a space just above the theater. Across the hall is the National Veterans Art Museum (formerly the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum). Just down the street is the recently shuttered Portage Theatre, which many in the neighborhood hope will eventually reopen.

“It’s been an incredible experience moving into a neighborhood that’s embraced us in so many ways,” Ritchey says. “It’s fueled our fire to do work that connects with the community and to help it grow through vibrant arts programming.”

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