In July of 2020, Prop Thtr, one of many oldest off-Loop corporations within the metropolis, introduced that they had been giving up their longtime two-venue home on Elston within the Avondale neighborhood. On the time, present Prop creative director Olivia Lilley instructed the Reader, “I’m very unhappy. I’m mourning. Completely. However I’m additionally excited for all of Prop’s board and workers and all the eyes which might be on the programming, on what we’re producing, on what we’re growing. After which additionally having the ability to begin to sort of combine among the calls for from We See You White American Theater and different paperwork of that nature to essentially be anti-racist in all elements of Prop.”
Now Lilley, who took over the reins at Prop in 2018, and the corporate’s affiliate creative director, Persephone Van Ort, have unveiled the outcomes of what that strategy of looking out and introspection has yielded up to now.
“Course of” might be the important thing phrase. Seeded all through the brand new plans, which had been introduced in a press launch this previous Monday, is an emphasis on growing work that facilities what artists want, slightly than simply pondering when it comes to how work in improvement can match as a full manufacturing in a future season. And by remaining itinerant in the intervening time, Prop’s management has given themselves a while to consider their position as a performing arts group for communities across the metropolis, in addition to on the position of financial justice in theater.
“We actually sort of put every little thing to a halt round March of final yr and took some respiration time to simply present up in conferences and say, ‘I don’t know’ for some time, after which begin to sort of dig into some questions,” says Lilley. “Final yr by way of the assistance of Tara Branham, our producer in residence on the time, we had been making an attempt to think about, ‘What does theater appear like in Chicago that doesn’t contribute to gentrification?’ And in the beginning of the pandemic, this felt nearly not possible to my board, however by Could and June of 2021, we had been prepared to really begin speaking about that and determining what that appears like.”
Lilley provides, “One of many issues we thought-about was making an attempt to focus all of our power into Albany Park and Avondale, however that felt slightly bit colonizer—like this predominantly white establishment now all of the sudden cares so much about Avondale and Albany Park’s very particular communities. So we struggled for some time with ‘How can we provide programming that doesn’t really feel like we try to save lots of different communities or making an attempt to provide them drugs they want?’”
Within the press launch, Prop identifies 5 parts that they’re at the moment growing.
The Nest is a residency program for artists, conceived and run by Van Ort, for what the corporate describes as “concepts that defy straightforward categorization.” Every artist chosen receives a stipend of $600 and a supplies payment of $400, in addition to help from a “workers sponsor” who helps foster collaboration.
Van Ort, who assumed the affiliate creative director’s place at Prop in March of 2020, notes, “I’m not essentially a profession theater artist. I spend loads of time doing my very own tasks, small storefront tasks and type of experimental work. And what I noticed fairly constantly from the individuals who had been in slightly bit extra of a conventional theater background was extra of ‘the present should go on,’ however not essentially a drive to work with different individuals and discover thrilling new methods to precise a human expertise.” Author Ada Alozie was the primary Nest resident this previous fall. Van Ort says, “She mainly was identical to, ‘I simply need help on writing a chunk about parasocial relationships, Lolita, and the Web.’ And I used to be identical to, nice.” The applying course of can be opened up for brand spanking new Nest-ers quickly.
Lilley will produce Prop’s new Playwrights Workshop Showcase, which is able to quickly be introduced for February and March of 2022. The 4 taking part playwrights, all with roots in both Chicago or the midwest, have been growing work with the purpose of self-production; Prop supplies technical route, streaming companies, graphic design, and advertising and marketing, overseen by social media and advertising and marketing director Caitlin Shantz. The workshop has some similarities with the web Small Hours Festival that Prop produced in 2020, and the emphasis for the taking part playwrights, because the press launch places it, is on “constructing their viewers and taking possession over the entrepreneurial elements of being an artist who makes artwork beneath capitalism.” The present taking part playwrights are: Hallie Palladino, Lingyue, Aida Peerzada, and Chris Vanderark.
Moreover, Lilley is taking the lead, together with Xavier Retana and Lily Be, on a collection of six pop-up workshops, at the moment deliberate as in individual, on-line, and hybrid performances for numerous group areas within the metropolis, with the purpose to have the items proceed to develop and adapt as wanted for these areas and neighborhoods after the workshops. There can be particular matters for every, with a workshop chief introduced in from exterior of Prop who can be paid a stipend of $500.
Lilley first got here to the eye of Prop’s cofounder and then-artistic director, Stefan Brun, when she was producing a model of Faust together with her outdated firm, the Runaways, which was touring to numerous residing rooms across the metropolis. Faust is again on the Prop radar, however this time playwright Tanuja Jagernauth and composer Alec Phan are treating it as a musical story of gentrification, and planning to conduct listening circles for Logan Sq. residents to speak about how they’ve been “creating options to extractive financial situations and resisting evictions and displacement throughout the pandemic and past,” because the press launch describes it. That present doesn’t have a particular opening date, however Lilley tasks that it is going to be prepared by 2023 or 2024.
Lastly, Prop, which is without doubt one of the oldest members of the National New Play Network, will companion with Perceptions Theatre on the south aspect (which shaped and produced digital plays during the pandemic) to provide the rolling world premiere of India Nicole Burton’s Panther Girls: An Military for the Liberation, slated to open in fall of 2022.
For Lilley, all these new parts level to an expanded route for Prop as an organization that doesn’t simply produce its personal work, however that takes a extra energetic hand in creating collaboration and group, whereas additionally specializing in offering stipends for everybody concerned within the work.
The collaborative intuition has been a part of Prop’s DNA since its founding over 40 years in the past; Brun and cofounder Scott Vehill instructed me ten years in the past that they all the time wished to offer an area for multidisciplinary artists in addition to straight performs, they usually’ve coproduced Rhino Fest with Curious Theatre Department for a few years.
Throughout our Zoom name, Lilley exhibits me a tattoo on her shoulder that reads “This Is The Place,” accompanied by a hobo image, and explains its historical past.
“It has two meanings. One is on the again [wall] of Prop, there was a mural that stated ‘This Should Be the Place.’ This [tattoo] says, ‘this is the place.’ Additionally, in 2014, I did a present known as I Noticed the Greatest Minds of My Technology with the Runaways. And that was the primary present the place I actually constructed an ensemble who had been like trip or die for one another. And this was the hobo image for the present, and it means ‘that is the place.’ The hobo image is one thing that lets another person know that there’s a protected place forward.”