A Plea For Chicago’s Theater Scene

There’s an interesting plea in the Tribune today.  Essentially, the author is asking the still-to-be-chosen mayor of Chicago not to screw up the theater scene that the outgoing mayor worked so hard to create.

I’m not a theater person.  I can’t stand musicals.  But I lived in the Loop during Wicked, and I think most people have no idea the kind of economic impact that one play had, and continues to have, on the city.  The neighborhood was flooded with out-of-state tourists and tour buses five days a week just because of that show.

But part of the Trib article I don’t get is the notion that neighborhood theater should be preserved.  This is counterintuitive to me.  If anything, the city’s theaters should be encouraged to move into the theater district.  It’s not like there isn’t a ton of empty space in the northwest corner of the Loop.  Moreover, you end up creating a critical mass that spurs creativity and creates a more vibrant, closer knit cultural community.

There’s a reason all of the Broadway theaters in New York are along, or just off Broadway.  There’s a reason so many dot-com companies are in a particular neighborhood of San Francisco.  There’s a reason that during the age of the automobile, all the world’s great car companies were in Detroit.

Chicago has already proven it has the potential to be a world class theater city.  But what it lacks is the scale of a Broadway or London’s West End.  It needs all those minor theaters in the ‘hoods to come downtown.  That then gives the crappy tiny theaters a chance to thrive, grow, and flourish until they’re ready to move downtown, and so on.

So, I encourage the new mayor to continue cultivating the arts in Chicago.  But do it with a plan for the future, now that Mayor Daley’s plan for right now has been realized.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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