Generous grants made to deserving theatre companies

Scene from the “Red Kite” project

GIFT GIVING DOESN’T END with Christmas in the theatre world.  Three companies received well-deserved grants that will be put to good use, starting with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which announced $504,000 in funding to a dozen local performing arts companies. 

A total of $1 million in grants is planned by the end of 2012, made through the International Connections Fund. 

The grants will help many companies of all sizes that have tried to keep international work and collaborations going on local stages, since the demise of the International Theatre Festival of Chicago.  

AMONG THE RECIPIENTS is longtime Lakeview multidisciplinary venue Links Hall, which presents “Arte No Es Fácil,” a festival of work by Cuban and American artists beginning Jan. 20 and running into March.

A COUPLE OF KID-ORIENTED THEATRES also received goodies. Adventure Stage Chicago, a program of Northwestern University Settlement House, nabbed $120,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  The company has been producing professional shows for young audiences for several years.

The money allows Adventure Stage (currently under the leadership of producing artistic director Tom Arvetis) to continue innovative integration of social services with their arts programming.

The company began developing some prototypes this past summer with Head Start family workshops, a “Summer Adventure Camp” for kids, and a “Neighborhood Perspectives” theatrical piece created from stories from ASC’s diverse West Town neighbors.

CHICAGO CHILDREN’S THEATRE received a $10,000 NEA grant for workshops to develop Red Kite by the Sea, a new production geared for children on the autism spectrum.

CCT, under artistic director Jacqueline Russell, has produced two previous “Red Kite” shows, inspired in part by London’s Oily Cart company, which creates work for kids with complex learning disabilities and autism.

The Red Kite initiative also includes “Camp Red Kite,” a summer arts camp for autistic children who are too often shut out of more traditional children’s art programs.

PERSONNEL CHANGE-UPS. Chicago Park District’s Theater on the Lake names two new co-curators: Michael Patrick Thornton, artistic director/co-founder of Gift Theatre and “Dr. Gabriel Fife” on ABC’s “Private Practice,” and Meghan Beals McCarthy, associate artistic director of Chicago Dramatists.

They take over the reins from Hallie Gordon of Steppenwolf’s Theatre for Young Adults program.

METROPOLIS PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE in Arlington Heights named Charlie Beck as its new executive director. Beck replaces Jim Jarvis, who now works in marketing for the Paramount in Aurora.  He is a local actor and Arlington Heights resident who spent years as a marketing consultant with drug companies.

A WORLD-PREMIERE COUP was scored by Court Theatre with its Jan. 12-Feb. 19 presentation of Invisible Man.  It was adapted by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Oren Jacoby (Sister Rose’s Passion) from Ralph Ellison’s seminal classic and directed by Christopher McElroen of the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

The Ellison estate had long been resistant to adaptations, making this production especially noteworthy – and the fact that a masterpiece about African American identity is taking the stage a stone’s throw from the home of the first black president of the United States is also a fitting touch.

STEPPENWOLF OPENS its 3rd Annual Garage Rep in which three small companies share the Garage theater space on Halsted in rotating rep.

This year’s line-up includes: Bekah Brunstetter’s Oohrah!, about a returning Iraq War vet and his difficult re-entry into civilian life, presented by LiveWire Chicago; Ike Holter’s Hit the Wall, about the death of Judy Garland and the subsequent Stonewall riots that kicked off the modern gay rights movement, presented by The Inconvenience; and puppet theater genius Michael Montenegro’s Theatre Zarko in He Who, a surreal fable about four women who share “one grotesquely enormous baby.” The Garage Rep runs February 2-April 8.

Kerry Reid is a freelance theater critic and arts journalist in Chicago and a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader. Please send news items to