Center Theater Ensemble announced Feb. 8 that after 17 years as one of Chicago's oldest ensemble theatre companies, it will close its doors March 1, 2001, due to financial reasons.
"With rising operating costs...it has become impossible to make ends meet," according to a statement. "During the past season Center was pleased to serve the community as an affordable rental space, while the acting school, The Training Center for Actors, Directors, & Playwrights, continued in its long-term tradition of offering comprehensive training for the working actor."
Founded in 1984-85 by artistic director Dan La Morte, CTE had begun as the training arm of Wisdom Bridge Theatre (where La Morte was director of training) and developed into a ensemble production company with an Equity relationship. "We were unique because most theatres began training programs to get additional income," La Morte told Playbill On-Line Feb 9. "We were a training company that formed a theatre."
La Morte, reached in New York City, said he chose plays based on the acting pool, not based exclusively on what plays were out there. In the first several years of producing, beginning in 1985, the company did not repeat any playwrights, La Morte said, and the fare was eclectic, including diverse works by Coward, Kroetz, Albee, Schnitzler, and an adaptation called Lysistrata 2411 AD.
Center Theater Ensemble produced more than 90 plays during its existence including new works, world premieres by renowned playwrights, and several Midwest premieres of Off Broadway plays, and won a variety of awards, including several After Dark and Jeff awards. For many years, CTE fostered the development of new works through its annual playwriting competition. Among past productions there were Brian Lasser's musical, The Black Tulip; The Scarecrow; and Two Many Bosses (La Morte's musical version of Servant of Two Masters).
The troupe also presented some plays in repertory, in their various intimate studio spaces (not exceeding 85 seats) over the years: Blue Window with Fen, Hotel Universe with My Three Angels, Measure for Measure with The Night of the Tribades.
Other productions presented by CTW included Mary Zimmerman's staging of Tom Stoppard's Hapgood (a Midwest premiere); a version of Tom Jones; Stephen P. Daly's Lifeidreamedof; Colleen Dodson's Detachments.
The company also had a relationship with Pulitzer Prize-winner Beth Henley, who was a training ensemble member. She directed the world premiere of her play, The Revelers, which was said to be loosely based on the CTE members. CTE also staged Henley's The Lucky Spot, Abundance and Control Freaks.
"I miss the group of people and the collaboration we had, I miss the ensemble and seeing them grow," La Morte said. He cited members of the teaching staff who helped develop the group into a producing company as Carole Gutierrez, Eileen Manganaro, Marc Vann, Kelly Thompson and Dale Calandra.
CTE's artsReach program brought youth-oriented theatre to Chicagoland schools and museums. The Training Center for Actors, Directors, & Playwrights recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The current creative team behind the school, Dale Calandra, Peter Toran and Robin Witt, plans to continue teaching, setting up a new program, according to a statement from the theatre. Details will be forthcoming.
Theatre companies seeking to take over the space should contact the landlord at EIturralde@nari.org. The landlord is interested in having another theatre company in the space and is willing to assist with license requirements, according to Center Theater.
To help defray the costs of a small outstanding debt, the theatre will sell its assets, including lighting and sound equipment, set pieces, a large costume stock, office equipment, tools, props, chairs, risers, and various other equipment. To make an appointment to review the assets, contact board president Charlie Frankel at (773) 528-8624.
— By Kenneth Jones