Three Chicago theatre companies have been selected as the inaugural recipients of the Rick Bayless Family Foundation’s Stepping Stone Grants, a new funding initiative launched by the well-known Chicago chef and restauranteur who became a household name with his long-running PBS series Mexico: One Plate at a Time.
The Albany Park Theatre Project, Porchlight Music Theatre, and Steep Theatre have been selected as the inaugural recipients of the grants, which provide each theatre with $150,00 over the next three years to help sustain their artistic and administrative growth.
A life-long theatre lover and champion of Chicago’s resident theatres, Bayless says he saw an opportunity to help provide stability and alleviate financial barriers to their growth with the Stepping Stone Grants.
“There were so many barriers that we saw for some of the really great small theatre companies here, and we were drawn to companies that wanted to invest in the artists and the staff members who work for them, because that ultimately is what creates sustainability,” Bayless says. “We’re helping these smaller theatres get over their financial barriers by investing in them with a substantial amount of money— $50,000 a year for the next three years.”
The foundation asked each applicant to detail how the funding would be used in their yearly budget to overcome a major financial barrier and to sustain the organization’s artistic vitality.
“We selected a diverse group of theatres, each of which were facing one big barrier that they needed to get over. Because they had the clearest barriers, we felt that our financial commitment could really take them to the next level over the next three years," he says. "In many cases, the grants are going to help them reach a broader audience, and to be able to really showcase their craft in a way that we feel like they deserve.”
The Bayless Family Foundation launched last year with an initial round of grants totaling $170,000 awarded to 17 Chicago-area theatre companies. The foundation is also supporting a series of performances throughout Millennium Park as part of the city's "Year of Chicago Theatre."
Bayless has first-hand experience with the process of developing and producing new theatre. In 2012 he partnered with Lookingglass Theatre to create Cascabel, a critically-acclaimed theatrical feast that combined gourmet cuisine, circus acts, flamenco dancing, and music that returned for an encore run at the Goodman Theatre in 2014.
“It was really a dream of mine for many years,” Bayless says. “The experience of sharing the same meal within the same story night after night… It was spectacular. I loved to being able to do it. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We are actually in talks right now to do another production that has food as an integral part of it.”