There are more than 250 theatre companies in the city hailed by London’s The Guardian as “the theatre capital of America.” That includes some of the famous stages downtown, plus dozens more scattered throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods. And while they may be small in size, there’s nothing little about the drama they unleash.
Here’s a list of some of the best neighborhood theatres in Chicago.
Court Theatre is known for taking classic American works, then adapting and expanding them. You’ll find reinventions of lost masterpieces and fresh versions of old classics, with a particular emphasis on African American works. Founded in 1955, Court Theatre is the professional theatre of the revered University of Chicago. 5535 S Ellis Ave., Hyde Park
Porchlight Music Theatre
Artistic Director Michael Weber snaps up the rights to Broadway musicals after they’ve been around for a while and makes them Chicago’s own. The casts at Porchlight Music Theatre are usually anchored by a song ‘n dance vet, surrounded by an ensemble of younger, emerging talent. The result is shows that invariably knock the audience’s collective socks right off. In residence at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., River North
Black Ensemble Theater
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Black Ensemble Theater show where the audience isn’t on its feet dancing by the curtain call. Artistic Director Jackie Taylor pens most of the theatre’s juke-box biographies of legendary (or undersung) African American composers and performers. 4450 N. Clark St., Uptown
Tip: Wear shoes you can move in. You will be dancing by the final number.
TimeLine‘s formidable power rests in its ensemble, a group that can shape the most obscure slices of history into storytelling that is vivid, urgent, and resonant. TimeLine has garnered awards for bringing to life everything from 16th century England to 21st century Iraq. 615 W. Wellington Ave., in the Belmont Theater District of Lakeview
Tip: Arrive early. TimeLine’s lobby displays are mini-museums where collages, video footage, and historical photos and documents provide context to the play at hand.
Sideshow Theatre Company
With values of curiosity, community, and exploration, Sideshow Theatre Company was founded in 2007 and is currently in a multi-year residency at Victory Gardens Theater in Lincoln Park. Sideshow is a multiple Jeff Award-winning theatre and has been listed on the “Best of” lists in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2018 by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times and Windy City Times. In residence at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park
A Red Orchid Theatre
Guy Van Swearingen founded A Red Orchid Theatre in between fighting fires (his day job is Lieutenant with the CFD) and with longtime collaborators Michael Shannon and Kirstin Fitzgerald. Over the past two decades, the company has made an indelible mark staging works that aren’t necessarily well known, but that suck you in with the force of a riptide. 1531 N. Wells St., Old Town
Victory Gardens Theater
Long an incubator of new works, Victory Gardens has some of the most diverse programming in the city. Artistic Director Chay Yew consistently bucks the dead-white-male dominance in contemporary theatre, and slates his seasons with a roster of playwrights that actually reflect the real world’s population. 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park
Tip: Take a mini-ghost hunt to the fence approximately five feet west of the entrance. It marks the exact spot where John Dillinger was shot.
There’s a trio of 98-seat theatres inside Theater Wit, making the place an ever-buzzing hive of artistry. Wit shows skew toward innovative provocative, whipsmart contemporary works and Midwest premieres. The roster of shows is laid out on a massive wall menu in the lobby. 1229 W. Belmont Ave., in the Belmont Theater District of Lakeview
Tip: If you’re in town for a week or more, get a FlexPass allowing you to see 10 shows at any performance you want (or give them to friends) at a 30% ticket price discount.
The Gift Theatre
Jefferson Park’s only theatre, The Gift has been telling great stories with honesty and simplicity for over 20 years. Founded by Michael Patrick Thornton, the space is home to new works and classics delivered with ferocity, verve, and authenticity. 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., Jefferson Park
Tip: The nearby Gale Street Inn has some of the best ribs in Chicago. Have dinner there before or after the show.
A triumph of storytelling over spectacle is the hallmark of Theo Ubique. Artistic Director Fred Anzevino takes big, Broadway musicals and strips them down to their emotional essence. Expect to be part of the set, literally. The actors sing and dance around cabaret tables where the audience is seated. 721 Howard St., Evanston, IL
Tip: Come early for dinner, served by the cast