If you build it, they will come.
On January 20, 2009, while the rest of Chicago was celebrating the inauguration of President Obama, a small band of hardy theater enthusiasts, drawn together by a lot of yellow flyers posted by Paul and Rachel Baker, met to discuss the question, “Does Hyde Park need a community theater?” Having agreed on the answer, they went to work.
With nearly no money, a barely-there set, just enough people to fill out both casts, and costumes salvaged from the actors’ own closets, the HPCP mounted its first production in the Experimental Station in June 2009. It consisted of two one-act plays: Riders to the Sea, by John M. Synge, directed by Paul Baker; and Anton Chekhov’s The Bear, directed by Corinna Christman.
We’ve come a long way since then. Our regular season now typically includes 2-3 full productions, a free outdoor Shakespeare play, a monthly series of staged readings, our annual Halloween radio show.
With each show, we grow the organization by choosing plays that require skills and resources we don’t already have. If we build it, we say to ourselves, they will come. Our February 2010 show, Yeats’s On Baile’s Strand (along with Moliere’s The Flying Doctor), caught the attention of Mary McCarthy, who saw immediately that we would need beautiful costumes, and miraculously appeared in Paul’s living room one night and offered to make them. Bill Hohnke and Corinna Christman brought Jenne Lennon on board to compose original music for several of our shows; Bill has also composed original music for several of our shows (including Glory in the Flower, Strains of Triumph, An Ideal Husband, and Marriage of Bette and Boo).
Terrie Vasilopoulos, who (along with Nora Davis) was instrumental in establishing our annual Halloween ‘radio show’ (An Evening of Horror and Suspense) directed our first full-length play, Murder, You Must Be Kidding!, in June 2010. Thanks to Christa Marshall, we also mounted our first annual Shakespeare Boot Camp that year, which introduced us to the Flying Hammond-MacGregors, a Hyde Park theatrical family that have welcomed us into not only their hearts and souls but their capacious two-car garage. That winter, Antigone became the first show we staged in the round. Corinna’s triumphant production of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile in June 2011 scaled new heights in terms of set design, lighting, and visual effects—as always, with the help of Bill, who still does all our lights all the time.
Laura MacGregor made her directorial debut the next winter with two one-act plays by William Inge (Glory in the Flower and Strains of Triumph). We took on Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in spring 2012—featuring our first modular set, our first use of masks, and our first herd of stampeding rhinos. In our next season, we began inching toward doing a musical with The Good Doctor and “Desire, Desire, Desire and more Desire”—straight plays incorporating a couple of musical numbers—and our first original work, John Poole’s Oedipus! The Musical! Oedipus! was our first collaboration with another local amateur group—the University of Chicago’s Classical Entertainment Society—and introduced us to Eric Shoemaker, fight choreographer extraordinaire. Swords were then slung and daggers drawn in Dangerous Liaisons and Romeo and Juliet. We now have another two musicals under our belt–Musical of Musicals: The Musical and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. As our roster of directors grows, we continue to produce a wide variety of shows: classic and modern, comic and tragic, musicals and straight plays and everything in between.
Our greatest resource has always been the people in the Hyde Park area. Our actors and directors are drawn from all over the neighborhood. HPCP reflects the diversity and eccentricity of its home. Sadly, some of our founding members have graduated and/or moved away; but Hyde Park is always attracting new people, and every show brings new talent and energy into the group.
A lot has changed since 2009; but some things haven’t. We use all the newfangled social media; but we still advertise by posting flyers around the neighborhood. Thanks to ticket sales and sponsorships from local businesses, we are in better financial shape now than when we began; but many things that professional or student theater groups can take for granted remain out of reach. Most of us have day jobs, and our shows are rehearsed during the evenings and on weekends. But the challenges we face only make our dedication stronger. We do theater because we love to do it, and because we believe that the community benefits from it. And we’re always looking for new members. No experience necessary.