Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

December 17, 2018

ADVENTURES IN YES: "The Year of Chicago Theatre starts January 1. Buckle up, world."

The best stories, told by the best storytellers to the best storylisteners in America. Welcome to 2019, The Year of Chicago Theater.

Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin at Choose Chicago's "Year of Chicago Theater" press event in London

When I started writing this, I was 38,000 feet above the Labrador Sea, 3 ½ hours from coming home after another wonderful, thought-provoking, challenging and gratifying week in London. Now I'm home, and it's high time to share some of the exciting stuff I saw and did there.

I had a lot on my plate that week, including meetings with the National Theatre, Digital Theatre, Channel 4 and two at the BBC, not to mention six shows, including the NTLive transmission of "Antony & Cleopatra."

The centerpiece of the trip, however, was an event produced by Choose Chicago to promote the city’s “2019: The Year of Chicago Theatre” campaign. In the illustrious company of League of Chicago Theater’s Executive Director Deb Clapp, Dept. of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly, and Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin, we were given a wonderful platform to speak to an assemblage of London’s arts, cultural and tourism journalists about all the things that make Chicago theater unique and special, and why it’s worthy of being a singular reason to plan a trip to Chicago. Or America, for that matter.

To help add some razzle dazzle to the event, HMS produced a high-energy sizzle reel featuring Chicago’s diverse and thrilling theater scene (with some important nods to dance and opera as well). My HMS colleague Kristin Klinger and I produced the piece, which she edited together in typically fabulous fashion (you can watch it by clicking here).

Deb suggested I join her on stage to use the various perspectives I have as artist, producer and advocate, and articulate what I thought was most special about Chicago theater, right after she mentioned the number of internationally acclaimed artists who still consider their Chicago ensemble companies to be their creative homes. Because my remarks garnered some unexpected applause from the crowd, I thought I’d share them with you:

“As an individual artist, as the co-owner of HMS Media, a 20-time Emmy-winning media production company for the arts; as an artistic associate of the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company; and as a board member and arts advocate with Arts Alliance Illinois, I get to observe Chicago theater (and national and international theater as well) from a variety of perspectives. And I can tell you the reason these theater artists come home to their Chicago companies to work with their friends and peers… and the reasons audiences love the theater that is created as a result… and the reason that if you came to see shows in our town you’d feel so welcome and so at home, is because:

Simply put, Chicago artists and audiences create stories that, however dramatic the storytelling or heightened the style, feel real.They feel real to tell and they feel real to take in. That happens because we are bound and inspired by the ethics of ensemble and improvisation, philosophies that keep us rooted to each other and to our audiences.

If you came to our town and saw some shows, you’d feel it too. You’d quickly and clearly understand why, whether the theater you’re in seats 70 or 700, 20 or 2000, you can afford to have the highest expectations of the coming experience.

Chicago loves its teams and its bands. Chicago theater, in the way we create and maintain ensemble companies, reflects that. We like to make work in collectives, both formal and informal. There’s not a lot of room “every person for themselves” where we work. What we do is in the service of creating something together that we could never envision much less create alone.

And we do this for audiences that don’t suffer fools gladly and are not easily impressed, which is wonderful for us. Because, when we work honestly, these audiences stick with us, season after season. They demand that we take risks and break conventions.

And that’s what Chicago theater people love to do. We sometimes fail, we often succeed, and we don’t get too up or down when we do either. We just… work.

Ensemble and improv ethics mean that we’ll never become a collection of theme park rides based on pop culture. Not that those can’t be fun and great – they can be a blast. But our environment is different. It invites and allows us to dive deeper, and so deeper we dive. We aim for that which feels real and true. In that way we are part of the city’s lifestyle and lifeblood. And that’s why making and seeing theater in Chicago is so exciting, fulfilling, challenging, transformational and tasty.”

Later, after Deb offered sneak peaks at the upcoming Chicago theater season, I added:

“Call it coincidence or a nexus of creative energies, but as the Year of Chicago Theater approaches, HMS has been approached by leading distributors in the worlds of broadcast, digital and HD Cinecast to create a wide array of original captures and content, all centered on the unique ensemble style, process and results through which so much Chicago theater is created and through which so many individual artists thrive.

This is an era where we all can see the damage done when the stage, be it theatrical, corporate or political, is ceded to bad storytellers telling bad stories badly. So the recognition that these distributors, underwriters and sponsors demonstrate the appetite, the thrill and the need for the antidote to bad storytelling in all of its forms that Chicago theater. It is an acknowledgement that Chicago Theater will thrill audiences not just in our city but across the country and the world.

That’s why I live, work and collaborate in Chicago, as a media producer, as a theater artist, as an advocate human being hungry to participate in transcendent work. To see and hear the best stories, to work with the best storytellers, and take in those stories in the company of the best story listeners in America.”

The Year of Chicago Theatre begins January 1.

Buckle up, world.

Back to all entries