Theater Companies Bid the Hull House Theatre Adieu

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Helbig

By the standards of the painted palaces downtown, the Hattie Callner Theater at the Jane Addams Center near the corner of Belmont and Broadway in Chicago is downright homely. The walls are little more than unadorned sheet rock, the floors look like they are painted plywood, the seats are castoffs from some long-dead movie house.

But that theater space has been home at one time or another to some of the most exciting theater companies in Chicago, including the Famous Door, the Bailiwick and Steppenwolf.

Many even consider the space to be the birthplace of Chicago's off-Loop theater scene. To quote one theater insider, "The Hull House Theatre was where community theater turned into the theater community."

In the '60s, the man in charge of the Jane Addams Center's community theater program, Bob Sickinger, encouraged a generation of would-be actors, writers and directors. Among them: An exterminator and weekend actor named Mike Nussbaum and a high- school student with a French-sounding name, David Mamet.

But all that is in the past now. The theater space will, along with the entire Jane Addams Center, close its doors permanently at the end of August. The real estate market in that neighborhood just got too hot; the building has been sold to developers.

To mark the passing of this institution, the last four occupants of the theater space, the Steppenwolf, About Face, Bailiwick and Famous Door theaters, are collaborating on two events. The first is "Living History," an evening of oral history, on Monday. Various members of the theater community will perform selections from the 40 years' worth of plays done in the space.

On Aug. 24, there's an open mic and dance, in which everyone is invited to share his or her memories of the space.

Tickets for "Living History" are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Tickets for the Last Dance are $10 and reservations are suggested. …