Hull House has long played a vital role in Chicago theater, combining professional artistic endeavor with community initiatives designed to nurture new talent and foster awareness of the arts at the grassroots level. Now the 121-year-old social service agency is teaming up with Pegasus Players, a nonprofit, non-Equity company once cited by the Jeff Committee for "extraordinary success in serving Chicago's disenfranchised, bringing the arts to the young, the elderly, the disabled, and the disenfranchised." Pegasus will leave Truman College for the Uptown Center Hull House at Beacon near Wilson next fall, after the current UCHH tenant, Black Ensemble Theater, takes possession of a new $16 million facility going up at 4450 N. Clark."Pegasus has enjoyed a long-standing programming partnership with Hull House, whose mission of reaching out to the underserved perfectly complements Pegasus's commitment to youth and community education," says incoming Pegasus board president David Barr.
Pegasus was started in 1978 by Arlene Crewdson as a touring troupe dedicated to performing original writings by students at the City Colleges of Chicago—including Truman College, where Crewdson taught. The following year it moved into the Edgewater Presbyterian Church (now the home of City Lit Theater), where its memorable productions included the Chicago premiere of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, starring Harry Lennix (the first local professional production of an August Wilson play).
In 1984 the troupe moved to Truman College's sprawling O'Rourke Center. Among the notable shows there: the complete oeuvre of Stephen Sondheim (including The Frogs, performed in the college's swimming pool); a nationally noted reconstruction of the "lost" Duke Ellington musical revue, Jump for Joy; a brilliant but budget-busting staging of Robert Schenkkan's Pulitzer-winning epic The Kentucky Cycle; and the annual Young Playwrights Festival, which showcases scripts by teenagers from Chicago-area school writing programs.
Crewdson retired in 2009 and last May received a lifetime achievement award from the League of Chicago Theatres. Hopefully the financially strapped troupe will be able to continue its mission under Barr, an actor and playwright whose credits include The State of Mississippi vs. Emmett Till, which he co-authored with Till's mother, Mamie Mobley. Both Barr and Pegasus artistic director Ilesa Duncan were recruited by Crewdson, whom Barr cites as a mentor.
The unique nature of Chicago theater is due in no small part to Hull House's influence. Hull House was where Laura Dainty Pelham pioneered the Little Theatre Movement in the early 20th century, mounting local premieres of plays by Ibsen and Shaw; where Neva Boyd and her pupil, Viola Spolin, developed the "theater games" concept that spawned Chicago-style improvisation; and where, in 1963, director Bob Sickinger planted the seeds of the Off-Loop theater movement by introducing local audiences to the work of Pinter, Beckett, and Albee, and mentoring such fledgling talents as David Mamet, Mike Nussbaum, Rokko Jans, and Grease co-authors Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.
Pegasus presents a fund-raiser featuring readings of winning scripts from its 2010 Young Playwrights Festival and an awards ceremony, Monday, 1/3, 6:30 PM (pre-show reception), Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan, pegasusplayers.org, 708-720-0413. $25.