In Rogers Park Glenwood Avenue looks more like an alley than an avenue, yet it's emerged as the axis of a vibrant theater scene. The neighborhood's four non-Equity companies—Lifeline, Theo Ubique, and the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble in the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, along with the Side Project a few blocks north, in Jarvis Square—are keenly aware of the need to make the area livelier, safer, and more prosperous without pricing out diversity. So this season they introduced a $50 Rogers Park Flex Pass, available at brownpapertickets.com, and good for one show at each theater as well as discounts at nearby restaurants. All four theaters will also participate in the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival (8/22-8/23), on Glenwood between Farwell and Lunt. Fest information is at 773-262-3790 or rogerspark.com. —Albert Williams
Bohemian Theatre Company Under the guidance of cofounders Stephen Genovese and Thomas Samorian, BoHo specializes in pared-down stagings of dramas by writers ranging from Shakespeare to Brecht to David Henry Hwang, as well as intimate rethinkings of musicals like Jekyll & Hyde. The company's fifth-anniversary benefit, More Than Skin Deep, takes place February 16 at the Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood, which has been home base since 2007. Next comes Playing With Fire (After Frankenstein), Barbara Field's faithful 1989 adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel (3/6-4/12). BoHo moves to Theatre Building Chicago for La Cage aux Folles (5/21-7/12), Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's musical comedy about a gay couple posing as a husband and wife. And next summer they return to the Heartland with Shakespeare's The Tempest, (7/24-8/30). a866-811-4111 or 773-791-2393, bohotheatre.com. —AW
Lifeline Theatre Founded in 1982, Lifeline moved into its current home—an old Commonwealth Edison substation—in 1986. "We believe in storytelling," says artistic director Dorothy Milne of the ensemble, known for imaginative literary adaptations and children's shows. "Film does realism. We can't do that, and don't want to try."
The next production for adult audiences, Mariette in Ecstasy (2/13-4/5), is adapted by Christina Calvit from Ron Hansen's novel about a nun who experiences what may be a divine encounter. Lifeline's 26th-anniversary benefit at the Chicago Cultural Center (4/16) will feature a Dorothy L. Sayers short story, staged with three new alternate endings by Chicago mystery writers Sara Paretsky, Sean Chercover, and Julie Hyzy. The final show of the season is Busman's Honeymoon (5/1-6/2), the latest in a series based on Sayers's comic Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. And Lifeline's KidSeries runs its version of Peter Brown's Flight of the Dodo through 2/22, then wraps up its season with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (3/14-5/3), adapted by Calvit from Betty MacDonald's ever-popular children's book. a 6912 N. Glenwood, 773-761-4477, lifelinetheatre.com. —AW
The Side Project Described by artistic director Adam Webster as "a home for new voices," this nine-year-old theater operates two spaces—a main stage and a studio—presenting original work and hosting productions by other like-minded companies. The place was started, Webster says, "so playwrights, directors, and actors could do something on the side that they weren't being given a chance to do elsewhere."
Next up for the house company is a repertory package, Cut to the Quick (4/11-5/17), comprising several programs of new work. "Atom Smashers" features a dozen ten-minute scripts about "love, war, and globalization"; "Living in the Aftermath" is an evening of four plays; and two one-acts, The Bird Sanctuary and The Rocks, explore the nature of friendship.
The Side Project also produces children's shows as Rascal Children's Theater. This season's offerings are The Nerdy Girl and the Intergalactic Dog: Revisited (2/14-3/7), Tam Lin (4/25-5/16), and Spinning Yarns: A Journey Through Legends (7/18-8/8).
Upcoming guest productions include Idle Muse Theatre Company in Julia Jordan's Saint Scarlet (2/5-3/8, idlemuse.org), a LiveWire Theatre staging of David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World (3/13-4/5, livewirechicago.com), and the Curious Theatre Branch doing Harold Pinter's The Caretaker (5/28-6/28, curioustheatrebranch.com). a Main stage, 1439 W. Jarvis, studio, 1520 W. Jarvis, 773-973-2150, thesideproject.net. —AW
Theo Ubique Theatre Company Theo Ubique—the name derives from the ancient Greek word for "god" and the Latin word for "everywhere"—performs minimalist cabaret stagings of musicals at No Exit, 6970 N. Glenwood. Alone among the Flex Pass partners, this company integrates optional dining and drinking into the theatrical experience, with cast members doubling as servers. "There's no fourth wall," says artistic director Fred Anzevino. "The audience is your scene partner." The next production is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's pop opera Evita (3/9-4/19). a773-347-1109, theoubique.org. —AW
Lira Dancers What Alice Stephens and Lucyna Migala started in 1965 was an amateur Polish singing ensemble for young women. What Migala runs now is a kind of Polish performing-arts conglomerate, based at Loyola University's Rogers Park campus. The original women's group, the Lira Singers, has long since gone pro; when supplemented with 8 to 12 male singers it becomes the Lira Chamber Chorus. There's also a 50-member Lira Symphony (which breaks down into smaller units), a Lira Children's Chorus, and the Lira Dancers.
Only 15 years old and therefore the youngest component of Migala's empire, the Lira Dancers are touted as the "nation's only professional dance company specializing in Polish folk and court dance." Some members reach the troupe through Chicago's network of amateur Polish cultural groups and some come all the way from Poland, but there are also black, Latino, and Asian members.
Choreographed and directed by Iwona Tuc, the dancers tour extensively—both with and without the other Lira groups—and participate in the annual Lira show at Symphony Center, A Polish Christmas. And then, of course, there's the odd civic event. "When Mayor Daley needs something Polish," Migala says, "he calls us."
On Monday 2/9, along with the singers, the Lira Woodwind Quartet, and pianist Pawel Checinski, the dancers will perform a free program called "Polish Music from Folk Tunes to Chopin" as part of the Art Institute's Consuls General in Chicago concert series. It's at noon at the Art Institute of Chicago, Fullerton Hall, 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600 or artic.edu/aic. a773-508-7040, liraensemble.com. —Tony Adler