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Writers’ Theatre: Big Ideas on a Small Stage

The Writers’ Theatre, a small venue housed in the Glencoe (Ill.) Woman’s Library Club, has garnered big accolades over the last decade for its varied programs mixing original works with fresh looks at classic stories.

“We like to choose a significant scope in terms of thematic content and then bring it into the deliberately confined space and see what happens when the audience and an epic play come into confrontation with each other,” says artistic director and co-founder Michael Halberstam.

“I find we have a sophisticated audience who would come see a new twist on a ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ or ‘Crime and Punishment,’ but they have been really open to our organization to a renewed commitment to produce new work and world premiere work,” says executive director Katherine Lipuma.


Listen to a conversation with Michael Halberstam and Katherine Lipuma:

David Cromer’s recent production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” received rave reviews. The Chicago-based Cromer, who was named as one of this year’s MacArthur Fellows, has moved on to much success on Broadway.

The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones, in his review of the Writers’ Theatre production, said: “[A]lthough New York now may have Cromer trapped inside a Broadway proscenium moving celebrities around, this astonishingly talented director still best springs to life with young, raw actors in a Chicago-style space like Writers’ Theatre, where you can reach out and touch Stella’s vitals and Stanley’s vittles.”

Halberstam will be heading to the Lincoln Center this season, bringing his “A Minister’s Wife,” a new adaption of George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida.”

“We definitely have a Why here? Why now? process of trying to choose the plays that come into a season,” says Halberstam. “A lot boils down to what kind of play will pop in the intimate space: Are we going to be able to bring something new to the conversation and about the play by producing it at an intimate level?”

To engage its audience, the Writers’ Theatre often provides lectures with its productions and has actors and staff interaction with the audience before and after the shows. The Writers’ Theatre also produces a magazine that Lipuma argues is the “best out there for a theater company.”

Such attention to its audience has paid off: The Writers’ Theatre has been in the black for 17 seasons, and although it only has 108 seats, the theater has more than 5,000 subscribers.

That economic success has allowed the Writers’ Theatre to pay its actors the same as big downtown theaters. Halberstam claims that’s a key to success. “We understand ultimately it is the artists that will realize our productions.”

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