The new guard of local theater

Meet the artistic directors taking over six prominent theater companies this season.

Photograph: Dave Rentauskas


Halena Kays, the Hypocrites
Longtime Hypocrites ensemble member Kays takes the reins from the company’s founder, Sean Graney, after 14 years. “The Hypocrites specifically has always been based around Sean and Sean’s work, so it’s a really interesting thing to try and transition,” she says of Graney’s aesthetic of playful deconstruction of classics. Kays, 36, would like to expand the company’s core ensemble, but she isn’t rushing anything. “I feel like the Hypocrites make shows that are different from any other show in Chicago, that require really particular kinds of skills as far as ensemble,” she says. “I’m giving myself some time to find out how this will work.”
SEASON OPENER
Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses • Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Divison St (773-989-7352, the-hypocrites.com) • Tue 6–Oct 23; $36

Timothy Douglas, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
After the appointment was announced last October, Douglas, 50, is finally taking the helm of 15-year-old Remy Bumppo from its founder, James Bohnen. “It’s been almost a year of talking and speculating about what is the new direction for Remy Bumppo. The biggest part of this experiment is yet to come,” Douglas says. “The one thing I can articulate now is that I’m used to being part of a diverse crowd in the institutions I’ve worked with, and that is something I want to lead in to Remy Bumppo. We just have to see what that means when we actually practice it.”
SEASON OPENER
Mourning Becomes Electra •Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Ave (773-404-7336, remybumppo.org) • Sept 21–Oct 30; $35–$55

Brandon Bruce, Strawdog Theatre Company
Just months after TOC named Bruce, 35, one of 2007’s “Chicagoans to watch,” he left the helm of BackStage Theatre Company for grad school in Iowa. Though he wanted to return to Chicago—“I think it’s where I grew the most as an artist; my soul was always there”—it wasn’t guaranteed. When he got the offer in May from the 23-year-old Strawdog, where Nic Dimond had just stepped down after several seasons as artistic director, it felt like the perfect match. “Every time I’ve seen a show at Strawdog, I’m like, These are the best actors in town, without a doubt,” Bruce says.
SEASON OPENER
Old TimesStrawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N Broadway (773-528-9696) • Oct 6–Nov 12; $28

Michael Weber, Porchlight Music Theatre
“When you say, ‘We’re going to see a show at Steppenwolf,’ or ‘We’re going to see a show at Marriott Lincolnshire,’ you know exactly what their vision has been and [it] has a consistency to it,” says the new director of Porchlight, who has designs on defining the 16-year-old musical theater company in the same way. While a few years ago Porchlight was pursuing a permanent home, Weber, who has previous A.D. tenure at Theatre at the Center and the short-lived Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, won’t be making that a priority. “I like the idea of at least being able to explore more site-specific musicals,” he says.
SEASON OPENER
Putting It Together • Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave (773-975-8150, porchlighttheatre.com) • Fri 2–Oct 16; $38

Joel Ewing, LiveWire Chicago Theatre
LiveWire enters its sixth season under management that’s only sort of new: Ewing, 31, was managing director before stepping in for previous artistic director Glenn Proud, who left the company earlier this year. “It took us a while to figure out what a LiveWire managing director does, and then it was like, Y’know what? You’re kind of doing artistic-director things,” Ewing says. With a slot in Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep, opening in February, LiveWire’s profile will get a big bump. Ewing says the company is solidifying its mission of producing only local and world premieres. “If it’s been done in Chicago, we won’t do it.”
SEASON OPENER
A Bright New Boise • Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Ave (773-404-7336, livewirechicago.com) •Nov 12–Dec 17; $20, students and seniors $15

Chay Yew, Victory Gardens Theater
It’s tempting to see the appointment of playwright and director Yew, 46, as a major generational shift for this institution; he replaces Dennis Zacek, who just retired after leading VG for 34 of its 37 years. But Yew speaks of Zacek’s legacy as part of what attracted him to the job. Yew, who previously served as director and founder of the Asian Theatre Workshop at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum, has already put his stamp on this season, slotting in Universes’s Ameriville, a hip-hop performance piece that Yew helped develop for 2009’s Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville. He’ll also direct Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus el Rey.
SEASON OPENER
In the Next Room or the vibrator playVictory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N Lincoln Ave (773-871-3000) • Sept 9–Oct 9; $35–$50

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