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  1. Photograph: Ryan Bourque
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  20. Photograph: Ryan Bourque

The Inconvenience truth

An underground arts org goes legit.

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The 60 or so folding chairs in the front room of the Lakeview loft fill up quickly on the night of October 16, and close to 100 more observers pack in for standing room. The entertainment on tap includes musicians, spoken-word performers, acrobatics, four dancers in yellow bridesmaid dresses and a live recording of a video for Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project. As the preshow crowd listens to “Bad Moon Rising,” a sound engineer says, “Hey, everyone, not to interrupt the Creedence, but it’s 2010. Put your fucking smokes out.”

The occasion is the final performance-slash-party in the loft space of the multidisciplinary arts organization the Inconvenience. For the past two years, the second-floor space above a Lincoln Avenue antiques store has played host to theater and dance pieces, rock shows and art exhibits, which always seem to be packed despite no real marketing. It’s also served as the residence of most of the company’s 16 twentysomething members. This week, the Inconvenience is giving up the space, but it’s not giving up the ghost.

Two days earlier, half of the Inconvenience crew has gathered in the loft’s semiprivate living room, adjacent to the kitchen and concession stand, for a conversation about the organization’s past and future. We’re seated on a motley assortment of furniture (my chair was salvaged from the set of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Abigail’s Party). Musician Rachele Eve, playing for tech rehearsal in the performance space up front, provides a soundtrack.

The Inconvenience’s founding members were undergrads at DePaul when one of their friends was hit by a car and killed while riding his skateboard. The idea of living as an artistic collective was hatched on the way back from his funeral.

“We were directing scenes in really odd places,” executive director Emily Reusswig says. “Our professor, Lisa Portes, was like, ‘You guys are doing really inconvenient things for everyone.’”

“And we’ve certainly lived up to our name,” artistic director Chris Chmelik adds. “I think we’ve inconvenienced each other by living here.”

Unlike some of the venues featured in this week’s cover story (see “Party or bust”), the Inconvenience gang didn’t set out to run a public space. “Most of the artists that ended up living here just by nature do more than one thing,” says producer Missi Davis. “Our friends had these things they wanted to showcase, so our first event was a variety show. And it just felt natural, like the space wanted it.”

“It was one event, then it was two events, and before we knew it, it was, like, concerts every other week,” adds Ryan Murphy, the group’s head of music.

Audiences started to think of the Inconvenience as a venue rather than a group, says Walter Briggs, who serves as the group’s head of theater programming. “But we all have the attitude that we are creating within it; we are who makes the space.” And the current space is no longer sufficient.

“We’ve come to a point where we can’t grow and continue to do what we want to do here,” says member Ryan Bourque, who holds the new title of marketing director. Marketing is hard to do when your space isn’t licensed—up to now it’s been just word of mouth and Facebook. Not to mention other practical aspects. “We don’t have the setup to have as much electricity running as we often do,” Reusswig says.

While the Inconvenience’s members scatter to more traditional living spaces, they’re also taking on a more traditional organizational structure, dividing up labor and giving themselves titles. The company incorporated earlier this month, and Reusswig says the group soon will apply for 501(c)3 status. Meanwhile, it’s searching for new, more legit venues for programs like the Open Space Project dance series and its Shake Shake Shiver rock shows. On the theater side, the Inconvenience has already branched out, performing its original rock musical Chicagoland at the Chopin Theatre last spring; literary manager Ike Holter says next up is a reading series that’ll kick off November 17 at A Red Orchid.

“We’re ready to kind of join the rest of the community,” Chmelik says. “We can say, ‘Hey, we’re capable of doing this and we did it on our own terms. Now we’re able to do it on yours.’”

For word on future events, become a fan of the Inconvenience on Facebook.

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