Whether or not you personally enjoy schlepping out to Navy Pier, it’s inarguably a Chicago landmark. Same goes for the roller coasters of Riverview Amusement Park, until it closed in 1967. But what about Una Mae’s Freak Boutique in Wicker Park? Or Thillens Stadium, home of Little League games at Devon and Kedzie Avenues?
They’re landmarks to somebody, says Brian Golden, artistic director of Theatre Seven of Chicago. Golden and Theatre Seven company member Cassy Sanders are the cocurators of the Chicago Landmark Project, a festival of new short plays tied to specific city locations.
“We very explicitly were not looking for a project that had Wrigley Field and the Willis Tower and everything famous. We really wanted personal landmarks,” Golden says. Navy Pier and Riverview are represented, alongside the steel Puerto Rican flags that cross Division Street in Humboldt Park and a liquor store at State Street and Garfield Boulevard in Washington Park.
Golden initially conceived of the project as a collection of two or three one-acts; later, he and Sanders considered growing it to six. But when the pair put out feelers to a “wish list” of 11 writers, “everybody wanted to do it,” Golden says.
“We were like, first of all, which of these playwrights could we possibly cut, because they were all outstanding,” Golden continues. “And we felt like we really had an opportunity to tell a really expansive vision of Chicago and tell a lot of different Chicago stories.” With Golden himself rounding out the group, Theatre Seven ended up with a slate of a dozen ten-minute plays (presented in two rotating programs of six).
The writers, who include Theatre Seven’s Marisa Wegrzyn, Victory Gardens ensemble member Lonnie Carter, Silk Road Theatre Project artistic director Jamil Khoury, poet and playwright Yolanda Nieves and members of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Youth Ensemble, each proposed a few possible locations along with a general sense of the kinds of relationships they’d write about there.
“Then when we had that menu of two or three choices from each of the writers, Cassy and I went through and kind of sculpted based on their options,” Golden says. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t ending up with 12 North Side stories or 12 father-daughter plays or 12 love stories.”
Each of the plays in the final lineup is set in a different zip code, and each has its own director and cast. A total of 75 artists are at work on the project. Golden notes with some pride the diversity of the 35-member cast: “Some of the characters that the authors wrote are ethnic-specific, some aren’t. With those that weren’t, we were certainly trying to work from above and make sure that the finished product was something that looked like Chicago.”
Though Golden notes that the Landmark Project plays are being published via Amazon’s CreateSpace on-demand service, “so there will be some permanency that way,” it seems likely that these hyperspecific pieces won’t have much of a future life. Which is fine by Theatre Seven.
“My real fantasy is that five years from now, you looked in other cities and people were doing the Davenport, Iowa Project or the Oslo, Norway Project, developing new work that was based on location in their own specific way,” Golden says. “That would be the enduring legacy of the project, if in any other place it inspires more of an investment in telling local stories.”
The Chicago Landmark Project puts down roots at the Greenhouse Theater Center starting Thursday 2.