Chicago’s theater community celebrated its own at this week’s 2023 Equity Jeff Awards, showing that one of the city’s signature entertainment industries, though down, is definitely not out.
And that Chicago theaters — great and small — are still producing important, award-winning work sends just the right message now as the industry grapples with declining audiences and plummeting revenue, both caused by the pandemic.
Monday night’s Jeff Awards shows Chicago still makes good theater. And we need to get out and see it.
Arts and culture in crisis
The same day the Jeff Awards honored 46 recipients in 32 Equity theater categories — recognizing plays from the Goodman Theatre’s “The Who’s Tommy” to Teatro Vista’s “Dream King” — the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs put out a production of its own: Navigating Recovery: Arts and Culture Financial and Operating Trends in Chicago.
The study paints a current picture of Chicago’s arts and culture scene that is bleak — but not entirely surprising to anyone who’s kept an eye on things lately.
The document reports arts and culture in Chicago are facing a growing crisis with no clear way out.
“We were planning our return during COVID and thought it would come back to what it was,” a performing arts organization leader quoted anonymously in the report said. “It never will be back to what it was. If we know folks aren’t coming back right away — especially for new works — how can we properly scale the operations and execution of them?”
Chicago isn’t alone. Other cities are facing the same problem as well.
But that’s cold comfort. Live theater in Chicago is not just entertainment, but it’s how many people — on stage and behind the scenes — earn a living. Before the pandemic, downtown theaters alone generated $90 million a year in ticket sales and put 6,000 people to work.
That’s too big a thing to let fail.
For months now, this editorial page has urged everyone from business leaders, the philanthropy community, influential arts movers-and-shakers, and the mayor to recognize the economic crisis Chicago theater faces and act on it.
And they must.
But Chicagoans themselves also have a role to play. We must start buying tickets and attending performances.
Go see something. Be it a big downtown theater production or one of the many intriguing plays happening in neighborhood theater across the city.
Maybe even both.
The show must go on — and all of us have a role to play in making sure it does.
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