ALBANY PARK — Three Chicago theaters are each receiving a $150,000 grant courtesy of celebrity chef Rick Bayless.
The “Stepping Stone” grants from the Bayless Family Foundation were awarded to the Albany Park Theater Project, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., Porchlight Music Theatre, 1016 N. Dearborn St., and Steep Theatre Company, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave.
Formed in 2017 by Bayless — an avid fan of the theater — and his wife Deann, the Bayless Family Foundation was formed in 2017 to support established Chicago theater groups.
“We’re fortunate to be in Chicago, where there’s so much energy, activity and talent in the theater community,” Bayless said. “Though our theater community is one of the largest in our country, many companies struggle for survival.”
The grants will be awarded over three years to the theaters.
“We’re thrilled and grateful to have been selected, to be among the first cohort of the stepping stone grant,” said David Feiner, producing director at Albany Park Theater. Feiner founded the multiethnic youth theater ensemble with Laura Wiley in 1997.
The Albany Park company has been based out of the The Laura Wiley Theater at Eugene Field Park since 1999. The grant will help support the production of “Port of Entry,” a collaboration with New York-based Third Rail Project which aims to share Albany Park’s unique history as an immigrant neighborhood.
“Port of Entry” will particularly focus on the neighborhood’s history from 1970s to present, Feiner said.
“Albany Park has become the neighborhood where immigrants from all around the world live side by side,” he said.
The production, like Albany Park Theater Project’s other performances, is being written in collaboration with teens from the neighborhood.
The grant will help Porchlight expand its production staff, said Donald Sprague, director of institutional advancement at Porchlight. The theater is celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.
“When we realized there were only three theaters selected, we were absolutely humbled,” Sprague said.
Kate Piatt-Eckert, executive director at Steep Theatre, said it was a “true honor” to win the grant.
In addition to the “Stepping Stone” grants, the Bayless Family Foundation will also help fund a series of performances in Millennium Park in 2019. These performances are part of Year of Chicago Theatre, a citywide initiative by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the League of Chicago Theatres.
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