CHICAGO — A revamped theater in Lakeview is trying to create a more affordable place for burlesque, drag and variety performers to host their shows.
The Newport Theater, 956 W. Newport Ave., used to be known as the Under the Gun Theater and was focused on stand-up and improv. But it changed its name — and its mission — in July. The 125-seat theater is now focused on bringing in artists who pay to use the space and put on unique shows.
“Chicago is great in the sense that there’s a lot of work for variety, burlesque and drag performers, but I think a lot of times when you work in certain venues you’re trying to deliver what a client wants …,” said Megan Hartmann, the theater’s programming director. “But with this place we wanted it to be like, ‘What do artists want to create? What do artists want to say?'”
Hartmann used to perform as a burlesque and belly dancer at a now-shuttered theater, Uptown Underground. When that spot closed in September 2018, many variety productions were “left without a home,” she said.
But Hartmann found a place at Newport, where she helped rebrand the theater and “refocus the programming” on variety acts, she said.
Already the lineup features shows like the Blackout Diaries, where comedians share drinking stories, and Momlesque, where mothers perform burlesque, among other acts.
“We want it to be the sort of programming where every night it’s a little bit different but every night you know you’re gonna come and see something that’s well curated, well produced …,” Hartmann said.
Besides the name change and switchup in performers, Newport is also focusing on engaging with its community and helping its performers. Hartmann said the organization hopes to have a sewing machine rental service and host costuming nights where people can come in and work on costumes for shows.
The theater also wants to make it so most of the money that comes in through ticket sales goes toward the artists putting on shows and hopes to keep rent for performers low enough that independent, self-produced acts can keep working there, Hartmann said.
Ultimately, those types of services will help Newport become the “essential” place for unique productions, Hartmann said.
Artists who wish to work with the theater can call 773-270-3440 or email email@example.com. The theater sits 125 people and features three projectors. A dance studio, green room and bar are also on site.
“I think people are really grateful to have a home to produce shows and feel very communal in a positive way,” Hartmann said. “I think people are excited about the potential for what can be accomplished here.”
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