POLISH TRIANGLE — The Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park is seeking donations to help offset rising expenses and lost revenue from canceled performances as the city faces its highest-ever surge of COVID-19.
The century-old theater at 1543 W. Division St. canceled the remaining six performances of “The Snow Queen” last month. It was supposed to run until Jan. 2.
Other Chicago arts venues also called off holiday shows because of the recent rise in confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That included The Goodman Theatre Downtown, which canceled the final shows of its annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
“This is Christmas time, which mean those performances sold out and the tickets are expensive … so they caused substantial loss,” said Chopin Artistic Director Zygmunt Dyrkacz, who runs the theater with his wife, Lela Headd Dyrkacz. “Also, we’ve decided to cancel the concessions, which are a big part of our budget, just to make it safer.”
Dyrkacz said operating costs have also risen as the team updates air ventilation equipment and implements additional cleaning protocols.
“We’re doing OK artistically. I think, financially, it’s still very much of a struggle. There are the increasing costs of just operating under the global pandemic, and that’s on top of the usual expenses that you have,” said Headd Dyrkacz, who works as the theater’s managing director.
The Chopin is still running the production “Hundred Days” through Jan. 9 in its studio theater. It will then take a two-week break before hosting the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival.
“We will survive. The question is, how hard it will be to do it?” Dyrkacz said.
The Chopin Theatre opened in Wicker Park in 1918. After several name changes and years as a bank, it was bought by Zygmunt Dyrkacz in 1990.
The theater has become a cultural institution in Wicker Park, hosting a range of plays, literary events and concerts.
During an extended pandemic closure starting in March 2020, the Dyrkaczes raised tens of thousands of dollars to stay afloat. Since reopening this September, they’ve hosted more than 100 shows.
“The work is very innovative, very ambitious. It brings that cross section of people to it. And we’re really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and that people feel there will be a certain quality, that it won’t be a misspent evening,” Headd Dyrkacz said. “We’re all doing everything we can to make it safe and comfortable for people to see art and want to encourage them to do that.”
The theater has required proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test to enter since September. But as COVID-19 cases spiked in recent weeks, fewer people have been attending shows, the owners said.
“We hope we don’t move to another mandated closure. But we do feel increase in people just not waiting to come out. I think that’s why you saw cancellations. We certainly had that with ‘The Snow Queen,’ and just that perception and concern means people are just not coming out,” Headd Dyrkacz said.
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