LINCOLN SQUARE — The American Blues Theater plans to start construction on its first permanent home on North Lincoln Avenue later this year.
The theater has rented space in various locations for more than 35 years, most recently basing their offices at 4809 N. Ravenswood Ave. and performing at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave. Theater owners said they expect to close later this month on the 17,965-square-foot property at 5627 N. Lincoln Ave.
The property was formerly a Mobil gas station, Walgreens and Dollar General.
The venue will include two theaters, one a 148-seat proscenium and the other a 40-seat flexible studio, artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside said.
The lobby will have a box office, bar, and concessions and the building will also have gendered and gender-neutral restrooms, dressing rooms and greenroom, administrative offices, production spaces for theater equipment and costumes and a small on-site parking lot, Whiteside said.
The venue will be designed by John Morris of Morris Architects Planners and have theater systems supported by Schuler Shook, Whiteside said. The space will allow the theater to expand its programming, education initiatives and community partnerships, Whiteside said.
“For over three decades, we’ve been working towards this dream. Through community support and the dedication of our artists and staff, we are able to make this dream a reality now,” Whiteside said.
The theater’s “Our First Home” campaign has already raised $2.9 million from individual donors, Whiteside said. The campaign is ongoing with a goal of $6.5 million to help pay for the property’s renovation into a theater as well as create a $500,000 building reserve fund, Whiteside said.
Leaders hope to break ground this summer and wrap construction by November 2023, just in time for “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” holiday showings, Whiteside said.
Founded in 1985, the award-winning non-profit American Blues Theater is Chicago’s second-oldest Actors’ Equity Association ensemble and is noted for critical and popular hits such as the musical “BUDDY – The Buddy Holly Story” and the holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!”
The theater’s productions typically explore the lives of everyday people who inhabit the working neighborhoods of America. Other performances include Nambi E. Kelley’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” award-winning writer Keith Huff’s “Six Corners,” and the Blue Ink Award’s script “Alma” by Benjamin Benne.
“We understand all too well the limitations of being an itinerant company, and — with very few true subsidized venues in Chicago — we’re also excited to create an affordable rental space for other theater companies on their respective journeys,” Whiteside said.
Anyone who wants to support the theater fundraiser can contact Home@AmericanBluesTheater.com or call Director of Development Sarajane Johnson at 773-654-3103.
For decades, the stretch of Lincoln Avenue north of Lawrence Avenue has been a fairly sleepy area in comparison to the bustling, cobblestone neighborhood center just southeast.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) long has envisioned an arts district for the north side of Lincoln Avenue, with murals and housing for artists so the area will be more vibrant — which would hopefully drum up commercial and community interest.
American Blues’ new home will be the “crown jewel” to the new arts district, Vasquez said.
“It is an absolute honor and dream to welcome such a landmark institution to the 40th Ward,” he said. “It would be impossible to overstate the importance of such a beautiful entertainment experience to the business district.”
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