ANDERSONVILLE — An upstart theater company is bringing a performing arts space to Andersonville hoping to spark a revival in the city’s play scene following the pandemic.
Bramble Theatre Company is working to open the Bramble Arts Loft at 5545 N. Clark St. The second-floor of a historic auto garage will hold a 101-seat theater plus a 50-seat moveable “black box” space.
Work on the venue is ongoing, with its debut planned for early next year, Bramble co-founders Matthew Lunt and Karissa Murrell Myers said.
The space, however, is already being used for rehearsals as the city’s battered theater industry continues to ramp up following the coronavirus pandemic. Bramble is hoping its theater will contribute to the industry’s revitalization.
“We lost so many theater spaces during the pandemic,” Murrell Myers said. “This space is not just for us. Our hope is this becomes a theater hub.”
Bramble formed in 2019, when a group of students at The School at Steppenwolf decided to start an ensemble.
The ensemble had plans for a festival and was starting to work on productions when the pandemic caused the shutdown of live theater and many other entertainment businesses.
Like many companies, Bramble pivoted to virtual shows, staging the local production of a popular improvised mystery play.
Live theater has just begun to spring back to life following two years of the pandemic, but the industry is not out of the woods just yet. Bramble in late May held its Festival of Unfinished Work, a series of scenes from unfinished plays that was originally canceled due to the pandemic.
One issue since the reemergence of live theater is the loss of performing arts spaces, Bramble’s co-founders said. For example: Lakeview’s Stage 773 no longer rents out space to companies following a new business model and and Playground Theater has lost its longtime Lakeview home.
“If you want to find a place to rent right now, it’s nearly impossible,” said Murrell Myers. Bramble’s artistic director as well as co-founder.
Renting a theater space can account for half the cost of a production, Lunt said. Having their own theater can help Bramble control costs while providing space for other companies.
“To be really nimble, it’s great to have control of the space,” he said. “But we have no desire to own our own castle.”
Bramble’s leadership team began looking for a theater space and was steered to the Capital Garage building at 5455 N. Clark St.
The second floor of the circa 1920s auto garage was recently the home of Metropolis Coffee Company’s roastery (which has since moved to Avondale). The area has been renovated, with its bow truss roof restored, and would make a great space for a venue, Lunt said.
Bramble Arts Loft will be located down the street from Andersonville’s forthcoming cafe and theater-themed book store The Understudy.
The building has a capacity of about 300, he said. It will host a stage with 101 seats plus a 50-seat “black box” stage that can be modulated to host comedy, spoken word and music.
There will also be a kitchen, a bar and a gathering area that can be used for after show events and meet-and-greets, Lunt and Murrell Myers said.
There will also be lofted office space for Bramble built out in the facility, its cofounders said.
Much of that infrastructure still has to be constructed ahead of an anticipated ribbon cutting early next year.
Currently, the space is being used by Steep Theatre ahead of its debut in its new Edgewater home this month.
The new space will help Bramble ease some of its “backlog of productions” built up over the pandemic, Murrell Myers said. Bramble focuses on productions from and performed by Chicago writers and artists.
Bramble Art Loft will also be available to host other companies’ productions. The goal is to help other artists and theater producers get their works in front of audiences, too.
“It’s been really amazing, this desire to get theater going again,” Lunt said. “We really feel we’re due for a renaissance.”
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