EDGEBROOK — Outside a quiet, tree-lined Edgebrook street, people jog and walk their dogs. Inside a church basement on the same street, laughter and creativity bubble as theater comes alive and colors pop.
The company is celebrating its 10th anniversary with its first production of the year: “Light Up the Sky” by Moss Hart, which runs through Saturday. The show is a love note to the craft and demonstrates resiliency, evolution and growth of the company, its leaders said.
In a spacious basement belonging to Edgebrook Community Church, 6736 N. Loleta Ave., “Light Up the Sky” comes alive to take audience members on a classic, whimsical and comedic tale of theater folk set in Boston’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1948.
“We’re putting on work that matches up with anything you’re gonna see in the city of Chicago at an incredible value and convenient for those who live on the Northwest Side,” director John Chambers said.
“Light Up the Sky” runs through this weekend and has shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday at its home in the church basement. Tickets can be purchased online.
The show is the company’s 20th production and joins classic, award-winning shows such as “Into the Woods,” “The Secret Garden,” “Our Town,” and “She Loves Me.” Its 20 resident actors and crew work on all aspects of each show from scratch, allowing everyone to get a holistic theatre experience, he said.
For Chambers and his teaching counterparts Jeanann Power and Janet Rourke, who co-founded the theater school 23 years ago, the company’s anniversary is a chance to grow further into the community and beyond.
“I am pleased as punch,” Rourke said. “We’ve survived all this time when there’s lots of theaters that don’t survive. So, we obviously are doing something well. We have so many actors that come back because they appreciate what is here.”
The Resident Theatre attracts young, aspiring professionals and return actors “who consider us their home” and aren’t afraid to tackle elaborate designs and large casts — a rarity for a storefront basement theater, Chambers said. It produces two to three shows a year and already has its November show chosen: “The Minutes” by Tracy Letts.
The trio is grateful for the feedback and support from the community, its students and alumni actors that have kept Edge of the Wood creativity swirling at the church, Power said.
“This set was built with a lot of volunteer labor, both [from] our regular Resident Theatre actors who came in and paint something for an hour … [and] some of our parents and students did, too,” Power said. “It’s a big part of how we manage it because whatever is built here, here people want to be a part of it.”
Edge of the Wood’s theater classes serve 150 students 4-18 years from all over the Midwest in improv, speech, movement and musical theatre, which have continually grown over the years. A goal with every show put on by the troupe is to engage and expose its students to diverse, family-friendly works that can inspire them, the teachers said.
The school has served thousands of students, some of whom have started careers in the performing arts and arts education and won awards.
As the company and theater school grow, its leaders hope more people will discover Edge of the Wood and help them keep a sustainable theater model going strong for the Northwest Side.
“People who worked in the community around here [are] still very proud of the work that we’re putting on here, and we wish more people would be aware of it,” Chambers said.
That awareness could be paying off. A representative from the Jeff Awards, which honors excellence in Chicago theater, recently visited the theater and raved about the calibre of “Light Up the Sky,” Rourke said.
The company also plans to expand its diversity and storytelling perspectives, new directors and to attract more talent in order to expand its audiences throughout Chicago, Power said.
“The quality of everything — of the shows, of the casting, of the set — is not what people necessarily expect but they are surprised and say, ‘I didn’t know this was here,'” Power said.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: