Open Rehearsal: The Court Theatre Blog

Hyde Park

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March 26, 2010

The Op Shop

by Drew Dir in Hyde Park

This Saturday night sees the (re)opening of one of Hyde Park’s most interesting experiments in the arts: The Op Shop. An “ephemeral, experimental space” operated by Andrew Nord and Laura Schaeffer, the Op Shop takes up temporary residencies in vacant commercial spaces around Hyde Park, curating a range of local contemporary art and hosting community events. Last November the group inhabited the old Nite and Day space on 55th Street, and tomorrow, the gallery will open their residency in the old Hollywood Video building at 53rd and Lake Park. Hollywood Video (to whom I no longer owe $22 in late fees for Dead Ringers) closed in January 2009 after the building was sold to the University of Chicago. Until May 1st, the Op Shop will provide some refreshing vibrancy to an otherwise blighted block of 53rd Street.

The Op Shop is open Thursday - Sunday from 11am to 7pm. If you stop by before you come see The Illusion, you’ll be supporting two Hyde Park cultural institutions in one day!

The Op Shop’s 2009 residency opening


October 27, 2009

An Incomplete History of Comedy in Hyde Park

by Drew Dir in Hyde Park

Did you miss this lecture on the Hyde Park Day of the Chicago Humanities Festival? So did I. But now you can watch a video of it on the CHF’s website! Take a look:

“An Incomplete History of Comedy in Hyde Park”
Featuring Anne Libera and Sheldon Patinkin


October 12, 2009

The Tribune (Re)discovers Hyde Park

by Drew Dir in Hyde Park

Here’s a little post-Olympics pat on the back, neighborhood.

Chicago Tribune: “Olympics or not, we love Hyde Park”


Hyde Park Progress’s take here.


September 9, 2009

Columbian World Fair Yesterday and Today

by Anastasia Barron in Hyde Park

“The City White hath fled the earth,
But where the azure waters lie,
A nobler city hath its birth,
The City Gray that ne’er shall die.”

These words are part of the University 0f Chicago’s alma mater, and refer to the ending of the 1893 Columbia World Exposition that took place in Jackson Park and on the Midway. A few days ago I biked south to the Japanese Gardens, a small and relatively unknown spot behind the Museum of Science and Industry. The Japanese government turned the area from a swamp into a landscaped area of trees, paths, a pagoda, waterfall, and small footbridge. Biking a bit farther south towards the 63rd St. beach, I came across Republic, a golden sculpture of a woman who symbolizes national unity. She’s 24 ft. high now, a reproduction of the original sixty five foot sculpture that was destroyed along with much of the rest of the exposition in an 1894 fire.
The buildings for the exposition took over two years to build, and about 27 million visitors came to the fair between May and October of 1893. I imagine their spirits still wandering around the now deserted Midway and Jackson Park area, gawking at the displays of “native villages,” the ferris wheel, the new inventions in electricity. The fair was a celebration of consumerism, and many believed at that time (and still do) that Chicago was the capitalist center of the most capitalist nation on earth. Those that set up and profited from the fair were politicians and businessmen, sending out the message that the success of America’s future was bound up with an alliance between business, culture, and the state.

The bus stop outside my window has been sporting a Chicago 2016 olympics sign for the past few weeks, and I cringe a little every time I go out on my balcony.  It’s intriguing to think about the remnants of the World Fair and how a similar commercial enterprise more than 100 years later would affect the city. I believe that politicians tout improvements in the city’s architecture and transportation but the most pressing and immediate transformations would involve displacement of low-income people and suspension of civil rights during the games.

The history of the exposition and its connection with the founding of the university is certainly fascinating, though its important to remember the racism and exploitation that were also a large part of the fair. It also is representative of a series of discontents and disconnects between the ideology of much of the humanities and social sciences faculty and the way the administration runs the school. Multiculturalism, anti free-market solutions, peace, and tolerance are all ideals that are taught in most of my classes (for instance, all undergrads are made to read Marx in SOSC), but the University is building the Milton Friedman Institute. And let’s not forget that this was the birthplace of atomic energy. We even have a nice Henry Moore sculpture to commemorate it.


August 25, 2009

Harper Theater

by Drew Dir in Hyde Park

Harper Theater (BW/Chicago)

At the university’s Fifty-Third Street Blog, Kadesha has an update (sort of) about the fate of Harper Theater. The University of Chicago purchased the property in 2002, and when I was an undergraduate, the talk on the quads was always that the Harper would be soon renovated into a real movie theater again (it still hasn’t happened). Of course, what I didn’t know then was that before it was a movie house, Harper Theater was a play house. It was opened in 1964 by Bruce Sagan, then-publisher of the Hyde Park Herald. Here’s Sagan speaking to Richard Christiansen in A Theater of Our Own:

“We [Sagan and his then-wife Judy] knew a little bit about the off-Broadway movement in New York… We had even invested in a show there, and we thought it might be possible to create a kind of off-Broadway theater here, especially after Bob Sickinger had started things at Hull House. The Harper had a proscenium stage, a fire curtain, and exit signs, so I knew we would be all right with the building codes, and we went ahead.

The Harper didn’t last long, though it did house a brief repertory of Second City shows, including Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard directed by the late Paul Sills and Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park directed by Sheldon Patinkin. After the Sagans’ ventures with off-Broadway productions, they began producing a dance festival there that attracted many well-known international dance companies and choreographers. In Hyde Park today, there’s little to no indication of the history of the place. Hyde Park Progress rightfully asks, is Harper Theater really historically significant? However, you can always count on the Regenstein Library’s Special Collections Research Center to have something, and indeed they do: this playbill from the very first Harper Theater production, Pirandello’s Enrico IV.

The playbill gives a brief but utterly bizarre history of the theater:

The Harper Theater was built in 1914 as a vaudeville house. The architects were H.R. Wilson and Company. The theater originally had 1200 seats. The balcony has been closed off and the coffee house built in the rear of the main floor.

The lobby and entrance were remodeled in the 1930’s, changing the entrance from 53rd Street to Harper Avenue. The Harper closed as a movie house in 1956 [!]. The rear half of the main floor, (under the balcony), was walled off in 1964 to create a coffee house.

The lights over the lobby counter were the original store lights for Finnegan’s drug store.

Fixtures in the coffee house are from Finnegan’s drug store, formerly located at 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue. The fixtures were built in Boston in 1911 and then shipped to Chicago and installed in the drug store where they remained until being moved to the Harper last year.

The grill work in the lobby and coffee shop is from the fire escapes of the Hyde Park Hotel, 51st and Lake Park Avenue. The French marble of the counters came from a Fred Harvey restaurant at Canal and Madison Streets. The lobby’s stained glass windows are from a Dorchester Avenue home in Hyde Park demolished by Urban Renewal.

The chandeliers in the theater are believed to be original and were electrically rebuilt and rehung. (p. 134)

Apparently there was some marketable nostalgia for Finnegan’s Drug Store and its sublime light fixtures. One can imagine a newly renovated Court Theatre of the future that sports bricks from the Medici, a tech booth made from the old pipe organ in St. Stephens Church on Dorchester, and the 55th Street Walgreens’ LED screen.

Naturally, the best part about the Harper Playbill is not the play notes but this *money* advertisement for the Shoreland Hotel (which was subsequently a university dorm until last year; now it’s a MAC property): Credit: Images are the property of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


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