Chicago’s known as a great theater town. The downtown theater district in the Loop hosts the big name venues for Broadway style performances. Places like the Cadillac Palace and Auditorium Theatre are the grande dames of the theater scene with their ornate halls and iconic landmark status, but theater is thriving outside the Loop as well. If you’ve visiting Chicago, consider checking out one of the affordable neighborhood theaters, like the new Windy City Playhouse.
Half way between O’Hare Airport and downtown Chicago, five minutes east of the Kennedy Expressway, Windy City Playhouse is an unlikely spot for high-quality theatre. Yet that’s what artistic director Amy Rubenstein has set the stage for, hiring noted architect John Morris to design the theater. Morris’ list of architectural credits include the award-winning Steppenwolf and Lookingglass Theatres.
Henry Godinez, artistic associate at Chicago’s award-winning Goodman Theatre, directed the inaugural play, End Days, a suburban comedy confronting the trauma of 9/11. Creating comedy and compassion from chaos is what calls Rubenstein to the stage. “I like to make people feel different things, be a fly on the wall in another person’s life.” That’s exactly what she did in another recent production- Neil Simon’s story of love the second time around, “Chapter Two”. Another well-respected Chicago director, Jessica Thebus, is at the helm this time.
One of the benefits of going to a neighborhood theater like Windy City Playhouse is the ease and affordability. No need to deal with the hassles of going into the bustling Loop and paying for expensive parking. Windy City Playhouse makes theater-going easy and affordable in other ways as well. No need to figure out where to go pre-show and post-show. Windy City Playhouse serves light fare to enjoy during the show, and unlike most theaters, the bar isn’t an afterthought. Rubenstein and her husband once owned a vineyard in California, so there are world-class wines, creative cocktails and craft beers. A lobby with a fireplace and comfortable seating provides a relaxed setting to enjoy the intermission.
Theater-goers will enjoy the comfortable setting inside the theater as well. Plush, swivel chairs and tables where you can put down your drink, mean you won’t be squirming in your seat. “We’re focused on the audience’s journey, more than trying to prove an artistic point,” says Rubenstein, who caught the theatre bug early. Growing up, she studied theater in suburban Chicago, then majored in theater at Brandeis and eventually moved to L.A. Instead of waitressing as a day job, she got into the real estate market— purchasing, rehabbing and selling properties. She met her husband, Milan, on one of her real estate deals. In 2010, after having children and watching the local market fizzle, they moved back to Chicago.
Along with Rubenstein’s brother, Joshua, they own the real estate firm, Windy City Re. Yet this real estate investor and mom of two never lost her love of theatre. “I started thinking about how I could make a difference in Chicago theatre.” Last spring the three partners purchased a building in a working class neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, transforming it into the city’s newest Equity theatre, Windy City Playhouse.
How does this Windy City mom, actress and real estate developer find time to be moved by her muse? “Once you have this passion for an art, it’s not something you can just let go. If you’re not doing it, it’s this hole inside you that needs to be filled. This is my way of filling my hole.” Bravo!
Consider stepping outside the Loop to enjoy neighborhood theater the next time you’re in Chicago. What’s your favorite neighborhood theater that’s off the radar for average tourists coming through your town?
Tickets to Windy City Playhouse: $25-$45 at 773-891-8985
Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Road