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A Moment of Silence for 2851 N Halsted

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 6, 2006 8:35PM

2851halsted.jpgIt’s just an address—2851 North Halsted—that a few Lakeview condo owners will soon call home. The post office, utility companies, and most of Chicago are fairly indifferent to the new construction and what it displaced. But dedicated theatergoers and Chicago history buffs will need a moment to compose themselves as the wrecking ball meets the building once home to the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Organic Touchstone, and the St. Nicholas Players (the launching pad for some kid named David Mamet). Steppenwolf has moved on and current tenant ComedySportz will transfer to nifty new facilities, but that doesn’t diminish the spiritual importance of this scruffy Lakeview space.

We’re honest enough to admit the space itself ain’t a knockout. On first glance, its lobby and stage are practically indistinguishable from any number of theaters built while our parents were coming of age, or any number of recreational spaces or municipal headquarters constructed in the Groovy 70s. If an improv troupe hadn’t moved in, this space might have become a small office or a trade school.

But it was, and should always be remembered as, a home for groundbreaking creativity. Where our town’s stars of stage and screen dreamed of someday making it, and the place they daydream about now that they have. Where hundreds of aspiring comic actors are dreaming new dreams. Where audiences can wonder whether they’re sitting a few rows from the next Malkovich, Metcalf, or Sinese.

This Sunday, the Chicago theater community celebrates and mourns a space that means so much to those lucky enough to have known it way back when, but ultimately can’t avoid the march of the condo developers. 2851 has already inspired moving tributes from the dailies’ top theater critics. Chris Jones exposes the sad truth that beautifully vacant theaters like the Uptown steal the headlines from this more artistically pivotal, more contemporary space. Hedy Weiss recounts the memories and ‘ghosts’ that haunt the building.

The stories those walls could tell will be told one last time in the hallowed space this Sunday.

The Farewell Party takes place at 2851 N Halsted, Sunday from 1-4pm. Tickets are $25 and include a champagne brunch, performances, panel discussion, and tour of the building. Tickets can be purchased by calling 773-549-8080.

Photo via Theatre in Chicago.