The Uptown Theatre on Chicago’s North Side is nearing the century mark. But for the last nearly 40 years that existence has been lonely. The former movie house and concert venue closed in 1981 and has received only essential structural repairs during the past decade.
During a private tour Thursday night for historic preservation advocates, Jerry Mickelson was eager to show off what he called “the perfect theater,” which has 4,381 seats. Mickelson bought the Uptown Theatre in 2008 for more than $3 million. Mickelson, the co-owner of live entertainment promotion company Jam Productions, is leading redevelopment of the venue and plans to reopen it in 2020.
The project’s budget is $75 million, with about $16 million coming from City of Chicago funds. Mickelson says the bulk of the money is to update infrastructure like electrical and plumbing, and fix the facade that faces North Broadway. Mickelson was adamant, however, that the improvements will not strip away the aesthetic of the theater’s interior.
“It was built as one of the best theaters in this country, and why change it? There’s no reason to,” he said.
Mickelson said the theater will have concerts, comedy shows, dances and other entertainment when it reopens.
They don’t build them like they used to
The ceiling of the auditorium, seen here after a June 2018 press conference. Theater owner Jerry Mickelson did not allow photos to be taken on Thursday ‘to protect the element of surprise’ when the theater reopens in 2020. (Becky Vevea/WBEZ)
If you didn’t get a chance to go to the Uptown Theatre to see Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead or the J. Geils Band (the last group to play there before it closed), there’s a good chance you’ve never been past the front doors.
According to Chicago theater historian Richard Sklenar, the Uptown Theatre was the largest movie house in the city when it opened in 1925. During Thursday’s tour, Sklenar pointed to original features such as a panel of numbers and coordinating lights that indicated to ushers which seats were available.
The lobby’s ceiling had three black rods awaiting the return of chandeliers — something Mickelson said will happen — and a pillar that had been painted to re-create the original colors of turquoise and gold on the lobby walls. Color was surprisingly still vivid on wall murals and the auditorium ceiling, but the plaster damage from leaky pipes was clear, something Mickelson said needs repair.
Sklenar said the house organ is no longer around — it was shipped to a pizza parlor in California. There is a piano left, slumped in the right corner of the stage, dusty and with only three legs.
Thursday’s tour guide said the seats will be removable when the theater reopens to accommodate several types of events. Photo taken in June 2018. (Becky Vevea/WBEZ)
Using history to pay the bills
Mickelson and development team Farpoint, which was founded by former members of Sterling Bay, the developers behind the Lincoln Yards project, are counting on the historical significance of Uptown to help with the bottom line. Bonnie McDonald from Landmarks Illinois said the theater “has almost everything as far as designations are concerned.”
McDonald said it’s located in a Chicago-landmarked district, has designation from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
All those recognitions add up to tax incentives. The Uptown Theatre project is looking at almost $9 million from national historic tax credits, and $3 million from Chicago’s Adopt-A-Landmark Fund.
Mickelson and Farpoint have a shot at even more money because of the theater’s historic significance. In 2018, the Illinois legislature passed the state historic rehabilitation tax credit. That’s another $3 million in incentives available.
All this money comes with requirements to maintain the building’s landmark status. McDonald said that would include maintaining the Uptown Theatre’s terra cotta exterior and marble on the inside, for example.
Mickelson dismissed that being a challenge. “Yeah, there’s guidelines but I don’t even need to think about it. We’re restoring the theater back to the way it was,” he said.
The boarded up front doors at the Broadway entrance. (Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ)
EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney) is Europe’s first installed L-Acoustics L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound 360° system in a vibrant new arts center for live music, mixed arts, and performance located in the former Savoy cinema in Dalston, east London. The system aims to deliver an all-round incredible audio experience for audiences and artists alike.
EartH is the brainchild of Auro, champion of Hackney nightlife and founder of Village Underground, a commercially successful, sustainable, and community-driven initiative providing affordable workspaces for creatives. Foxcroft and his team drove this project to painstakingly restore the abandoned space to its former Art Déco splendour.
Having an exceptional sound system was central to Auro’s plan to reinvent the building as he understands the importance of sonic excellence and in making a performance something truly memorable rather than just a show!
“After a visit to hear L-ISA in action in Highgate, the EartH team were amazed by the technology and convinced that it was the solution for their venue. The team at L-Acoustics were incredibly helpful and the resulting audio system was very much born from a collaborative approach.”
The downstairs area has been reinvented as a lively, multi-purpose club and social area, and a new restaurant will be opened. Together these three spaces will be the heartbeat of an animated and inclusive performance-orientated environment, open for all to enjoy.
The ground-floor, club-style venue demanded high SPL, and excellent low-end response for the DJ-led music program. In the new theatre space upstairs, however, the brief was a lot more ambitious and complex; this is where Foxcroft wanted the immersive system to support a heterogenic program ranging from spoken-word, dance and performance art to jazz, rock, electronic, and all genres of music.
L-ISA is a multichannel “what you hear is what you see” platform, ideally suited to bringing immersive sound into experiential venues. Fundamental to the philosophy is ‘connecting’ the audience to the sonic experience, bringing total clarity to both audience and performers feel like they are part of a smaller, deeper and altogether more intimate experience.
The theatre’s L-ISA loudspeaker configuration comprises a frontal system, supplemented by surrounds and overheads providing a 360-degree, multidimensional mixing environment.
Adlib project manager Rob Crossland commented, “This is very straightforward an immersive L-ISA system with side, rear, and overhead extensions. As more venues move to L-ISA, this approach will allow touring productions to move between similar systems without re-working their entire show every night”.
Adlib’s KSE Sam Proctor attended the tuning and calibration session with the L-Acoustics applications engineers to learn more about the finer details of working with L-ISA technology.
EartH’s house audio team of Luca Romani and Alessandro Melchior will be running the systems and providing support for visiting engineers utilising the L-ISA platform, they were also heavily involved in the equipment specification and installation.
They’ve been trained on optimising the system and the finer points of Immersive Hyperreal audio, as well as on-site training from Sam Proctor on Kara, and the system management software, L-Acoustics Network Manager.
Client & “Culturefighter”: Auro Foxcroft
Director: John Hughes
Project Manager: Rob Crossland
Engineer: Sam Proctor
Sales Manager: Paul McMullen
Application, installation: Jeff Woodward
Application, touring: Sergey Becker
L-ISA Controller, L-ISA Processors in L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound configuration
Frontal System: five arrays of seven Kara; four centrally flown KS28 subs; ten X8 providing front fill.
Surround System: 12 Syva colinear source loudspeakers; eight X8 overhead system.
Traditional left/right complement: L/R arrays of four Kara each with one SB18 per side; four central ground-stacked KS28 subs; 4 ARCS Wide as delays.
X15 HiQ wedges; all powered by LA4X qnd LA12X amplified controllers
2 DiGiCo SD12 consoles with L-ISA integration via Desk Link
Theatrical licensing company Music Theatre International (MTI) has made Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical available for licensing.
With a Tony-winning book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (Groundhog Day), Matilda tells the story of a five year-old girl whose love of reading and active imagination puts her at odds with her family and the diabolical school headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Matilda discovers she has secret powers and uses them, with help from her beloved teacher Miss Honey, to restore justice to her world.
The musical received its world premiere in 2009 from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, transferring to London’s West End in 2011 and winning seven Olivier Awards (including Best New Musical) in 2012. The production transferred to Broadway in 2013, winning Tony Awards for Best Book, Featured Actor (Gabriel Ebert), Lighting Design (Hugh Vanstone), and Scenic Design (Rob Howell). The four young actors who alternated in the title role (Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon, and Milly Shapiro) were also honored with a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. The Broadway production closed in 2017 after playing 1,555 performances, but the West End production continues at the Cambridge Theatre with booking currently open through May 2020.
MTI announced that they would handle licensing for Matilda in 2016, though this release marks the first time the show has been made available for production by both professional and amateur groups.
“Matilda embodies every young person’s dream to affect the world around them in extraordinary ways,” shared MTI President and CEO Drew Cohen. “Tim Minchin’s score and Dennis Kelly’s book brilliantly bring to life Dahl’s incredible characters and provide great opportunities for performers of all ages. The appetite for Matilda around the world has been tremendous for many years and it is not just a pleasure but truly a relief to finally have the show available for licensing.”
For more information, visit MTIShows.com.
Former Mayor of Kilkenny, Seán Ó hArgáin has announced that he is to seek the Labour nomination to contest next year’s local elections in an attempt to regain a seat for the party in the city.
Mr Ó hArgáin was a member of Kilkenny Borough Council from 2004 to 2014 and served as Mayor of the city from 2012 to 2013. He also represented the city on the board of the Watergate Theatre for that decade and served on a number of committees of the council including the local Policing committee and Walled Towns Committee.
Since 2014, Mr Ó hArgáin has served as a board member of the Butler Gallery. He has also been appointed to the board of Foras na Gaeilge, the north-south body responsible for the Irish language and was last week elected national Vice President of Gaeloideachas, the umbrella body for Gaelscoileanna and Gaeltacht schools.
On a political level, Mr. Ó hArgáin has served as Chairperson of the Carlow/Kilkenny Labour Party for the past two years and led the campaign for the re-election of President Michael D. Higgins. He was one of the invited guests at the inauguration celebrations in Dublin Castle.
‘I have given a long period of thought to this decision. The Labour Party has held a seat in Kilkenny City since the foundation of the state, with the exception of the last four years. I believe that we have served the city well over the years with the tradition of the Pattison, Martin, Cody, Patterson and Fitzpatrick families standing proudly among others. Our city needs the clear voice of Labour to represent working people and their interests and I hope I can restore that voice.
I hope to focus on the crucial issues of housing and health. In terms of housing, we currently have over 2,000 people on the housing waiting list in Kilkenny with over 60% of those in the city. It is simply unacceptable that over 1,000 people, many of them family units have no place to live in our city in 2018. I will support the provision of public housing but I will demand a well-planned strategy which is based on real, pro-active consultation with local communities to ensure a home for everybody in need.
I led the political campaign for the building of the new Accident and Emergency facility at St. Luke’s Hospital, organizing the first public meeting on the issue as a councillor in 2005 and pursuing the then health board and health and safety authority for the publication of key reports into the unsafe conditions for patients and workers at that time. I will continue to campaign for improvements in every level of the local health service, particularly in the area of mental health services.
I will also fight for the continued sustainable development of the city. I was the first elected councillor to demand a city bus service, park and ride facilities and a public bike scheme. I will continue to fight for a city where pedestrians and cycling come first in a healthy environment but also a city in which the protection of our core city Centre business are protected and promoted.
As the Mayor who hosted the first consultation meeting on the development of the Brewery site, I will prioritise its development as a vibrant community space where jobs, community facilities, creativity and education exist side by side in the most important development project for our city in the coming decades.’
Mr. Ó hArgáin said he looked forward to engaging with party members over the coming weeks and hoped they would place their confidence in him to restore the Labour voice in the city.
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