BackStage Theatre Company has been a staple in the Chicago storefront theatre scene since 2000. Originally founded as a place for actors and designers to collaborate to push their artistic limits, the rebranded their mission statement in 2007 to focus on work that explores family relationships. Many well-known theatre artists in the storefront community have either graced or gotten their start on the BackStage Theatre stage, so it was quite a shock when it was announced that their current show, "A Scent of Flowers" would serves as the final production the company would produce.
"Our engagement with you was central to the stories we told, and we will sorely miss the opportunity to talk with you about them in the years to come," wrote Artistic Director Matthew Reeder in an official statement. "But there is joy in the announcement, too. Twelve years is a happy life in the scope of any small arts organization. We can say with real conviction that we spent those twelve years telling stories that were never easy, rarely familiar, and were always challenging and meaningful to our artists and our audiences."
Deeply saddened by the news, I reached out to the ensemble for their thoughts and reflections on what BackStage has meant to them and the community:
DANNY BERNARDO (DB) How did you come to join BackStage Theatre Company?
ERIC PASKEY (EP) I joke that I joined BackStage simply because they asked me to. In honesty I joined because after working on several shows with the company I admired their commitment to making theatre that wanted to make a statement and push audiences into thinking and talking about familial issues. Most importantly I enjoyed working with and becoming friends the members of the company.
MICHAEL PACAS (MP) I was astonished by this smaller theater company tackling such a daunting project. Their passion and drive inspired me. They proved to me that anything is possible, a motto that I strive to keep each day.
(DB) What is your favorite memory working on a Backstage production?
LINDSAY MILLER (LM): When my parents came to see "Waiting for Lefty" (my first show with BackStage), and my dad said he was so engrossed in the show he almost joined in with the actors yelling "Strike, strike, strike... " at the end of the play. It was a moment of "we can honestly effect people".
EP: Opening night for "Denise," we were still putting the finishing touches on the set and cleaning up the sawdust at 8:00pm. When we opened the doors at 8:05, we were ready to rock, and we earned ourselves some rave reviews. The late opening gave it that special touch of off-Loop pluck that Chicago is famous for.
DB: How do you feel Backstage has contributed to the landscape of Chicago theatre?
AMY MONDAY (AM) BackStage always tried to do bigger productions than what seemed possible on paper. This ability to do complex, unique productions on a shoestring budget enhanced Chicago's storefront theatre reputation. BackStage also launched numerous careers for people in acting, directing, design, and administration. Theatre communities and nonprofit organizations across the country will benefit from the efforts of these dedicated people for many years to come.
EP: I feel like BackStage's contributions were felt mostly by those backstage; the actors, designers and directors we've worked with. We were committed to taking on very large, ambitions projects and doing them well. I think we succeeded, and in doing so, we pushed all of our collaborators to do the same.
LM: I believe that BackStage gave Chicago artists a place to push themselves, to digger deeper; to be truer to themselves, the play, their characters and designs, and to the audience. The company tried to ask the most of everyone that worked for it, and I think, a lot of those artists were surprised by how far they could go. As to the audiences, I think BackStage gave them something to think about, it showed people that theatre can be incredibly enjoyable and still pose questions that are hard to hear and understand, and then allow you the space to answer those questions for yourself.
DB: What do you hope your audiences will take away from Backstage's twelve year run?
EP: I hope that, as our audiences continue with their lives, they'll experience a moment or two that makes them think, "This reminds me of a play I saw," and they'll remember it was us.
MP: I believe that BackStage Theatre showed that smaller storefront theatres can (and should) reach beyond their means, and produce from the heart, rather than following popular trends and fads.
AM: Our goal was to deeply affect our audience... to raise questions that often didn't have easy answers. It would be the greatest compliment to have audience members look at their own relationships with a little bit more understanding as a result of attending a BackStage production. We also want our audience to be so inspired by BackStage that they keep attending theatre in Chicago and beyond!
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It's always sad when a storefront theatre closes its doors, but the loss of BackStage Theatre Company will be felt very deeply in the Chicago theatre community. Their innovative and heartfelt work has been an inspiration to every person who has seen a BackStage production. Their contributions to collaborative process will be felt in the Chicago theatre community for years to come. Thank you for the wonderful shows BackStage, you will be greatly missed.
BackStage Theatre Company's final production "A Scent of Flowers" runs through August 25 at The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60642.
For tickets and more information, visit: backstagetheatrecompany.org/tickets