Storefront theater get intimate with audiences

Take your pick of the best — or only — seats in the house

Venues with no more than 75 seats provide intimate experience

By Mark Caro, Tribune reporter, November 29, 2010

In the ultraclose quarters of A Red Orchid Theatre last year, Michael Shannon was ranting as the Broadway producer of the satirical “Mistakes Were Made” when he noticed an audience member reaching from his front-row seat to snatch a candy from a dish on the character’s desk.

“He couldn’t help himself,” recalled Shannon, an Oscar nominee for “Revolutionary Road” and co-star of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” “He was hungry. I watched him do it. It was surreal.”

Shannon managed to not break character, which is what years of playing in tiny theaters will do for a professional actor. Such intimacy not only comes with the territory but is a defining feature of Chicago’s thriving small-theater scene. Although the Goodman and Steppenwolf remain Chicago’s most prominent theater brand names, microtheaters — venues with no more than about 75 seats, often fewer — have generated passionate followers among those who enjoy being in the thick of the action.

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