Kolack retires as Circle Theatre's co-artistic director

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Circle Theatre subscribers might be alarmed at the announcement of the retirement of the theater's mainstay co-artistic director, Greg Kolack. But Kolack is not retiring from Circle so much as he's stepping away from the grind.

"Retirement for me means moving to Florida and sitting on the pier," joked Kolack.

Far from sitting on a pier, he's looking to further his freelance opportunities in Chicago. He'll still attend future season shows and may even guest direct or act at Circle, but it's the demanding quotidian duties he'll be leaving behind.

Kolack served seven years as co-artistic director and has been active with Circle Theatre in Forest Park for more than half its existence?#34;that's 11 of the theater's 20-year history.

His first show was in the fall of 1994. Since then, he's been nominated for two Jeff Awards, and has won two (for A Piece of My Heart and The Crime of the Century), along with three After Dark Awards.

Those two shows were his all-time favorites, as well as his most commercially and critically successful. A Piece of My Heart won three Jeff citations and went from its 1995 Circle run to a 1996 Bailiwick performance.

"It was quite a success," Kolack recalled.

The Crime of the Century was another show close to his heart, as he worked on it for four years with noted playwright Rebecca Gilman. It tackles the complicated story of Richard Speck's 1966 serial murders of eight Chicago-area nurses. Kolack said they both wanted to ensure the story was about the nurses' lives and not about Speck. The integrity of the production was one of the key components of its Jeff Award winning performances. Integrity is always an important ingredient of Circle Theatre's overall vision.

"We've got a really good reputation for treating people well," said Kolack. "We know we're not paying them much."

Instead, the artists are given the opportunity to work collaboratively on high-quality productions that surpass high pay. "We do very good, consistent work," Kolack said.

So consistent, in fact, that the first three shows from this season have all gotten Jeff recommendations.

Through the years, Kolack has had the opportunity to work with some extraordinary artists. "We worked with Russell Crowe two years ago," Kolack recalled. "He was actually calling me at home. He's got a real bad-boy reputation, but he was so nice."

The same was true of playwright Neil LaBute, famous for penning In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors. "He's the nicest guy in the world," Kolack said. "He's a phenomenal writer. Great sense of humor, very easygoing."

Stage manager Joseph Heaton was hired by Kolack for Circle's production of Never in my Lifetime in 2002. Now stage managing his seventh show, Circle's current The Shape of Things (by LaBute), Heaton's gotten to know Kolack well.

"Greg has a really good reputation around town," Heaton said. "I knew of him even before I worked here. "He's very giving, also very quiet, quiet and calm. He's a good leader and he's very hands-on and just kind of gets things done."

It would seem that Circle would be hard pressed to come up with a replacement. But Kolack explains there will be a management restructuring and his position won't need to be filled. His roles will be redistributed within the company to people such as current co-artistic director Kevin Bellie.

Kolack also plans to stay involved in Circle's New Play Festival and other possible opportunities as they appear.

The greatest change is that Kolack will no longer have to handle all the daily worries and details. "I'm gonna think, 'Wow, I don't have to deal with that anymore,'" he said.

Instead, he noted, he can concentrate on the big things?#34;freelance opportunities around town, directorial and acting side projects with Circle, and time with his "wonderful girlfriend."

?#34;Ron Riekki

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