What is Madison St. Theatre anyway?

Dispelling the lingering confusion

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By Doug Deuchler

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I've noticed there is still confusion about Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison St., in Oak Park. 

Designed by local architect Errol Kirsch in the early 1980s, the former 1920s-era tile warehouse and storefront was fully repurposed by mostly volunteer labor into an intimate state-of-the-art performing arts space. Though currently dozens of groups — from Concordia University to the Saltbox Theater Collective, from improv to dance companies — produce their shows at this location, the space is still owned by the same not-for-profit, Oak Park Civic Theater Inc., which was founded in 1961 and was for many years known as Village Players. 

For the past six years, however, it's been known as the Madison Street Theatre.

"For years in the '60s we did our shows at the old Lowell School at the corner of Lake and Forest, where 100 Forest Place is now located," remembers longtime local actor and active Village Players member John Roeder. "When we left our previous location on South Boulevard, we opened our own Madison Street theater space on a Friday the 13th in 1984. That show was Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians."

A great deal has happened since then.

"We continue to offer a solid calendar of productions in our Main Stage space, with its seating capacity of 180," noted Madison Street Theatre's managing director, Rosemary Foley. "We are a multi-stage performing arts center and also have a 65-seat 'black box' Studio Theatre. We are especially thrilled to be joining forces with Surging Films & Theatrics, in a partnership that will include a five-show season in our Studio Theatre. Billy Surges is really a great collaborator. We're also mounting an ambitious joint fundraising effort for the renovation and refurbishment of Madison Street Theatre's public spaces. The building is 30-some years old and, frankly, it needs some work. It's time."

"Tomorrow evening," said Surges, "in the Studio, we open Tracers by John Di Fusco, a Vietnam war veteran who collaborated with other vet writers on the script. We'll see the war through the eyes of male soldiers — a group of grunts — from basic training through battle in the jungles of Vietnam, and beyond. It's very real and honest, a powerful, hard-edged drama. Running alternately with this play will be Decision Height by Meredith Dayna Levy. This show explores war through the eyes of 1940s female pilots during World War II. We see the role of women in wartime, a 'sisterhood' of nine vibrant characters united by both their mission and their friendship."

Both war-themed shows are running "in rep," which means every other weekend from May 5 through June 19, in the Studio Theatre. Tracers is first up, this weekend.

"Audiences really had fun with The 39 Steps," Foley said. "They're a creative, hard-working company. In July they're producing Big Fish: The Musical. In September, they'll mount a dark comedy, The Cripple of Inishman. There's also a holiday or New Year's Eve-themed show, Striking 12, in December. Billy and company have booked a very solid and exciting season."

"We're seeing a lot of new faces at auditions now," Surges added. "We're growing and expanding. And, as our title implies, we do films too. Recently we produced a documentary film with special-needs kids."

"Madison Street Theatre has been regrouping and fortifying for the past six years," Foley said. "We now have something booked virtually all the time. CAST and BRAVO are here in the summer. It's a very busy place. But we're committed to always moving forward, so now it's time for our renovation project, which will begin in January 2017. The lobby will become more open, with moveable concession and ticket booths. There will be a separate entrance and lobby for the Studio Theatre. There will be updating of our washrooms. We'd also like to have flatscreen monitors in the lobby area for announcing upcoming productions and events around town, and recognizing our many sponsors and donors. We're totally upgrading in terms of comfort and functionality."

Friends of Madison Street Theatre can help support the ambitious renovation plans by making a donation at Go Fund Me (www.gofundme.com/MSTrenovate).

Madison Street Theatre is partially funded by the Oak Park Area Arts Council, in partnership with the villages of Oak Park, Forest Park, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. 

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