Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Open Rehearsal: New Court Theater Blog

posted by
chicago pop

There's yet another neighborhood blog up and running, and this one is pretty interesting. Court Theater's Open Rehearsal began less than a month ago (August 12, at 11:40 AM) but it's already clear that it's got a lot of love to share with Hyde Park. How could it not, given the Court's longstanding history in the neighborhood?

There are shout-outs to local goings on that theater-goers and literary types might appreciate, like readings at 57th Street books, and the weekly, Wednesday "Dean's Men (the University's resident Shakespear troupe) [which] holds court over "Shakes and Shakespear." Grab a $1 milkshake from the C-Shop and see a free Shakespear performance on Bartlett Quad at high noon. UChiBLOGo has the story." (And that's another new blog, by the way; we'll get to it next).

Open Rehearsal is dedicated primarily to theater rehearsals, which are as fascinating as any behind-the-scenes dish on a big production, but along the way you find all sorts of little nuggets that HPP readers might savor, such as this flyer from the days ca. 1963 when the Court "was an outdoor festival in Hutch Courtyard on the university campus."

On the back of which is to be found the following advert:

Popular Food, Unusual Prices?

And guaranteed to win our affection here at HPP, Open Rehearsal is willing to throw in its 2 cents on the occasional theater-related development issue. Here's what it has to say on the question, first raised by HPP's Elizabeth Fama, of whether the old Harper Theater at 53rd and Harper is historically significant:

Hyde Park Progress rightfully asks, is Harper Theater really historically significant? However, you can always count on the Regenstein Library’s Special Collections Research Center to have something, and indeed they do: this playbill from the very first Harper Theater production, Pirandello’s Enrico IV.

The playbill gives a brief but utterly bizarre history of the theater:

The Harper Theater was built in 1914 as a vaudeville house. The architects were H.R. Wilson and Company. The theater originally had 1200 seats. The balcony has been closed off and the coffee house built in the rear of the main floor.

The lobby and entrance were remodeled in the 1930’s, changing the entrance from 53rd Street to Harper Avenue. The Harper closed as a movie house in 1956 [!]. The rear half of the main floor, (under the balcony), was walled off in 1964 to create a coffee house.

The lights over the lobby counter were the original store lights for Finnegan’s drug store.

Fixtures in the coffee house are from Finnegan’s drug store, formerly located at 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue. The fixtures were built in Boston in 1911 and then shipped to Chicago and installed in the drug store where they remained until being moved to the Harper last year.

The grill work in the lobby and coffee shop is from the fire escapes of the Hyde Park Hotel, 51st and Lake Park Avenue. The French marble of the counters came from a Fred Harvey restaurant at Canal and Madison Streets. The lobby’s stained glass windows are from a Dorchester Avenue home in Hyde Park demolished by Urban Renewal.

The chandeliers in the theater are believed to be original and were electrically rebuilt and rehung. (p. 134)

You can't be too hard on drama people (and I have been, at times, one of them) for having a soft-spot for theaters. It would certainly be nice to keep the old building if possible, but at least Open Rehearsal took a few minutes to go dig up some documents to attempt firm up Harper Theater's historical bona fides.

In any case, I like their plan for a renovated Court Theater of the future. Be sure to check it out.


george said...

Why, oh, why, won't Court Theater take over the old HP Theater building and make it the new Court? Now THAT would be real development for 53rd Street.

chicago pop said...

Get them the funding, George, to build
a theater equal to or superior to the renovations they are
now undertaking, and they might be interested. Otherwise, what you refer to are 'unfunded expectations.'