Raven Theatre is celebrating 30 years of storefront theater by throwing a benefit party and by promoting a staff member to a newly created position.
Out actress and educator Kelli Strickland has been named Raven Theatre's new executive director, a position she assumes in June following the completion of her prestigious Devos Fellowship in Executive Arts Leadership at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Strickland is moving up from her previous Raven roles of an actress and the director of education and outreach for Raven Theatre's Take Flight program for youths.
Reached by phone in D.C., Strickland was honored to expand the visions of Raven Theatre co-founders Michael Menedian and JoAnn Montemurro, who now respectively serve as producing artistic director and co-artistic director.
"The task that I am charged with is really to expand the capacity of the organization," said Strickland, pointing out how other veteran Chicago-area storefront theaters like Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Northlight Theatre have grown from humble beginnings to become major arts institutions. "I'll really be looking at the way we interact with our audiences, students and families through a marketing and fundraising perspective. I'll also be looking to expand the financial capacity of the organization and I'll be working on board relationsdeveloping our board of directors. Fortunately for me I have a long relationship with this theater."
On Strickland's creative side, she's credited with creating her one-woman show We've Got A Badge for That based upon her experiences in the Girl Scouts and working with multiple companies ranging from the Guthrie Theater to Missouri Rep. But perhaps Strickland's most prominent acting performance is portraying the younger version of the title character played by actress Sharon Gless (Queer as Folk) in the 2009 film Hannah Free. (Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim is credited as a producer and executive producer on the film.)
"I've had a resurgence in viewers of the film contacting me," Strickland said, adding that people reach out to her through facebook.com and by finding her Loyola University email contacts. "I think it's because the question of gay marriage is at the forefront of people's minds right now."
Yet once Strickland returns to Chicago, she knows that she'll have to put some of her artistic impulses on the back burner in favor of her new administrative duties for Raven Theatre. That's why she's soaking up all she can from the various lectures and hands-on experience at the Kennedy Center.
"If you talk to anyone who has lived on the North Side of Chicago and you say, 'Raven Theatre,' people go, 'Oh yeah, that building at Granville and Clark that used to be a grocery store that has really distinctive signage,'" Strickland said. "I think sometimes we in arts organizations work so hard that we sort of assume that people know what we're doing and I really view my charge as making sure that everyone knows what's happening inside that buildingso literally and metaphorically flinging those doors open and inviting people in to see the work and cultivate relationships."
Kelli Strickland will be in attendance at Raven Theatre's 30th anniversary benefit starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at The Parthenon restaurant, 310 S. Halsted St. The event features a family-style Greek dinner, a silent auction, a raffle and performances of selected scenes from past and future Raven Theatre productions. Tickets are $100 each and proceeds benefit Raven Theatre and its Take Flight youth outreach program. For reservations or more information, call 773-338-2177 or visit www.raventheatre.com .
Let's hear it for the ladies of GayCo, Chicago oldest LGBTQ sketch comedy troupe. The lesbian-focused production Breast in Show is back for another revival, this time at pH Comedy Theater. So if you previously missed this revue's hilarious takes on Dora the Explorer's tell-tale signs of her sexuality and what really goes on at a women's softball game, then don't skip out on this extra chance to see Breast in Show.
GayCo's revival of Breast in Show plays 7:30 p.m. Sundays between April 21 to May 26 at pH Comedy Theater, 1515 W. Berwyn Ave. Tickets are $15 with discounts available for students. Call 773-961-8214 or visit www.gayco.com .
Opera in Spanish
Chicago has a huge Latino population, so it's surprising that only this month the Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its first work in Spanish: the 2010 "mariachi opera" Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) by José "Pepe" MartÃnez and Leonard Foglia. Chicago Opera Theater (COT) isn't too far behind, since it presents the professional Chicago stage debut of Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer's 1967 "tango operita" MarÃa de Buenos Aires for four performances staring Saturday, April 20.
Both Cruzar and MarÃa come to Chicago thanks to the drive of the companies' newish general directors. The Lyric's Anthony Freud originally commissioned the mariachi opera for Houston Grand Opera in 2010 to speak to the immigrant experience, while COT's Andreas Mitisek is adding an extra layer of historical resonance the Piazzolla work by updating the opera's action to Argentina's "Dirty War" of between 1976 and 1983.
Lyric Opera of Chicago's Cruzar La Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) featuring Mariachi AztlÃ¡n continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 19, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at the Benito JuÃ¡rez Community Academy, 1450-1510 W. Cermak Road, and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 20, at the Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan. Call 800-982-2787 or visit www.lyricopera.org for more information.
Chicago Opera Theater's MarÃa de Buenos Aires featuring Luna Negra Dance Theater plays 7:30 p.m. April 20, 24, 26 with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee April 28, at Millennium Park's Harris Theater for Music and Dance, E. Randolph Dr. Performances in Spanish with projected English transations. Tickets are $35-$125. Call 312-704-8414 or visit www.chicagoot.org for more information.