Acting in Chicago?
June 10, 2008 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Just relocated to Chicago, want to get back into acting... need some advice on good community theatre groups and talent agents of the non-scam variety.

A couple of years ago, my life took a bit of a flip: my hobby became my career, and vice versa. I now get paid to make the websites, and get to be an actor as a hobby. I've recently relocated to Chicago from Calgary, and I need some advice on getting into the acting scene here: what are some of the decent community theatre groups? Which talent agents here are reputable (i.e. not looking to make a ton of money off of selling me headshots which I already have)?
posted by a lunatic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're open to improvisational acting, you're in luck. Chicago is the home of improv! Although I don't live there, I've taken classes at both Second City and Improv Olympic (aka IO Theater), and the two have lots of teachers and players in common but different teaching and performing philosophies.

Definitely go see some shows at IO Theater if you want to meet actors and directors and start building connections. Not everyone there is doing improv exclusively. The stages are small and the players friendly, so I'd think it would be easy to meet other actor types there.

Annoyance Theater is also mostly improv, but the AD there, Mark Sutton, is incredibly nice and encouraging of up-and-comers, very open to meeting new people.

A friend's husband is the AD at Theater Wit, which I don't know much about, except that it isn't improv-related.

And of course the Steppenwolf Theater Company and the Piven Theater Workshop are very well known for alums like John and Joan Cusack, and John Malkovich. I know Piven offers classes (a good networking opportunity). Don't know about Steppenwolf.

Break a leg!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:23 AM on June 10, 2008

Check out for auditon listings and show information. It's run by the League of Chicago Theatres, and it's a great source of information for those involved in Chicago theatre.

Beyond auditioning, taking a class is a great way to get involved. You meet people, you learn more about your craft, and more about the community. I know people who have had great success at Victory Gardens. They're classes are geared towards those who can't make this into a profession yet. Also, when I lived in Chicago, the classes would end with a presenation for the theatres who rent out the Greenhouse space. Since they no longer own the Greenhouse Space, I don't know if this is still the case. However, I know someone who was cast in a Shattered Globe show after being seen in that showcase.

If you're interested in going into it full speed ahead, then check out the School at Steppenwolf. It's a teen week conservatory program with full days of classes Monday through Friday. Given your question, I don't think it's what you're looking for, but worth looking into.

My best recommendation to you is to see everything you possibly can. Chicago is the greatest theatre city in the United States. See what's out there. Not only does watching others give you a better sense of your own craft, but it also allows you to get to be "street smart" on names. An actor who you see in a lot of shows is less likely to be a scam artist giving a false class. You can see what theatres offer classes or workshops. And often times with the small theatres, you can meet the people who run them.

The best way to see lots of theatre is to join the Saints, Chicago's volunteer ushering group. It costs money, and you have to have the dippy looking white shirt, black pants get-up, but it allows you to see almost everything. I know people who see eight shows a week with the Saints. All for a little program stuffing and ticket tearing. (And the Saints themselves are the grandparents I wish I had.)

Break a leg!
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2008

Eeek. Ten week, not teen week.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 11:26 AM on June 10, 2008

My friend Tim, who is involved in the Chicago theater scene says:

"The best thing for him to do is contact Geddes Talent, which is a really well-respected agency of which many of my friends and co-workers are clients.

As far as acting goes, there are around 200 theatres in Chicago. He needs to log onto the League of Chicago Theatres website,, and submit his headshot to all of the companies with a decent website. Then, he needs to go to a ton of auditions that he finds on the League website. Eventually, he'll get cast. He'll meet some people, get invited to better and better auditions, and there you have it. Easy as pie."

Hope that helps.
posted by ztdavis at 9:40 PM on June 10, 2008

ImproviseOrDie definitely got it right on the improv front: If you want to do improv, Chicago is a great town and there are tons of opportunities. Getting involved at Second City and IO would be an obvious and excellent start.

If your interests are elsewhere, however, things get a bit more complicated.

First: Contrary to ztdavis' advice, if you're considering "community theatre groups" you definitely don't need an agent. In the three years I spent acting in Chicago I never had one, and the only people I met who had one were trying to use acting as a day job. If art is more important to you than money, you should be able to line up your own auditions.

If you really want to get involved, you need to schmooze, not just so they'll cast you, but so you'll be cast by someone you actually want to work with. Although classes are a great way to meet other actors, if you want to meet directors and companies who can cast you you're going to have to go to a lot of shows and attempt to contact those companies who you think you could work with. Exactly which shows to see depends on what kind of work you're interested in doing.

Note that unless you're demonstrably outstanding, you're going to have to start at the bottom. In my three years in Chicago, I never got to work with my favorite companies -- only with the ones who could obviously benefit by casting me. There will inevitably be some shows you hate in that first year or two, but if you stick to it you should hopefully be able to find a community where you belong and work towards work that you believe in.

If you want to see some good theatre, by the way, I recommend 500 Clown, Plasticene, The Neofuturists, Theater Oobleck, The Building Stage, Sprung, The House and The Hypocrites. Your mileage may vary.

ps. for auditions and shows, for auditions, for shows.
posted by tsmo at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2008

Great advice from everyone so far! One thing I do want to clarify: I am interested in getting involved in theatre at the community level, but I would also like to get an agent for the possibility of smaller film projects, like commercials and so on (I have to keep my day job while in Chicago, but that doesn't preclude me from doing some film on the side). I realize that I don't need an agent for community theatre, but, at least in my experience, lining up one's own voice over and commercial auditions can prove problematic, likely impossible.

Again, thanks for all the great tips so far! This is going to make the adjustment a lot easier!
posted by a lunatic at 2:35 PM on June 11, 2008

Since you say you're looking for commercial work, I'll second ztdavis' recommendation of Geddes Talent. My friend likes 'em, anyhow.

Re-reading this thread, it's become clear everyone's saying the same thing, and I imagine it'd work if you wanted to get into theatre anywhere in the world: Become part of the theatre community-- watch as many shows as you can, take classes, go to auditions, and schmooze until you find a niche that works for you.

All in all, Chicago's a very easy place to get involved with theatre. Making a rewarding career out of it is another matter. Good luck.
posted by tsmo at 5:08 PM on June 11, 2008

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