LAKEVIEW — Screw the idea of the starving artist.
Byron Hatfield wants to change the way sketch comedy writers navigate the Chicago theater scene with his newly renovated Public House Theatre at 3914 N. Clark St. No more trying to cough up money to rent theater space for shows: Public House will cover you — if you're good.
"I'm five years removed from being a starving writer myself," said Hatfield, who wrote the sketch comedy show "Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play" in 2006. It's now syndicated in eight cities. "I wanted to create a theater that as young writer and director, I would have liked to work with."
Like many artists, before the success of "Bye Bye Liver," the Kingston, Tenn.-native was failing over and over again in his 20s — and not making much money doing it.
Part of the problem: To show work, artists must first find funding to rent theater space, and the resulting profits don't always pay the bills, Hatfield said.
Hatfield wants to provide another option for up-and-coming sketch comedy directors. He plans to pick out great shows and try to help the artists learn from his mistakes, from conversations about how to negotiate with theaters to brainstorms on finding a unifying thread to a piece.
And they don't have to pay the theaters to do it.
The Public House Theatre had its soft opening last weekend and is hosting a variety of shows in its two cabaret-style theaters, Hatfield said, from a "Fight Club"-themed burlesque show to a version of "Hamlet" in a video rental store. A more official grand opening party will happen later this month when the new stages and new furniture have been added. (Hatfield and five full-time staffers just started working on the new space about 1-1/2 months ago.)
Hatfield's signature "Bye Bye Liver" previously lived at Fizz Chicago, 3220 N. Lincoln Ave., under the name Pub Theatre. The new concept is a way of giving back and showing the work of talented local artists, even if it is a financial gamble, Hatfield said.
"'Bye Bye Liver' has afforded me enough assets," he said. "I can sit back and get rich, or I can roll the dice and try to do something large."
The hope is that Public House will join the ranks of iO Chicago Theatre and Second City as a Chicago institution, albeit a slightly different one that makes money without improv classes, Hatfield said. Audiences, in turn, will remember Public House as a place with consistently great stories on stage, he said.
"That is a very lofty goal," Hatfield said. "If you're going to do something this big, why make it a small goal? I’m willing to take a risk on behalf of people who are exactly like me five years ago — that deserve an honest chance to make something good without having to worry about money."