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Organic Theater Director Pushing to Return to Former Glory

By Paul Biasco | June 11, 2013 7:50am
 Alexander Gelman
Alexander Gelman
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Organic Theater Company

LINCOLN PARK — Chicago's second oldest theater group, the Organic Theater Company, was crumbling in 2005 when Alexander Gelman took over as artistic director.

Since then, Gelman, a 52-year-old Russian native, has made it his mission to return the company to its early 1970s glory.

The company launched its two latest productions at the end of May, which Gelman thinks are two of the stronger works Organic has put together in years.

"We tend to choose the projects that keep people awake at night," he said. "We all hope — those of us that do this — that we are kind of in tune with the zeitgeist. In tune with what the world wants to know about, wants to see."

Organic's newest productions, Albert Camus's "Caligula" and Slawomir Mrozek's "The Emigrants," are rotating with the same cast in each play through July 7.

While both plays are ingrained in the lexicon of theater, Gelman hopes each will push the audience's boundaries, just like Organic's creator Stuart Gordon would have wanted.

"He was a real experimental person," Gelman said. "He would challenge people and make them stay up and listen."

Those famed works by Gordon such as "Bloody Bess, A Tale of Piracy and Revenge" and "Bleacher Bums," are what keep Gelman humble and driven.

"It's challenging since the company was not in good shape [when I took over]," Gelman said, "It keeps you going knowing that there is something great to live up to."

"Caligula" and "The Emigrants" switch off nights of production at the Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Gelman calls both acts his children.

Gelman took over as artistic director of the theater in 2005 and remains the director of Northern Illinois University's School of Theater and Dance.

He said he had no plan of leaving the Organic Theater.

"It's really a legendary company, and we are just trying to do it justice," he said.