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Jackalope Theatre Co. Renovates Dingy Corner of Armory for its New Theater

By Benjamin Woodard | April 11, 2014 7:04am
 The Jackalope Theatre Company renovated a dingy corner of the Broadway Armory for a new theater space.
Jackalope at the Armory
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EDGEWATER — The Jackalope Theatre Company began in an Edgewater basement six years ago, then last year graduated to a Thorndale Avenue storefront.

But now, after six years in existence, the group has its very own theater.

Over the past few months, Jackalope members have transformed a dingy corner of the Broadway Armory, at 5917 North Broadway, into a fully functional theater space that includes a dressing room, lobby and an auditorium with a 60-seat capacity.

"It's a huge boon for us," said Andrew Swanson, the company's resident playwright and director of development. "There's this potential that this could grow into a sort of Edgewater institution now."

Jackalope is finalizing details of a long-term agreement with the Chicago Park District to use the space on the second floor of the armory.

Previously, the space has been used mainly for storage, Swanson said.

"It hadn't been really entered or used for anything in like 80 years," he said. "The floors were [covered with] a kind of dirt I had never seen before, packed dust from almost a century."

A pressure washer took care of that. Then Swanson and other members of the company — since they got the keys to the space on Jan. 1 — built a booth to operate lights overhead, risers for seating and a lobby, complete with a pool table.

The space's sparse lighting, high ceilings and brick walls exude an ambiance not found elsewhere in the park district's armory, which is largely made up of an expansive gym. (Other groups have taken an interest in the unused space at the armory, such as the Peterson Garden Project, which plans to open a community "teaching kitchen" there this summer.)

Jackalope's first production at the theater, "The Killing of Michael X" — which was written by Cory Hinkle, directed by Kaiser Ahmed and produced by Swanson and artistic director AJ Ware — wraps up Sunday.

While producing theater, Jackalope also hopes their presence would help transform the neighborhood.

"Thorndale has been a pretty gritty place to live for a long time," he said. "The really great thing about this space — on top of the artistic freedom, which is like the coolest thing ever — is that we now get to do one better for the community."

Jackalope still uses its storefront at 1106 W. Thorndale Ave. as a home base.

"We're sort of in the unique position now where we have the opportunity to build what we are within these two spaces," Swanson said. "We get to define ourselves by the work we do here — and by the outreach we can now do."

Jackalope's next production, "Exit Strategy," written by Ike Holter and directed by Gus Menary, opens May 15 at the armory theater.