BRIDGEPORT — Playwright and actor Kestutis Nakas arrived in Chicago in 2000 and quickly helped establish an underground society in a Downtown office building, a place where actors and artists could perform in front of an appreciative crowd of peers.
"It was like the campfire. No-tech. What happens in the room stays in the room. That's what I love ... this idea of a rapt audience just sort of hooked on what someone says or does without a lot of extra theatricality added," Nakas said. "I just love that room, that electric, live room. I'm always trying to create that."
Casey Cora joins DNAinfo Radio to talk about the new Bridgeport theater troupe:
The Bridge, Nakas' forthcoming theater company, aims to bring that passion for performance to Bridgeport.
Headquartered in First Lutheran Church of the Trinity's second-floor auditorium at 643 W. 31st St., The Bridge won't be the clandestine roadhouse of Nakas' past, but it will be a chance to showcase the city's acting talent.
"There's no theater in Bridgeport. I mean, there are little performances at places like Co-Prosperity Sphere, and that's a great happening scene, but we want to establish a real, legitimate theater ... Our idea is to do bare-stagey, low-budget productions that have amazing acting and really interesting writing," he said.
First up is a production of "The Golf Ball," an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull."
Featuring several alumni of Nakas' performance art classes at Roosevelt University, the play modernizes the Russian author's turn-of-the-20th Century tale and sets it in modern-day Chicago.
Debuting on June 13, the production will run at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through July 6. Tickets cost $12 and are available online here or by calling 312-307-5194.
Nakas, 60, is a professor of theater at Roosevelt University with a decorated history in the performing arts. A veteran of the emerging 1970s acting scene in New York City's East Village, "Kes" as he's known, has presented work at theaters large and small, erudite and edgy.
A favorable 1992 New York Times review of his play, "When Lithuania Ruled the World, Part 3," billed it as a "weird epic" and a "dizzying spectacle ... certainly different and quite exhilarating, perhaps like seeing all the operas of Wagner and Mussorgsky jammed together and staged in Grand Central Terminal at rush hour."
Watching YouTube clips of his Manhattan cable access show is a retro glimpse into the avant garde.
After bouncing to the Southwest for a teaching job at University of New Mexico, where he spent 10 years, Nakas, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, landed in Chicago in 2000 and eventually in Bridgeport, where Nakas said he and his wife, the actress Audra Budrys, have been welcomed in the local Lithuanian community.
"It's not New York. It never will be and it shouldn't want to be. ... There's great theater here. It's not all great but there's a lot do and a lot of people to meet," he said.
To that end, Nakas will establish acting classes for youths and introduce "Followspot," a monthly cabaret for short original theater, dance, music and spoken word performances by some of the city's young artists. "Followspot" is scheduled to debut on July 12.
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