Ann Filmer: On behalf of Managing Director Eddie Sugarman and North Berwyn Park District’s Joe Vallez – please stand up, Joe, people need to know who you are -- thank you for this honor.
It is so fitting to follow Michael Halberstam, my first mentor. I began my career as Michael’s assistant at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe where I watched him in the back of a bookstore build up his theater literally one audience member at a time.
16th Street Theater is unique because it is a partnership between artists, a park district and a not for profit. North Berwyn Park District’s Executive Director Joseph Vallez had a vision of “if you build it they will come.” He built a 49 seat theater in the basement of a city building so that the park district could offer the arts in addition to sports and recreation. In May of 2007, he built it and Ann Filmer came, and in one of those “you have a theater, I want to run a theater” moments, 16th Street was born.
When we announced our first season of plays: Tanya Saracho’s Kita y Fernanda, Arlene Malinowski’s Aiming for Sainthood, Susan Hahn’s The Scarlet Ibis and Will Dunne’s The Ascension of Carlotta, a woman from nearby Stickney called after she saw Hedy Weiss’ announcement in the Sun Times. She said “Don’t you want anyone to come to your theater?” I said, “Uh yes.” She went on: “The Ascension of Carlotta what is that about? I’ve never heard of it and such a strange title.” I took a breath, decided to not get defensive, “Ma’am it’s a lovely new play and tell you what: try us out, and if you don’t like it you can have your money back. And, ma’am, remember The Glass Menagerie was once a new play and if that isn’t a strange title I don’t know what is.” There was a pause on the other end of the line: “Well now that’s true.”
The vision from day one was: a professional theater FOR the community telling the stories of ALL in our community. Professional meaning not only a dedication to Artistic excellence but also a commitment to compensation: artists are skilled workers and must be paid fairly for their craft. With the playwright as our central focus, 16th Street offers up stories not only reflecting those but FOR those who live in our community. That means: diverse stories, affordable tickets. High ticket prices tell a certain segment of the population: “This is not for you.” We are proud to be a 49 seat equity house with a top ticket price of $18 with plays told mainly in English with big bursts of Spanish, and sprinkles of Urdu, Farsi, Arabic, American Sign language and the language of poetry.
Eddie Sugarman: I joined 16th Street in January of 2013, and was inspired to be a part of a theater engaged 360 degrees in its community. A strong and growing board of directors led by President Patrick Murphy including Marilyn Campbell and Deborah Stewart provide support, advice and invaluable fundraising. Foundations and organizations such as the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Alphawood, The Chicago Community Trust, Illinois Arts Council, The Saints, Arts Work Fund, Culvers, small businesses of Berwyn, our audiences and subscribers and donors - And especially the North Berwyn Park District and its staff for creating a home for theater in the first place and sustaining it. They all make 16th Street’s vision possible. In just our sixth season, we have expanded our reach by offering community-based programs and classes through North Berwyn Park District, and will partner again with Berwyn Library and Morton High School on Berwyn Reads.
Ann Filmer: This is such a huge honor for us. Personally this is my 20th year anniversary as a member of the Chicago Theater Scene. Chicago’s world class theater scene has yet to disappoint me. What I treasure most about it is the communal spirit which is not just lip service but a true collaboration with shared respect between large institutions and small theaters. Chicago is theater that works. Chicago theaters understand this: when we support each other and share resources we are ALL better for it. This award exemplifies this spirit: a large commercial theater Broadway in Chicago awarding a small not for profit theater located in a park district building in Berwyn not only an award but $5,000. Thanks to the League of Chicago Theatres, the press who have hiked out to Berwyn to take notice. and the entire Chicago Theater Community.
-- Ann Filmer May 20, 2013
Transcript of her acceptance speech on behalf of 16th Street Theater winning Broadway in Chicago’s 2013 Emerging Theater Award.