The Catholic University of America

Sideshow Theatre Company Offers The Unusual

  Theories of the Sun Sideshow Theatre
 

The final sun story dance in Theories of the Sun, written by CUA alumna and Artistic Associate Kathleen Akerley, directed by Jonathan L. Green and CUA alumna Megan A. Smith.

Photo by Jonathan L. Green

Megan Smith (B.A. 2006) knew she wanted to head to Chicago after graduation — she just didn’t know she’d end up founding a theater company there.

But that’s exactly what she and three University of Virginia drama graduates did. Smith, Matt Fletcher, Jonathan Green, and Walt McGough founded the Sideshow Theatre Company in 2007 and haven’t looked back since.

“I came out here not with the intention of starting my own company. I started working with some folks,” Smith says. “We did a show together to make sure we could, and then realized we all liked working together.” Today, she is the executive director, and she also directs several plays a year.

Smith says she was drawn to the feel of the Chicago theater scene. “I heard the theater community there was very collaborative, friendly, which I thought was a great quality,” she says, a quality similar to what she found at Catholic University. “You can reach out to any theater alumni at Catholic and they will talk to you and give you advice. They will help you as much as they can. It’s pretty awesome.”

The founding group was soon joined by CUA alumni Bruce Phillips (B.A. 2005), now marketing manager; Jeff Tinley (B.A. 2005), grants manager; and Kathleen Akerley (M.F.A. 1998), artistic associate, among others. The company today has a core volunteer staff of 12, including other Catholic University graduates Gina Di Salvo (B.A. 2005), artistic associate, and Kristin DeiTos (B.A. 2009), costume designer.

CLLAW CUA Alumni Megan Smith wrestles  

CUA alumna Megan Smith, right, wrestles as The Cutting Edge in the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers, the theatrical fundraising event produced by Sideshow Theatre Company.

Photo by Jonathan L. Green

 

Other alumni already working in the Chicago community have also supported the company in myriad ways. “It’s been kind of great just connecting and reconnecting with CUA alumni who live here now [and] who do theater,” says Smith.

From the start, the group didn’t set out to offer anything ordinary to the audience. “We wanted to make sure the work on our stage is something you can only experience in the theater – you can’t get it on TV or in a movie,” says Smith. “We take the familiar story and we use that as a source of inspiration to create another story on stage. We aren’t necessarily doing adaptions but picking things we know that are in the ‘sandbox of the world’ and playing with them, and then putting them back.”

Entering their sixth season, the company is offering three productions with six-week runs each, including Idomeneus, Maria/Stuart, and The Burden Of Not Having A Tail.

That last one, says Smith, is a one-woman play about a “prepper” — "a woman who invites the audience into a seminar in which she’s going to teach them how to prepare for the end of the world.”

  Jeff Tinley, Gina DiSalvo, Scottie Caldwell
 

At the company bowling party are, left to right, CUA alumni Gina Di Salvo, artistic associate, and grants manager Jeff Tinley, with Scottie Caldwell, artistic associate.

Photo by Jonathan L. Green

All of their plays, she says, include “an element of surprise or something unexpected that we can hopefully transport or help transcend the audience into another world. We want them to be immersed in the experience.”

These productions have created lots of local interest as well as attendance. However, as yet, the company does not have its own performance space. “We rent theater space throughout the city, but we’re outgrowing our audience base,” Smith says. “We’ve received a grant from a foundation and we’re starting to see a nice healthy increase in ticket sales.” They have a three-year goal of financial sustainability, “so we can start paying ourselves part-time salaries and making it our day jobs.”

Smith added that she was glad her education included a wide range of liberal arts courses, like math, science, and philosophy. She says philosophy “prepared me for life more than most other classes” because it helped her take a challenging subject and articulate a point of view about it to others. Though, if she could take her education over again, she says, she’d add a few business courses.

And the most rewarding aspect of her job? “I like the strategic planning element of my role, thinking about how you build something out of nothing. It’s a lot of putting a puzzle together and a lot of problem solving, so you’re using a different part of your brain, which I find really exciting.”

In just the few years of its existence, Sideshow has already received a Jeff Award for Artistic Specialization in 2011. This top theater award, comparable to the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, D.C., was given to the company for the working robots in its production Heddatron.

Bruce Phillips, Sideshow Theatre Company  

Alumnus and Sideshow Marketing Manager Bruce Phillips at Sideshow's 2012 Gala.

Photo by Jonathan L. Green

 

The plot of that play, says Smith, involved a housewife who is hit by a copy of Hedda Gabler falling from the sky. Some robots kidnap her and take her to Ecuador to their robot forest where she plays the lead character in their version of the classic play.

Smith says she saw that Catholic University had performed Hedda Gabler in October. “They should do Heddatron,” she says with a chuckle. “It’s way better, and it has robots.”

For more information on Sideshow Theatre Company, visit the website www.sideshowtheatre.org.