BY CARI BROKAMP Cover of Berwyn Life • Nov 14, 2007

Berwyn resident Ann Filmer said theater is an essential part of any community, bringing its members together and creating a forum for discourse.

The lack of theater was one of the first things Filmer noticed when she moved to Berwyn earlier this year, and she immediately took it upon herself to remedy the problem.

Filmer got in touch with North Berwyn Park District Executive Director Joe Vallez, and pitched to him an idea of how to best use the Cultural Center the Park District recently developed.

“I proposed to him a vision I had for a professional theater company that would serve the community of Berwyn and many people in this entire area,” Filmer said. “An arts program and a theater program is of value to any community and until now, there wasn’t a theater company right in Berwyn. ... It’s a great benefit to not have to go into the city of Chicago to see an engaging production, and now (residents) can see one in their own backyard, and it’s something they can be proud of, too.”

Vallez liked the idea, and Filmer set to work as artistic director of the 16th Street Theater — a professional theater company that would offer full seasons of productions to the community and opportunities for involvement to its residents.

“It will give people the opportunity to enjoy the value of theater productions right in their own community,” Vallez said. “In the (past), if someone wanted to take in a play, they’d have to go to Forest Park or Oak Park, but now people can stay in their own neighborhood. People can walk from their homes and get professional theater, and maybe even recognize a person in the production.”

Filmer said she was specifically drawn to the small, 49-seat theater in Berwyn — which opened its doors in May — due to the intimate environment it creates during shows.

“The actors will be right up close to the audience, and with story-telling, I always find that the most engaging form of theater,” Filmer said. “When it’s right up close, you can look the actor in the eyes. Theater to me is always about the relationship between the performers on stage and the audience — it’s not a passive experience, it’s a shared experience.”

The first season of the theater company will kick-off in April and offer three shows: “The Ascension of Carlotta” in April, “Aiming for Sainthood” in July and “Kita y Fernanda.” Each show will run for at least four weeks with performances Thursday through Sunday, Filmer said. Single tickets will cost $16, and year subscriptions will cost about $45, Filmer said.

Having previously worked as the producing director of Chicago Dramatists and the associate artistic director of Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, Filmer wanted to create a place for Berwyn residents like herself to go and experience theater in their own hometown.
“Theater is a place where people from various backgrounds come together and share stories, stories of their own and to learn about other people’s lives,” Filmer said.

“Theater doesn’t happen just in the two hours you’re seeing the performance, but afterward when we come together to discuss what we have seen and what we got out of the experience. ... I think having a place where the community can come together and witness and debate and discuss art is a benefit for any culture.”