New theater company director's second life
BY JACK HELBIG Chicago Daily Herald • March 2008


Whoever said there are no second acts in American lives never met Ann Filmer, founder and artistic director of the recently formed Berwyn-based 16th Street Theater and director of "The Ascension of Carlotta," which opens April 4.

Since Filmer came to Chicago a little more than 10 years ago, this California transplant has reinvented herself several times, first as choreographer, then as the founder of and director for a cutting-edge theater, The Aardvark. Then as an arts administrator in a couple of high-profile companies (Writers' Theatre, Chicago Dramatists).

Now she lives in suburban Berwyn, has a husband, a 2-year old, a mortgage AND has started a new theater company.

"I didn't move to Berwyn to start a theater," she says. "It was all serendipity. My husband and I bought a place in Berwyn, and as soon I moved in I found out there was a Berwyn Arts Council. So I joined up and I went to a 'meet and greet' at (the music club) Fitzgerald's."
There, she started talking to a woman on the Arts Council who mentioned in passing that there was "a little 49-seat theater" sitting empty and unused in the Berwyn Cultural Center. When asked if she wanted to see the space, the consummate off-Loop theater director "couldn't resist having a look."

The theater she saw won her over immediately.

"It was modeled on a store front theater," Filmer says, adding that while Joseph Vallez, executive director of the North Berwyn Park District, was giving her a tour of the Cultural Center he offered her the space to start a new theater company. Filmer couldn't resist -- and 16th Street Theater was born.

"Our first production is 'The Ascension of Carlotta,' " Filmer says. "It is a lovely play about dreams and destiny. It is set in Berwyn and concerns a woman who works and has no dreams until she meets a man who has a very unique dream, to be a robber, like his father and his grandfather. This is his destiny, you understand. And his dream is to rob a 7-Eleven store. So it's about these two people from two different planets who find each other."

Filmer initially directed a workshop production of the play at Chicago Dramatist's several years ago.

"It is definitely a play I wanted to do eventually," she says. "Then, when I moved to Berwyn and started a theater there, I realized that it was my destiny to do a play that was set in Berwyn.

"But it's more than that." Filmer says, showing the enthusiasm that carries her from opportunity to opportunity. "The characters are so full. It is so beautifully written."