He admits he was warned to “start small.” But the director had grander plans.
“We wanted to start with a bang,” says Fred Anzevino, Founding Artistic Director of the cabaret theatre troupe Theo Ubique. The company plans to unveil its new home at 721 Howard St. with a rousing musical, “The Full Monty,” which ends with a bang as well.
“It’s nail-biting exciting that we chose to open during the holidays,” Farell Wilson, co-founder and President of the Board of Theo Ubique, says of their Dec. 7 start. She is handling the details so Mr. Anzevino can focus on the big picture: telling the story of a group of unemployed steel workers who, after seeing women lined up at a male strip club, come up with a plan to make some quick cash.
Taking it all off – going “the full Monty” – leaves them exposed in ways they had not expected.
“It’s a good story about people, about what men are supposed to be,” Mr. Anzevino says.
Mr. Anzevino, Ms. Wilson and Matt Yde founded Theo Ubique in 1997. At the suggestion of a friend, Mr. Anzevino chose a name derived from two cultures that are cornerstones of Western society: the Greek theo, meaning “god” or “universal force” and Latin ubique (oo-bahkway), meaning “everywhere.”
Like the Greeks and Romans, Mr. Anzevino regards theater as a place where life-giving stories can be told.
Not one to take theater arts lightly, he says he is “a stickler for the craft” and advises actors, “You can’t lie here; we’re finding the truth.”
Ms. Wilson, who is working with Mr. Anzevino again after years spent raising her now-grown son, speaks of the “energy of a higher power” in “holy theater,” a place “where community comes together.”
Theo Ubique got its start in the 30-seat Heartland Studio in Rogers Park. In 2004, the company began working its magic at the slightly larger No Exit Café on Glenwood Avenue. It was a venue well suited to cabaret theater, a format where audience and performers connect for an intimate, interactive experience.
At the No Exit, Theo Ubique gravitated to revues like “Jacques Brel’s Lonely Losers of the Night” and “Some Enchanted Evening: Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” as well as musicals like “RENT” and “Sweeney Todd.”
In the course of producing 63 plays, Theo Ubique and Mr. Anzevino won a loyal following and more than 50 Jeff awards.
As Mr. Anzevino sees it, cabaret “marries food, drink and entertainment.” He says he insisted that the bar in the Howard Street building be “dazzling.” Ross Barney architects apparently heard him, designing a counter of impressive breadth, where customers will find not only standard drinks but also beverages created for each play.
Even in the small No Exit Café, Theo Ubique audience members could order a three-course meal served by the actors. The meal strengthens the bond between them, Mr. Anzevino says, leading patrons to think, “You can make me cry; we’re in this together.” Actor/servers must undergo food service training and be licensed, which he sees as worth their while as a way to make “good extra money.”
Theo Ubique’s new home has a well-equipped warming kitchen but as yet has no caterer. On the day of the interview, Ms. Wilson was thrilled and relieved to have signed with Soul and Smoke of Evanston to carry on the dinner theater tradition. Appetizer and entrée are served before the play, dessert at intermission.
The City of Evanston footed the $1.4 million bill for renovating the Howard Street building, which it owns.
The money came from the Howard Ridge TIF, a tax-increment financing district that runs along the north side of Howard Street from the Chicago-Evanston border at the CTA Red Line tracks to Ridge Avenue.
The TIF district was created in 2004. As with any TIF, money collected from property-tax increases on property improved after the district is formed can be spent only within the TIF district. Alderman Ann Rainey, in whose Eighth Ward the new theater lies, has for years championed the idea of a theater on Howard, seeing it as an economic boon for the area.
The City paid only for the building structure; Theo Ubique raised the money for the theater-related furnishings and equipment inside the 85-seat venue. Facilities Manager Ben Lipinsksi points to a bank of state-of-the-art lights boasting five-color LED, with lime and amber added to the standard primary red, yellow and blue. The lights “will raise the quality and increase the experience,” Mr. Lipinski says, as will the movable acoustic wall panels.
“I want to hear every single word,” Mr. Anzevino says.
At the No Exit Café actors had to step around buckets set to catch leaks from the roof when it rained. Theo Ubique can lose the buckets in their impressive new digs.
But they will need to keep up the honest and intimate conversation they began with their audiences in previous, more modest settings.
“The Full Monty” runs from Dec. 7 to Jan. 27.