Chicago theater creators seek peace during pandemic hiatus

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Earlier this year, she was able to book roles in some TV series. Last month, she began rehearsals for a holiday show, “Mr. Dickens’ Hat” at the Northlight Theater in Skokie. “It will be fun to start after a pandemic with a brand new part,” she says.

Musician William Denton also stayed closer to home. Principal trumpet of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Denton made do with a reduced salary, unemployment and a little education. Above all, he practiced a lot. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Denton says, referring to the muscles brass players use to produce a loud sound. “When (the orchestra) started again, everyone hit the ground like nothing had happened.” The opera reopened in September with Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Denton said the operatic audience appeared “large and enthusiastic”.

Lighting designer Jesse Klug took the time to explore a career change to UX, or user experience, web design. Klug usually traveled half the year and decided he preferred spending more time at home with his two young children.

Klug determined that web design was an area where he could draw on the skills he uses in lighting. He started an online UX program over the summer and landed a few freelance gigs. Would it revert to lighting design when theaters reopen? “It’s a question I try to answer on my own almost every day,” he says. He has accepted jobs from time to time when they are available, but hopes to make the transition well. “I want to train T-ball and go to dance recitals,” he says. “It is not a life conducive to the schedule of the theater.”

Web design might be a more pandemic-resistant area, Klug adds. An epidemic could reoccur, and “I’m looking to hedge my bets.”

Actress, director and activist Sydney Charles has rotated to work in a cannabis dispensary during the pandemic. She filled orders at a retail store and worked with Teamsters representatives to organize cannabis workers. Charles says she wanted to know more about the industry and its growth. “I like to get into trouble,” she says. She is also interested in going into the business in the future.

For now, she is happy to be returning to the theater, where she is the assistant director and playwright of “Bug” at the Steppenwolf Theater. And she was set to make her Lookingglass Theater debut in the cover of “Her Honor, Jane Byrne” this fall.

Some theater professionals have found the pandemic to provide a surprising respite from the usual hectic pace of everyday life and the chance to try different things, “We spent time meditating,” says trumpeter Denton. “To regain your rhythm, it’s easy to get back into the mad rush, the pressure cooker. I want to preserve that peace and quiet that I was able to work on when I had the time.”

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