There's No Place Like Home: Theater Communities in Colorado Springs and Chicago
Franklin Bennett explores the differences between theatrical scenes in his hometown and the bigger city where he is studying.
Franklin in performance with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Youth Rep Theatre Company (© Tim Muldrew)
In the midst of tests, rehearsals, and the college standard of 2am homework sessions, I had to remind myself that I have survived the first half of my freshman year of college! As crazy as it sounds, it is reassuring that I'm starting to get an understanding of how this new community of theater works. One of the things I've learned in my journey as a performer is that you should sooner rather than later figure out what opportunities and theaters are available to you as a resource. Each and every location is different, so knowing what kind of city you want to create theater in will serve you (the performer, designer, director, etc.) better in the long run.
My hometown of Colorado Springs is performing arts oriented, and deserves the credit for making me a very passionate advocate for the arts and giving me the drive to make a career in theater. My training began with the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale. While we did many Broadway themed concerts, the main focus was vocal music. But (thankfully) it was these performances that sparked my curiosity in musical theater.
My main studies came from my involvement with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Theatre Company. Other resources and notable theaters in Colorado Springs include Springs Ensemble Theatre, Theatreworks at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and the popular Broadway in Colorado Springs series, known for presenting national touring productions. Another observation about my hometown is that many of the theater instructors and performers here have had some form of training or experience from a larger city. Despite being only an hour away from Denver, home of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the Denver Center Theatre Company, Colorado Springs is starting make its own name in terms of being a theater city, while still incorporating its small town feel.
Chicago, on the other hand, has long held a place as a major theater city in the nation, and after only a few months of living here, I've already had a brief taste of what this community has to offer. Where Colorado Springs is mostly a conglomerate of various non-profit performing arts organizations overlapping in performance training, Chicago not only has this, but is a much more prevalent force in terms of storefront theaters and college based theaters. The former are strong in promoting a mission statement and choosing their season to revolve around it. One of the many popular storefront companies is Teatro Vista, whose Latino-based productions have earned them nationwide recognition. Additionally, larger theaters like the Steppenwolf and the Goodman work in tandem with companies like Teatro Vista to produce productions.
Also in comparison to "the Springs" (what I lovingly call it when I'm back home), many urban colleges have professional theaters that host not only the school's own performances but shows like the Broadway in Chicago touring productions. The Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, associated with the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University is a perfect example. In addition, I have previously touched on the diversity and sheer number of companies in Chicago, which contribute greatly to the feel and personality of the theater here.
Many people have asked me if theater is "better" in Chicago and honestly, it's comparing apples to oranges. In today's theater world, it's not a matter of better or worse, it's what you want as the artist and what you can make out of the community you want to be involved in. Both cities contribute to the bigger picture of a continuously growing and changing nation of performing arts. I would not be where I am without Colorado Springs, and Chicago has made me appreciate where I came from even more. In short, embrace the differences in theater communities: it will always keep you interested and on your toes and make you the smarter and wiser contributor to the art form.