Steppenwolf Theatre has dubbed the eclectic “multi-genre” summer programming for its new 1700 Theatre (the flexible 80-seat black box space at 1700 N. Halsted that connects to its mainstage building) the LookOut. But it might just have easily been named The Variety Pack. It is clearly a part of artistic director Anna D. Shapiro’s mission to expand the company’s offerings with many of the presentations moving far beyond traditional theater, and designed to attract new (and younger) audiences to all its stages over time.
As previously announced, veteran ensemble member Laurie Metcalf will star in “Voice Lessons” at the 1700 Theatre. But the lineup also will include a collaboration with The Second City (which already has collaborated with the Goodman Theatre, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Lyric Opera); the “Soul-shakin'” music of Curio & Mikey Classic; a live podcast festival curated by NPR live event’s Tyler Greene; singer-songwriter Dylan Rice, and a one-woman show by Fawzia Mirza.
In a prepared statement, Shapiro noted: “LookOut will showcase the rich variety of performance in Chicago and nationwide. This infusion of new creative voices will enliven the Steppenwolf experience for our audiences and artists alike. We’re thrilled to offer so many adventurous artists, working across and between creative genres, a place to showcase their work, as well as more opportunities for the ensemble to experiment and share the work of the artists who inspire them.”
The opening of a new gourmet cafe and bar within the new 1700 Theater building also is bound to attract increased traffic.
Following is a detailed look at what will be on offer in LookOut:
Charlie Strater and Friends (May 19 at 8 p.m.): As those familiar with Charlie Strater’s two albums, “Bluesy Stuff” and “Thornhill Road” know, this guitarist and vocalist works in the keys of acoustic blues, funk, bluegrass and troubadour folk, with his third album, “Charlie Strater,” combining country and rock.
Curio & Mikey Classic (May 20 at 9 p.m.): The rock ‘n’ roll band from Chicago’s music is steeped in southern gothic lore by way of the Midwest, and is heavily influenced by the Chicago blues, the swamp rock of Louisiana and the twang of Tennessee country.
“Me, My Mom and Sharmila” (May 23 and 24 at 8 p.m.): Written and performed by Fawzia Mirza, this comic coming-of-age story traces Mirza’s journey of self-discovery, and the strength that carries her all the way from childhood as a Pakistani Muslim in small-town Canada to “living out” as an actress in the heart of Chicago.
“Voice Lessons” (May 31-June 12): Written by Justin Tanner, this play featuring Laurie Metcalf (with Maile Flanagan and French Stewart) looks at the outrageous, unlikely romance between a deluded community theater actress and the over-educated vocal coach she hires to make her a star.
“Science Night” (8 p.m. June 15): Created by The Dilettantes, this live interactive game show invites audience members to experience what it means to be a scientist on the cusp of glory…or failure. Scientists will face off against each other via middle-school science experiements to win the title of Pre-Eminent Tandem Scientists.
Sand (9:30 p.m. June 17 and 18): The Chicago-based improv ensemble featuring Thomas Kelly, Scott Nelson and Mike Brunlieb collectively perform at iO, the Annoyance Theatre and Second City. The trio will explore the public and private lives of three characters by improvising a series of documentary style monologues and scenes.
Steppenwolf for Young Adults presents The Yard (7 p.m. June 21 ): I was continually astonished and delighted by the three productions I saw during The Yard’s inaugural 2015-16 season, so this reading is a must-see. A professional youth theater company founded in 2015 by Mechelle Moe and Joel Ewing, The Yard is a collective of Senn Arts Magnet High School students that partners with established theater companies (to date, The Hypocrites, Raven Theatre and Jackalope Theatre Company). The young performers are exceptional.
In The Round hosted by singer-songwriter Dylan Rice(8 p.m. June 23): Singer-songwriter Dylan Rice grew up an outsider in the blue laws of Utah and “overcame his Episcopalian choir-boy desolation by clinging to his Fender Strat, reveling in the moody Brit-pop of crooners like Morrissey, Dave Gahan and Peter Murphy, and writing fevered folk-rock melodies in the spirit of Chris Isaak, Cowboy Junkies and Camper Van Beethoven.” He’ll be joined by special guests Daryn Alexus, Cloudstomper and Emma Jayne.
David Singer & The Sweet Science (8 p.m. June 24): The composer for Steppenwolf’s award-winning “August: Osage County,” returns to Steppenwolf for a night of live music with his band, The Sweet Science.
“The People vs. Friar Laurence, the Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet” (8 p.m June 25 and 26): With a book by Ron West, and music and lyrics by Phil Swann and Ron West, this staged reading (directed by West, and featuring Bruce Greene as Friar Laurence), marks a collaboration between Steppenwolf’s LookOut and Second City Theatricals. The musical is a spoof of Shakespeare’s most famous love story “that lays the ultimate blame for Romeo and Juliet’s fated demise at the feet of Friar Laurence, who is grilled in Court TV-style by an aggressive Prince Escalus.”
Isaac Oliver: Intimacy Idiot (7 p.m. June 27 ): Writer/performer Isaac Oliver makes his Chicago debut reading stories from his debut collection of essays, “Intimacy Idiot,” which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2015.
Salonathon Presents Shelley Duvall’s Women Under the Influence Theatre (8 and 10 p.m. July 8, and 8 p.m. July 9): Conceived by and starring Alex Grelle (who plays “the lovely Shelley Duvall”), this performance pays homage to heightened moments in iconic cinema by breaking them apart and reimagining them from the ground up. It was developed in partnership with the Chicago Performance Lab through the Theatre and Performance Studies Program at the University of Chicago.
Sounds Like Chicago: A Live Podcast Festival (7 p.m. Aug. 15-17): Curated and produced by Tyler Greene from WBEZ, The Moth and NPR live events, this three-night live podcast festival will feature the best of local Chicago-made shows. Each night will be themed and include live bands, games and, of course, alcoholic beverages.
Subsequent LookOut programming will include a wide variety of work ranging from improv and stand-up to genre-bending performance pieces and contemporary dance, under the auspices of lead producers John Zinn and Greta Honold.
Tickets to LookOut programming will go on sale April 22. Call (312) 443-1650 or visit http://www.steppenwolf.org.