Oracle, the free access theater, gets new director and home

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Vanessa Stalling has been named the new artistic director of Chicago’s Oracle Productions. (Photo: Courtesy of Oracle)

Vanessa Stalling, who has been involved with the Chicago theater community for more than a decade, is currently the Michael Maggio Directing Fellow at The Goodman Theatre, and most recently adapted and directed “United Flight 232,” from the book by Laurence Gonzales, which premiered with The House Theatre, has been named the new artistic director of Oracle Productions, Chicago’s “free access theater company.”

At the same time, Oracle has announced that this month it will be moving to a new space – leaving its current storefront at 3809 N. Broadway for the larger, more comfortable, 99-seat theater at 1802 W. Berenice in the North Center neighborhood that was the home of the now shuttered Signal Ensemble, and is a close neighbor of the American Theater Company.

Founded in 2005, Oracle has grown to become a diverse cultural center with programs that connect artists and audiences in several mediums including theater, film, performance art, dance, and gallery exhibitions. In October 2010, Oracle launched a new business initiative called Public Access Theatre that makes live performing arts events free to the public. All tickets are paid for by members of The Forty 4 at Oracle –  a sponsorship program supported by members who contribute as little as $5 per month, to as much as $10,000 or more per year.

Stalling, who is replacing Max Truax (who was named artistic director of Red Tape Theatre after leading Oracle from 2011 until this past May), began work with Oracle as a guest director in 2015, directing a production of “The America Play” by Suzan-Lori Parks. A resident artist at The University of Chicago, she also is known for her work as a core artist of Redmoon where she was a performer and director, and served as associate artistic director.

In a prepared statement Stalling noted: “The aim of Oracle’s Public Access Theatre is much more than a free ticket; it is to provide accessibility by dismantling cultural, structural, and physical barriers. One of my primary goals as artistic director of Oracle will be to create theatrical programming that is inclusive and representative of all the people who make up our city.”

The lobby for Oracle Productions’ new home at 1802 W. Berenice. (Illustration by Eleanor Kahn.)

The lobby for Oracle Productions’ new home at 1802 W. Berenice. (Illustration by Eleanor Kahn.)

Oracle’s first show in the new space will be the world premiere production of “Good Friday” by Kristiana Rae Colón, directed by Tara Branham, and Oracle will now be able to offer more tickets to this previously sold-out show. (Those tickets are now available online.) Meanwhile, playwright Nigel O’Hearn has decided to indefinitely postpone the premiere of “The Kindling,” which was slated to be Oracle’s final show of the 2016 season. Stalling will select another project for the end of the year, and an announcement of Oracle’s 2017 season – its seventh season of Public Access Theatre – also will come soon.

Since Public Access Theatre launched in 2010, Oracle (a recipient of the 2014 Broadway In Chicago Emerging Theater Award), has provided free performances to more than 30,000 people locally and internationally, worked with more than 500 artists, collaborated with more than 60 different organizations and experienced exponential growth. This year, the company’s acclaimed production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape” received three Jeff Awards.

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