The House Theatre of Chicago shuts down after 21 years

Innovative company says the recently concluded ‘King Christophe’ was its last production.

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William Anthony Sebastian Rose II starred as the title character in “The Tragedy of King Christophe,” the final production of The House Theatre of Chicago. 

William Anthony Sebastian Rose II starred as the title character in “The Tragedy of King Christophe,” the final production of The House Theatre of Chicago.

Michael Brosilow

The House Theatre of Chicago, a bright light of the local theater scene for 21 years, announced Tuesday that its most recent production was its last.

The company’s board had decided earlier in the season to “formally wind down operations” after Sunday’s final performance of “The Tragedy of King Christophe,” a historical piece about a Haitian slave rebellion, a statement from the company said.

“Our strategic assessment looking to the future made it clear that we did not have the financial momentum or audience/donor support to continue beyond this fiscal year,” Board President Renee Duba said in the statement. “We chose instead to maximize our current year programming and to honor all present commitments and partnerships with a thoughtfully planned exit from the Chicago theater scene — and a wealth of pride in what The House Theatre of Chicago has accomplished.”

Under the leadership of founding artistic director Nathan Allen, The House mounted such innovative hits as its premiere production “Death and Harry Houdini,” “The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan,” “The Sparrow,” “United Flight 232” and “The Nutcracker.”

The House’s focus in recent years has been the same two existential challenges facing many Chicago theater companies: surviving pandemic shutdowns and addressing allegations of structural racism.

For much of 2020 and 2021, the company presented no live shows. Discussions on race culminated in an action plan and a statement declaring that “our past programming, administrative, and artistic choices” failed to support an anti-racism mission.

“Our shows were mostly produced and written by white men with Eurocentric narratives that excluded Black, Indigenous, and POC voices,” it said.

Allen stepped down in October 2020. His successor, Lanise Antoine Shelley, was appointed in March 2021 and resumed live production in November with her own adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.

She also directed “King Christophe.”

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