Lookingglass Theatre Company
David Schwimmer will probably always be best known for playing a dinosaur-obsessed nerd named Ross who somehow managed to win the heart of a pretty, ex-cheerleader turned city-girl named Rachel. However, his ten-year stint on “Friends” will not be his only legacy in the entertainment world.
In 1988, Schwimmer, along with peers David Catlin, Lawrence DiStasi, David Kersner, Eva Barr, Joy Gregory, Andy White and Thom Cox, founded the non-profit, ensemble-based Lookingglass Theatre Company right here in the Windy City. Since its inception, Lookingglass has produced 50 original works, received 42 Jefferson Awards and citations, and garnered the support and respect of Chicago theatre-goers. A key milestone for the company occurred on June 14th, 2003, when Lookingglass moved into its permanent venue at the Water Tower Works building, just off Michigan Avenue. This theatre, with a unique waterworks backdrop nearly as captivating as the shows performed within it, was designed in the black box style, allowing the seating and location of the stage to be rearranged for every performance.
Each season the ensemble gathers and, through an arduous process of script reading and idea pitching, determines what shows will be performed. According to long-time ensemble member Christine Dunford, this unique selection process is one of the reasons Lookingglass is entering its twenty-second season, an impressive feat considering the average life of a Chicago theatre company is approximately four years. She explained that each member pitching a show must convince the rest of the ensemble why that particular story needs to be told. Because the entire ensemble is involved in this process, and because each member has to be totally committed to portraying a certain story, passionate performances and provocative shows are the inevitable result.
One of Lookingglass’ most recent shows at the time of writing, one that I was lucky enough to see, was a play called Trust. Directed by David Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman and co-written by David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin, this disturbing but eye-opening story details a young girl’s victimization by an online predator and the subsequent fallout amongst her family and friends. Though Lookingglass is known for its emphasis on visually spectacular productions, hardly any props were used during the performance, and the only scenery was a large, wall-sized video screen that would occasionally flash images or excerpts of correspondence between the characters.
The absence of an intricate set directed the audience’s complete attention toward the story and the powerful performances that brought it to life. David Schwimmer and Lookingglass should be applauded (literally and figuratively), not just for telling this story in the first place, but also for taking the time and effort to thoroughly research the topic. Schwimmer, who is on the Board of Directors of the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, spent time interviewing victims, their families, the FBI, and counselors in order to create a realistic story that allows its audience to fully grasp the devastating effects of online predation.
Trust is just one example of the superb performances that Lookingglass showcases each year, and lucky for us Chicagoans, new groundbreaking works are being presented every few months. According to the mission statement on their website, “We seek to redefine the limits of theatrical experience and to make theatre exhilarating, inspirational, and accessible to all.” Mission accomplished.
Theatre & Box Office:
Location: 821 N. Michigan Ave.