IVCA Member Contributions: The Chicago Shakespeare Theater

IVCA Member Contributions: The Chicago Shakespeare Theater

January 15, 2008

CHICAGO - “ The IVCA member contribution series highlights the charities and civic organizations actively supported by IVCA members. In this edition, we showcase the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and IVCA advocate Frank Ballantine of Reed Smith.

Mission statement: The mission of Chicago Shakespeare Theater is to bring to life the plays of William Shakespeare and to present other great performances from around the world for audiences from all walks of life.

Illinois Venture Capital Association: How can professionals and individuals from the local private equity industry best get involved?
Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST):
Annually, we bring together the corporate community to support CST's corporate night. This is a tribute to one of the theater's core missions: its arts-in-education program, which serves 50,000 students and their teachers each year.

Professionals can purchase a table for the March 4, 2008 event that will bring together 500 corporate and community leaders in a gala evening that includes dinner in the theater lobbies and a performance of - œShort Shakespeare! Romeo & Juliet- .

CST's advancement staff also works with individuals to organize a specially tailored event for members and colleagues in our magnificent setting that overlooks the city's skyline. This could also include a speaker and a performance in the theater.

Of course, individuals can become donors to the theater and receive a host of benefits that give our supporters invitations to opening nights, special events and privileged access to the theater and its artists.

IVCA: What unique attributes do individuals from the private equity sector bring to their roles as board members?
Individuals in the private equity sector bring a strong financial acumen to the table. They are also - œreasoned risk takers-  who make for a good fit with an arts organization.

These businessmen and women understand the changing global market place, which is a unique asset to keep arts organizations aligned with the movers and shakers defining the make-up of our city's business community today and well into the 21st century.

As individuals, they network with like professionals who understand the importance of direct financial support for cultural institutions.

IVCA: What initiatives do you have planned for 2008?
Launching a $25 million endowment campaign that will ensure the future of Chicago Shakespeare Theater for generations to come is one of the most important initiatives of 2008. We are also exploring the feasibility of physical plant expansion options in an adjoining capital campaign, which would push our goal to $55 million.

On the stage, we are serving a growing and diverse audience by meeting artistic opportunities on a global level. Having debuted at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in England's Stratford-upon-Avon in 2006, CST is now planning to bring a major RSC production with a multi-lingual cast to Chicago.

IVCA: What's the biggest challenge you currently face?
There are two interrelated challenges: creating the financial underpinnings to ensure the theater's future and addressing capacity issues to meet demand for our ambitious, critically acclaimed programs.

The following IVCA members are actively involved in Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Carl and Marilynn Thoma, Frank Ballantine of Reed Smith and William Blair & Co.

IVCA member testimonial from Thoma Cressey Bravo managing partner Carl Thoma: What we have liked about the Chicago Shakespeare Theater - “ and this fits with the venture capital focus of the IVCA - “ is that it was a start-up 20 years ago. It is very much an entrepreneurial endeavor that has blossomed into one of the best companies in the world doing Shakespeare.
Just seeing the leadership of Barbara Gaines and Criss Henderson is a lesson for all of us. It is always a good thing to see other leaders in action so we can do our day jobs better. They have been an inspiration - “ with their ability to lead actors and have them perform in different ways - “ but with a softer touch.

IVCA member testimonial from Frank Ballantine of Reed Smith: Chicago Shakespeare Theater's main stage occupies the best space for theater in the world. That's a strong statement, but having attended theater in New York, Stratford in Canada, Stratford-upon-Avon in England, the reestablished Globe Theatre, the South Bank theaters in London and various other houses there and in the U.S., I believe it to be true.

Chicago Shakespeare's main theater seats just 500 audience members in a courtyard setting on three sides of an extended thrust stage. Everyone is close to the action, the setting is intimate while the staging is full scale and the acoustics are outstanding.

Thanks to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the Metropolitan Pier Authority together with the courage of its founders and board, Chicago Shakespeare moved from its longtime home in a converted American Legion hall to the current performing arts center of its own design on Navy Pier.

Artistic director Barbara Gaines, executive director Criss Henderson and their team were able to create a new facility from scratch designed to meet the theater's needs. In their learning from other theaters, the leading influence was Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, which is praised but has been improved upon for our own front yard.

A house becomes a home enriched by the living that goes on within it. For more than 20 years, Chicago Shakespeare has been presenting fantastic theater. Theater that not only entertains but challenges, thrills, moves us and enriches our understanding of life and the world.

Shakespeare encompassed in his work an array of the possibilities of life that few other artists match. Chicago Shakespeare embraces and embodies those possibilities with a devotion to the text, visual verve and a use of music that often startles and always enriches the performances.

Chicago Shakespeare's performances are both Chicago grown and world class as recognized when it was one of only two U.S. troupes invited to present a production in a yearlong celebration of Shakespeare's works during 2006 at the Royal Shakespeare Company's home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Chicago Shakespeare's world stage series reaches beyond Chicago and beyond Shakespeare to bring to our city what often are U.S. premieres from France, Africa, Russia and elsewhere. Most recently, James Thierree (Charlie Chaplan's grandson) brought his latest, remarkable performance piece to Chicago Shakespeare.

It was a music- and image-dominated reverie on love and loss that you couldn't see elsewhere in Chicago. This was the first of only two U.S. venues for the piece. The world stage reflects Chicago as global leader celebrating the entire world of theatrical possibilities.

Finally, Chicago Shakespeare is a leading educational resource of our community. It annually performs for nearly 50,000 Chicago city school students and trains their teachers.

Team Shakespeare leads students to reflect on the emotions, violence and aspirations that shape their world. This provides a larger context that can lift their spirits and extend their gaze when they consider the possibilities in their lives. I am pleased to be a vigorous supporter of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Frank Ballantine is global co-head of the emerging growth venture capital practice at the law firm of Reed Smith.