Circle Theatre subscribers should be alarmed at the announcement of the retirement of the theater’s mainstay co-artistic director, Greg Kolack. But it should be kept in mind that Kolack is not retiring from Circle so much as resigning.
“Retirement for me means moving to Florida and sitting on the pier,” joked Kolack.
Far from sitting on a pier, Kolack looks to branch out to further his freelance opportunities in Chicago.
He will still attend future season shows and may even guest direct or act at Circle, but it’s the demanding quotidian duties of a co-artistic director that he’ll be stepping away from to open up a more flexible schedule. Regardless, what Kolack is leaving behind is his strong roots in Forest Park’s theatrical history.
Kolack served seven years as co-artistic director and has been active with Circle Theatre for more than half its existence”that’s eleven years of the theatre’s twenty year history.
Kolack’s first show was in the fall of 1994 and since then he has been nominated for two Jeff Awards, won two Jeff Awards (for A Piece of my Heart and The Crime of the Century) and won three After Dark Awards.
His all-time favorite shows coincidentally happen to be his most commercially and critically successful”A Piece of my Heart and The Crime of the Century.
A Piece of my Heart won three Jeff citations and went from its 1995 Circle Theatre performance to a 1996 Bailiwick performance.
“It was quite a success,” Kolack recalled.
The Crime of the Century was another show close to his heart, as he worked on it for four years with Rebecca Gilman (famous for her Goodman Theatre and Humana Festival productions).
The play tackles the complicated story of Richard Speck’s 1966 serial murders of eight Chicago area nurses. Kolack said they both wanted to ensure that the story was about the nurses’ lives and not about Speck.
The integrity of the production was one of the key components of its Jeff Award winning performances. It is also an important ingredient of Circle Theatre’s overall vision.
“We’ve got a really good reputation for treating people well,” said Kolack of the theater’s broad ranging integrity. “We know we’re not paying them much.”
Instead, the artists are given the opportunity to collaboratively work on high quality productions that surpass high pay.
“We do very good, consistent work,” Kolack said.
So consistent, in fact, that the first three shows from this season have all gotten Jeff recommendations.
All of this means that he has gotten the opportunity to work with artists many of us would love to have just a simple conversation with.
“We worked with Russell Crowe two years ago,” Kolack said. “He was actually calling me at home.”
That sort of contact gives one a more intimate and realistic view of what stars are really like.
“He’s got a real bad boy reputation, but he was so nice,” Kolack added.
The same he said he found to be true in recently meeting with and talking to Neil LaBute, famous for penning In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors.
“He’s the nicest guy in the world,” Kolack said of LaBute. “He’s a phenomenal writer. Great sense of humor, very easy-going.”
The same can be said of Kolack.
Stage Manager Joseph Heaton was hired by Kolack for Circle’s production of Never in my Lifetime in 2002. Now stage managing his seventh show, Circle’s current The Shape of Things, Heaton’s gotten to know Kolack well and speaks of him highly.
“Greg has a really good reputation around town,” Heaton said. “I knew of him even before I worked here.
“He’s very giving, also very quiet, quiet and calm” Heaton added. “He’s a good leader and he’s very hands on and just kind of gets things done.”
It would seem that Circle would be hard pressed to come up with a replacement, but such is not the case: Kolack explains that there will be a restructuring occurring within the management at Circle and his position will not need to be filled per se, so interested individuals need not apply.
“Nobody’s stepping in,” Kolack said. “No one’s really replacing me.”
Kolack’s roles will rather be redistributed within the company to people such as current co-artistic director Kevin Bellie.
And, to be perfectly honest, Kolack is not completely disappearing from the scene, as he has plans to still stay involved in the New Play Festival and other possible opportunities as they appear.
The greatest change will be that Kolack will no longer be around on his current daily dealing with all of the little worries one has to deal with as a co-artistic director.
“I’m gonna think, ‘Wow, I don’t have to deal with that anymore’,” he said.
Instead he can concentrate on the big things”freelance opportunities around town, directorial and acting side projects with Circle and time with his “wonderful girlfriend.”