Rick Corley | Photo by Jeff Day

Rick Corley teaches acting, Shakespeare, and the classics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and directs plays at the UIC School of Theatre and Music. He has directed plays and opera in theaters all over the U.S. and internationally, including Moscow’s Sovremennik Theatre.

Soon after he and his wife moved to Forest Park eight years ago, he fell in love with the village and started dreaming of establishing a permanent equity theater group here, staging a play in each of the three seasons during the school year and a fourth free Shakespeare play outdoors in the summer.

One form the venue could take is what is referred to among the theater crowd as a “black box” theater, typically a square room with a flat, flexible floor that enables the director to place the stage in the middle of the room to create theater-in-the-round, or against one of the walls. All of the surfaces are painted black, so when the house lights are turned off, the space becomes totally dark. He is thinking about a space with seating for 40 to 60 people.

Corley said he has also looked at Grant White School, corner of Randolph and Circle, a building which is currently vacant and which would provide room not only for theater productions but also art exhibits and other artistic expression. If that location were to be used it could evolve into a center for all the arts in Forest Park.

“I’m hoping to find a space by the spring of 2024,” he told the Review. “I would prefer that we will have a space donated rather having to rent because then we could apply our funding toward salaries, costumes and staging.” 

He estimated the cost of tickets for plays in the venue would range between $30 and $35.

Corley’s vision is not “community theater” as it is known, but for a professional equity theater which strives for excellence more than community participation and pays the actors a fair wage. Think of off Broadway or off Loop, he said.

The UIC theater prof understands you don’t jump from vision to hoped-for reality overnight and therefore has begun moving toward his dream with baby steps. He founded an organization called Forest Park Theatre in 2021 and became its producing artistic director. 

That year he approached the park district about doing a free Shakespeare play outdoors in the area just north of Roos Center. 

“I honestly didn’t know how many would show up,” he confessed, “to the six free performances we had scheduled.” 

He was gratified, therefore, for the thousand patrons who attended the series, including Mayor Hoskins who attended twice.

Last summer the play was put on at The Altenheim on the south lawn with a painted canvas on the lawn as the stage and a combination of lawn chairs and blankets laid out on the grass for “seating,” with some in the audience bringing picnic baskets. All of which created a mini-Ravinia-like experience. This summer, Forest Park Theatre will stage Measure for Measure on the Altenheim lawn with the help of a $10,000 grant from the village of Forest Park.

One of the reasons theater momentum in Forest Park is growing is because, according to Corley, he has cast many people of color in leading roles, a move that allows the demographic diversity in this area to see people who look like them on the stage.

Another reason, the producing artistic director explains, is that he is attracting supporters who, like him, believe that Forest Park needs an arts center.

The process of building an audience for Shakespeare in the area continues, with a fundraiser this Sunday and actors performing a “readers theater” version of a play at Exit Strategy on April 21. 

Shakespeare’s birthday & a step toward Forest Park Theatre

An event called Shakespeare’s Birthday Party will take place at the Piacere Mio Restaurant at 7636 Madison St. on Sunday, April 23, starting at noon.

The fundraiser for Forest Park Theatre will feature homemade pasta, provided by Piacere, a cake donated by Forest Park Bakery, actors from the company doing readings, and a cash bar. Tickets are selling for $60 and will go toward funding Forest Park’s own equity theater company.

The short-run goal of the luncheon is to promote theater in town and raise funds for the company’s upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, to be staged in August on the south lawn of The Altenheim.

The long-range goal of Rick Corley, producing artistic director of Forest Park Theatre, founded in 2021, is to have a permanent theater venue located in Forest Park with a three-play season during the school year and a free Shakespeare play each summer.

Corley, who moved to Forest Park with his wife eight years ago, has a long resume. He teaches acting, Shakespeare, and the classics at the University of Illinois Chicago and directs the UIC School of Theatre and Music. He has directed plays and opera at theatres all over the U.S. and internationally, including at Moscow’s Sovremennik Theatre.

Corley describes himself as basically a blue-collar guy who loves Shakespeare and believes that everyone can relate to the Bard’s work if the actors “make it crystal clear what they are saying.”

“I think the great thing about Shakespeare is that everyone can get Shakespeare,” he says. “The reason I love it is that the stories and the characters are very contemporary.” 

Piacere Mio Italian Restaurant, 7636 Madison St., Forest Park 

Tickets: $60 + $2.81 Paypal service fee. Purchase online at https://bit.ly/3JSQ0V7

Questions: Email forestparktheatre1@gmail.com

Tom Holmes