In the Autumn of 2004, four of us founded A Crew of Patches Theatre Company. We had two goals: to produce first-rate, full-length, First Folio Shakespeare for middle and high school students, and to give good paying “day jobs” to professional actors in Chicago—the second goal being an important element to the first. With top actors, the quality of the performances would be that much better.
I agreed to join on the stipulation that I not be in charge.
Within six months, I was in charge.
We'd began with three productions in our repertory: Julius Caesar, directed by David Blixt; Macbeth, directed by the late Page Hearn; and Twelfth Night, directed by yours truly. At that time, we had 10 actors, 3 actresses, a stage manager and a technical director. We formed a relationship at the Lakeshore Theatre in the East Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago; a venue that hosts many comedians and one-person-shows for short runs. This allowed us to be assured of a bare, or near to bare, stage and daily openings for bookings.
The shows were terrific, exactly what we wanted them to be. But in that first semester, Autumn 2003, we had just two performances. That's when I kinda fell into the leadership role. During the break between first and second semester, I took over as Executive Director (a combined Artistic and Managing Director), and in the Spring semester of 2005, Patches had 23 performances of our three shows, performing for over 5000 students.
We returned stronger in the fall of 2005 with renewed determination, spending the tiny surplus from the previous season to add Romeo & Juliet, directed by David Blixt, and The Taming of the Shrew, directed Kristine Thatcher. That year we increased our performance numbers significantly and began our workshop series: Shakespeare and Stage Combat, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and Shakespeare’s Clowns and Musicians.
As our company’s performances increased, we ran into the growing problem of needing understudies for our actors - having top talent means having actors who often get commercial, film, and voice over work. To ease this problem, we decided to add some actors for the 2005-2006 season, giving us a few understudy/swing actors. We also hired noted Chicago sound designer Toy DeIorio to create complete sound designs, including atmospherics, for all of our productions (as opposed to simply making sure we had the necessary cues as required by the text). We again upgraded some of our costumes and properties and improved our weapons cache with the addition of more rapiers and more broadswords.
During the 2005-2006 school year, the Patches also formed a relationship with Noble Fool Theatricals in St. Charles, IL (an hour or so west of Chicago). This relationship allowed us to market to schools in districts beyond the Chicago-metro area to the outer collar-counties, exurban schools, and rural communities. The Patches then performed between 10 and 15 shows at the Noble Fool space in St. Charles bringing in 20 new schools to our base.
In Spring of 2006, the Patches received from the IRS our 501(c)(3) designation. Until this year, all of the money the Patches have used to pay our company, pay our rent, pay for design upgrades, for properties and costumes, and to pay for all of our miscellaneous business expenses has come from ticket sales—around $80,000 per year from individual students around the Chicago area.
In the last ten years, we've had an amazingly stable company of professionals who treat Patches like a day job. It's early mornings and submarine living, with new spaces for every show. And it wouldn't work if the company wasn't both skilled and professional. Our greatest strength has been in retaining the talent our company is currently able to claim. It is this talent that allows us to produce exciting and evocative Shakespeare for our audiences—audiences that we are working to make lifelong theatre goers and lovers of Shakespeare.
I never meant to run this company, and it a surprise to me (though apparently not to my partners) that I'm good at it. With the able help of Christopher M. Walsh, I'm able to book performances throughout the year, working with some of the best talent Chicago has to offer. The list of past and present Patches is like a who's-who of Equity and non-Equity theatre. It is my pride and privilege to hear them affectionately refer to me as 'boss'.