On June 13, The Saints, a volunteer group for the performing arts, held their third annual Grants Celebration and Presentation ceremony. In an hour long program emceed by Dueling Critics Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman at the Athenaeum Theatre, twenty-seven performing arts companies were awarded grants which totaled $125,000. The amount granted was a new record for The Saints, who have given over $800,000 to the performing arts.
This year, The Saints implemented a match-grant program, administered by Jim Venskus, which matched donations of up to $100 per organization made by Saints, with a cap of $10,000 for all matched donations combined. The Saints’ members maxed out their donations, resulting in a combined total with the match-grant of $20,000, in addition to the $125,000 in grant money funded by their dues. Grants liaison Trudy Meltzer said in a phone interview, “My goal is to create a greater awareness of the work that the Saints, an all-volunteer organization, provides. I am especially interested in attracting a younger demographic to the Saints. In honor of our 35th Anniversary in 2015, the board approved the idea to offer those 35 years of age and younger a $35 membership. It was so successful that it has been continued this year.”
Recipients ranged from suburban theatre companies to small Chicago dance troupes and orchestras. Many of the grants were for new equipment, and Kleiman opened the show by praising The Saints for the specificity of their charity. TUTA Theatre Chicago, for example, will use their grant to purchase a new light board, after having received a grant for new sound equipment last year. The group credits their previous grant with enabling their site-specific performance of Adam Rapp’s The Edge of Our Bodies in a Ravenswood garage earlier this year. That show was scheduled to run from March to April, but was extended to run until May. Another recipient was the Athenaeum Theatre itself, which also hosts The Saints’ offices, and will be purchasing a new digital projector for their mainstage. Dead Writers Theatre Collective will open their production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in one of the Athenaeum’s studios next July, and will use their grant money for the construction of pop-up style sets.
Other organizations will use their grant money for the funding of new work and paying their artists. Brown Paper Box Co. will produce the Chicago premiere next July of Now. Here. This., a musical which was workshopped at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Pegasus Theatre Chicago will develop a musical adaptation of Charles Johnson’s novel Middle Passage, called Rutherford’s Travels, and Sideshow Theatre Company will fund a new play development program. Chicago Choral Artists, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Red Clay Dance Company, and the Rembrandt Chamber Players are among the companies which will be able to pay their performers for upcoming work, and Halcyon Theatre plans to enable companies which rent their space to hire Equity members. Babes With Blades plans to improve the box office area at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church where they are a resident company along with City Lit.
For many of the representatives, the ceremony was an emotional moment, but especially for Chuck Malm of the Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles, which received a grant for sousaphones. Following the attack on a gay dance club in Orlando, Malm said the portable tubas would allow the band to play louder than ever at this year’s Pride Parade. Meltzer herself accepted a grant award on behalf of Oracle Productions due to many of Oracle’s members traveling to the funeral of former company member Aaron DeYoung, who passed away the previous week. The Lakeview storefront theatre does not charge for tickets, but the grant will enable them to purchase lighting and projection equipment.
For Meltzer, the ceremony was an important demonstration that The Saints is a service organization in addition to providing ushering, which is the role in which Chicagoland theatre patrons most commonly encounter them. Their grants are a way of supporting and investing in the vibrant performing arts community and celebrating the performing artists for all of the intellectual and emotional enrichment that they’ve provided, in many cases on a shoestring budget and amid hardship. The ceremony is also a unique chance for small and suburban companies to network. According to Abarbanel, a person could travel the world, as he has, without encountering a similar all-volunteer organization.