Chicago Loses ATC, and More Importantly, Will Davis

Chicago Loses ATC, and More Importantly, Will Davis

Will Davis’s production of MEN ON BOATS at ATC | Michael Brosilow

Update 3/16/2018, 4:25 PM

The ATC Board of Directors has asserted to Time Out Chicago that it did not plan to fire Davis before choosing to close the company instead. The Tribune has updated (but not placed a retraction on) their article.

Update 3/18/2018, 10:57 AM

We have not been able to confirm the Tribune’s statement that Davis has permanently left Chicago. He was presently in New York to direct a previously scheduled production. 

By Jason Epperson

The Board of Directors of American Theater Company, the long, storied Byron Street organization, announced in a statement to the Tribune this morning that the company is officially closed. The 33-year-old company’s final show was “We’re Gonna Be Okay” which closed on March 4th.

The company was founded as the ensemble-based American Blues Theater in 1985. The ensemble split in a rift with the ATC Board in 2009, re-founding American Blues Theater, which is still very much an operating company. The rift stemmed from the placement of (and decisions by) the new Artistic Director, PJ Paparelli, who, despite the divorce, brought new life to the company through relationships with Broadway producers and big name playwrights. Paparelli tragically died in a car accident in 2015.

Will Davis, the company’s most recent artistic director took ATC in an entirely new direction upon his arrival less than two years ago. His work was fresh and exciting, inclusive, relevant and explorative of the human condition. So much so that PerformInk named ATC under Davis our Company of the Year for 2017. We wrote: “Davis launched ATC — and to a larger extent, the entire Chicago theater community — into 2017 with a remounting of his Off-Broadway hit production of Jacyln Bauhaus’s MEN ON BOATS. More than a recreation, however, Chicago’s MEN ON BOATS was made for its city, and it was a clear statement by Davis — that would only become more clear throughout the year —to reclaim patriotism from those that would think they own it.” Erin Shea Brady wrote in her review that the genderfluid production “powerfully exposes our complicated, contradictory national identity. The ‘men’ seem more engaged in the naming of things than the fact that the land they’re naming has already been discovered. And yet, among them, there is heart and ambition. These ‘men’ are played with complexity — they aren’t simply a parody of privilege, though some of their behavior is ridiculous. In the end, this journey takes us somewhere powerful.”

Davis seemed intent on correcting the financial plight of the company upon his arrival. He scaled back the producing footprint of the organization, placing it on a decently sized hiatus in the fall of 2016. His productions of PICNIC and WELCOME TO JESUS last year were similarly knock-outs, but the stability of the organization, which has long stood on shaky ground, could not be solved by an excellent season alone. The Tribune reports that the ATC Board had planned to replace Davis, and then decided instead to shutter the company [see update above]

This particular Board of Directors has long placed the responsibility for the financial health of the company upon the shoulders of its artistic director, and now Will Davis has already returned to New York [see update above] in a stunning loss of one of the most dynamic, inspiring voices to join the Chicago theater community in a long time.

About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.