Mercury Theater Closes Doors Due to Covid-19
On June 17th, the Mercury Theater in Wrigleyville officially closed its doors nine years after its reopening in 2011. The cause, of course, was due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During the span of the nine years, the theater has produced 25 plays and musicals, employed nearly 1,000 actors, musicians, designers, etc., and raised and donated $100k to Season of Charity, a charity that provides emergency care to Chicago artists. A “for-profit” business themselves, Mercury Theater was unable to accept donations unlike other theaters in Chicago. When the world shut down in March, however, Mercury was able to maintain a small staff with full salary and benefits for 16 weeks.
Mercury Theater was in production for two shows, one being Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I asked if there was a possibility of the show opening up at a later date and Walter Stearns, executive director at Mercury Theater, said, “There will be no live theater production until there is a vaccine or treatment. That is looking like at least a year away. We will revisit this idea when a vaccine/treatment is a reality.” Stearns is now the caretaker of the facility which includes “ a historic proscenium theatre, a cabaret theater and a large restaurant in a vibrant neighborhood.” He hopes that one day the theater will “come back to life” when the world is safe again.
The theater has a historic past being the space was built in 1912. Originally called The Blaine Theatre, it was used as a silent film nickelodeon until talking pictures became popular in 1928. Since then, the building has undergone renovations, but the decorative plaster busts flanking the House still exist from the original design. The warm exposed brick walls and seats that you see now were recovered from a 1933 Boston movie house. Most recently, the Mercury Theater introduced their latest addition in April 2018 with the Venus Cabaret Theater which seated 80 people and was used as an intimate performance venue and dining space. A new facade, new restrooms, and state of the art lighting and sound equipment were also added in recent years.
Walter Stearns reflects back on the memories shared at the theater. “For me, it's all about the people. I'm most proud of the family of artists and audiences who came to find a home at Mercury Theater Chicago.” He is also proud of the shows that lasted over 100 performances which include Spamalot, Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors, and Ring of Fire.
Stearns advocates for the community to “support your neighborhood businesses and people. We need your help now more than ever. Your neighborhood theater is hurting and it's up to you to bring it back to life.”