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The mission of Evanston Festival Theatre is to act as an educational and charitable institution in five primary areas: • Foremost, to maintain a year-round Cultural Center in Evanston, Illinois. • To maintain the tradition of annual arts and crafts fair on or near the anniversary of the historic Custer's Last Stand. • To facilitate performances of the Piccolo Theatre, a professional theater ensemble. • To improve the neighborhood in its community through landscaping, cleaning, parks development, public art and by promoting community, governmental, and business interaction. • Through its Evanston Arts Depot division, to administer and manage the real property housing the cultural center. Further, the mission statement of the Piccolo Theatre is... The Piccolo Theatre Ensemble embodies and realizes the human comedy through physical theatre, eloquence and humor in order to move, delight and transform audiences.
Evanston Festival Theatre, History
Evanston Festival Theatre, Inc. has produced the award-winning Custer Street Fair Festival of the Arts since 1972. This event, also known as Custer's Last Stand, was first established by a group of local artisans and retailers. In 1985 the organization that was the Custer Street Fair evolved into Evanston Festival Theatre, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation.
EFT acquired the Main Street Metra train depot in Evanston through a long-term lease with The Union Pacific Railroad. Built in 1909 and virtually abandoned after a fire badly damaged it in 1982, the station was on the brink of demolition when Evanston Festival Theatre, Inc. spearheaded a campaign to restore the magnificent structure to its original architectural eloquence in cooperation with the local community, Metra, The Union Pacific Railroad, the City of Evanston, the Evanston Community Foundation, and federal and state governments.
The ecological transportation-oriented development project was a large-scale restoration completed at a cost of $4.5 million. In order to enhance its renewed function as a cultural center, a 50-seat theater, studio/classroom space, and set construction area replaced the old baggage room, coal room and fire-damaged upper room. The building is now known as the Evanston Arts Depot, a cultural arts center housing classes, programming and events for all ages.
EFT is also the parent company of Piccolo Theatre,an ensemble theatre company dedicated to producing comedy. Piccolo calls the Depot home, as artists-in-residence.
The Piccolo Theatre, Custer Street Fair Festival of the Arts and a neighborhood commuter-friendly coffee shop are now headquartered in the Arts Depot. The fair has grown ten-fold and now attracts approximately 70,000 people each year and features approximately 360 arts and craft exhibitors, 30 restaurants and three stages for musical & theatrical performances. Piccolo Theatre is a professional ensemble company committed to presenting contemporary and classic comedic works including plays by such authors as Molière, Goldoni, Tom Stoppard, and Dario Fo, as well as developing original Piccolo plays and adaptations. Their goal is to bring to these works the energy of physical theatre, connecting the text of the work to the physical vitality of live theatre. Piccolo Theatre also aims to preserve traditional popular theatre forms and techniques, such as commedia dell' Arte, vaudeville, music hall and the circus through research, education and presentation. The company is comprised of 20 company members. In addition to their season's performance in the Theatre, they produce the Theopholis Lemming Medicine Show at the Custer Fair, featuring the talents of many performers throughout the largely outdoor venue.
In 2003 the international theatre community honored Piccolo Theatre when they invited it to participate in Playing French, the first ever International Contemporary French Theater Festival in Chicago. Additionally, the Italian Consulate of Chicago has pledged its support for past and future Italian-based productions. Piccolo Theatre School is also a training center for the professional actor that offers a number of courses including Psychocalisthenics (breathing exercises), dance, deep tissue massage bodywork, courses in Commedia dell' Arte, stage movement, an actor's boot camp with a focus on endurance, and T'ai Chi Chuan. The school is planning to expand to include children's and adult's classes in physical theatre training, masks, puppetry and mime.
- John Szostek
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