Emerald City Children’s Theatre is the largest theatre arts education program in Chicago. And two weeks ago, they announced they will be closing their doors at the end of January.
We’re heartbroken for the Chicago Public Schools students and teachers who will miss out on Emerald City’s “One Fund,” the organization’s literacy program.
We’re heartbroken for the families and children who won’t get to experience the beautiful productions they might have seen at Emerald City.
We’re also grateful.
We’re grateful to the founders, to all of the administrators from 1996 up to 2020, to the performers and to the teaching artists and to every member of the Emerald City Children’s Theatre family that brightened a child’s day, opened a child’s eyes, or paved a child’s path.
We’re so grateful to Emerald City for the work they’ve done, the attitudes they’ve shaped, and the future they’ve made possible for children and for children’s theatre.
Through their Chicago theatre camps, productions, classes, and community engagement programs, Emerald City Children’s Theatre serves over 60,000 students every. single. year. The loss of this organization is a great one. It’s a loss that will continue to ripple through students, parents, teachers, teaching artists, performers, administrators, and community members long after the doors close.
Emerald City was founded by Karen and Alyn Cardarelli in 1996, the same year I performed in my first community theatre production at Theatre for Young Audiences in Sheboygan, WI. I was ten years old. I had no idea that “Theatre for Young Audiences” was a whole movement, not just the name of our local children’s theatre. I had no idea that in Chicago, two amazing people had just birthed a company that would help to shape my life and my career.
Even before Cassandra and I moved to Chicago in 2010, Emerald City was on both of our lists of teams we’d love to be part of. They had a reputation for producing great theatre that respected the intelligent minds and artistic hearts of children. Their cleanly-designed, brightly-colored, and lively-patterned sets, props, and costumes demonstrated a high production value. Their attention to artistic detail showed that their team cared about the experience of their young audiences just as much as Steppenwolf, The Goodman, and Lookingglass did their adult counterparts.
In 2013, Emerald City Children’s Theatre made national headlines when under the Artistic Direction of Ernie Nolan they opened the first Theatre for the Very Young (TVY) venue in the United States. The short, “creative play” performances given in the new “Little Theatre” allowed kids ages 0-4 to experience the magic of theatre free from the restraints of a traditional play in a traditional theatre setting—no hushing or staying trapped in a seat necessary. The creation of this special space is just one example of how Emerald City Children’s Theatre has forged the way for theatre arts education in Chicago and across the United States.
In fact, the very first staged reading I was part of when I moved here back in 2010 was directed by Jacqueline Stone, who at the time was the Emerald City Children’s Theatre Education Director.
Two years later, Jacque directed Cassandra and Chad Bay (Compass Creative Dramatics Art Director) in a production at 20% Theatre Chicago.
She went on to become Emerald City’s Artistic Director in February 2016.
We know how life-altering children’s theatre work can be. Participating in children’s theatre as a preteen and a teenager gave me my “safe space.” And during our time offering theatre camps at Compass Creative Dramatics, we’ve been approached by so many students and parents who share their struggles and their gratitude for this programming.
As co-founders ourselves, we feel especially for Karen and Alyn Cardarelli, whose dedication and determination brought Emerald City Children’s Theatre to life. Without their vision and determination, Emerald City could not have grown to serve so many students across the 24 years they have been producing plays, hosting theatre camps, and teaching classes in Chicago.
To the Emerald City team, both past and present: thank you. Thank you for your bravery, your tenacity, and your dedication. Thank you for your warmth and for the growth you’ve enabled in the Chicago children’s theatre community.
We will do our best to work together with the other Chicago children’s theatres to fill the enormous shoes you’ve left behind.
Because the work you did, and the people you served, and the greatness you achieved—they matter.
Thank you for everything.
- Cathlyn, Cassandra, and the whole Compass family