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Next Theatre, a fixture at Evanston’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center for over three decades, has cancelled the remainder of its season and is closing its doors.

Next Board President Rob Andalman said in a statement late this morning, “the theater’s audiences have shrunk dramatically in the past few years and it has not been able to build a contribution base to compensate for that. At this juncture, the board concluded that it was not responsible to continue operations.” 

The shutdown was first reported by the Chicago Tribune, which reported that Next’s artistic director, Jenny Avery, this weekend emailed actors and others working on upcoming shows saying it was “impossible to continue operations” because of “an inability to maintain an adequate base of support.”

Earlier this year the City Council voted not to extend Next’s lease on the theater space at Noyes beyond this year because the group was more than two years behind on rent payments and owed the city more than $76,000.

As a condition of renewing the lease for this season, the city required the group to sign a promissory note to repay the back rent over a five-year period.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz this morning said the city had no prior notice of the closing and that the city’s Law Department “will be evaluating our options to recover any owed funds.”

Next, on its website, describes itself as producing “socialy provocative, artistically adventurous work.”

Its production of Luce, by JC Lee, closed Sunday and its next show, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, had been scheduled to open Jan. 3.

“We are enormously proud of the legacy that Next leaves,” Andalman said. “The theater has been an important part of the cultural landscape of both Evanston and the Chicago theater communities, a canvas for artists whose purpose was not just to entertain, but to touch audiences’ hearts and minds. Next sought to provoke feelings and conversations on some of the really hard questions – and, more often than not, it succeeded.”

Andalman said Next intends to seek out other area theaters that might be willing to honor its subscriptions for the remainder of this season.

(Updated 11:11 a.m.)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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11 Comments

  1. Accountability at the City of Evanston?

    Who at the city was responsible for collecting the rent from Next Theater which was never collected for a few years?   Does anyone think we will get the money back – Wally comes up with this loan scheme, for the back rent, so does anyone think the legal department will collect it? ( I believe we are talking about $75,000?)

    And by the way Council members during this time approved an upgrade to the seating – once again someone should be held accountable!   It easy to see why staff spends more time, doing stupid tasks for public officials and not their jobs, so when they screw up they wouldn't get fired.

    1. Vote the rascals out!

      Our wise thrifty City Council voted in Oct. 2013 to spend $46,609 to install new seats at the Next Theater.

      There was no mention made at that time that the theater group was already a year behind on rent payments to the city!

      At the meeting, Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, according to the minutes, called the new seats "a great investment." She said Next was a theater with "a strong footing and a great future."

      Mayor Tisdahl along with aldermen Mark Tendam, Peter Braithwaite and Jane Grover tested out the out the new theater seats on a tour last year. 

      How is it that Evanstonians consistently vote for crooks like Pat Quinn who is under two investigations for ethical violations or liberal Democrat Evanston aldermen who spend our money as if it grows on trees.

      Vote the rascals out!

      1. Vote of Confidence
        Since residents seem unwilling to vote for good candidates and/or candidates feel it is useless to enter the race given the ingrained desire of voters to put up with incompetence, maybe a first step would be to have a ‘Vote of Confidence’ for the candidates which they would have to get 60% of the vote or be out of office. That margin would rise 5% a year until it reached 80 or 90%.

      2. Timing is everything

        Did public officials know the Next Theater was behind on the rent when they voted for the seats or not?

        Maybe Jane Grover – can tell us at the next ward meeting? Rumor is it she wants to run for Mayor – if her judgement on the next theater is so good – she needs to explain what facts she was working off – did she or did she not know about the rent? Again who was responsible to tell the public officials?

        Given their desire for secret meetings it could be they knew all along?

    2. Investigate
      Junad is right on.

      My thought is this – we need to really start investigating this City Council and the proponents who supported the seat renovation for a group that is $76,000 past due on rent!

      How on earth did this pass?

      You combine the EAC mess, Next Theatre, Peckish Pig Patio… and you see a trend here. Chronyism? Are there Invisible Hands out there that have our Alderman in their pockets?

      Who knows… but something needs to be done about this on a serious investigative level.

      Yes, vote them out, I agree… but start making these folks accountable for their action, or let’s say intentional “inaction”.

  2. Next Theater?? No Advertising?

    Who knew there was a theater on Noyes?  It's interesting I'm just hearing about it now that it has shuttered.  I love live theater and would have supported it.  So much for all the advertising … never saw even a printout of a showing at the local coffee houses.  Too bad.

    1. No advertising? Are you kidding?

      I'm sorry but how do you not know that there is a theatre on Noyes? 

      There are four different theatres in that building: Next, Piven, The Actors Gymnasium (a circus theatre!) and Theatre Zarko. Not to mention the Fleetwood Jourdain productions in the summer and the other organizations that rented out Next's space.

      All of those organizations paper the town. It's hard not to know. 

      1. Next theater space rented out?

        Do you know how much rent the Next Theater was collecting?  Why wasn't the city managing the theater space- this is all the more interesting if they were not paying the city rent for several years!

    2. There are gobs of theatres in Evanston

      There are gobs of theatres in Evanston and North Chicago. Try Piccolo Theatre down the street.

  3. Next Closing
    I’m deeply saddened by this news. I’ve seen many delightful, thoughtful and thoroughly professional productions at this theater. It’s last offering–“Luce”–was among the best. This is a significant loss to the arts community in Evanston.

  4. Sale price

    Any sale or new rental agreement should include the costs of the unpaid debt of the Next Theater. I.e. up front payment of any unrecovered amounts. "…because the group was more than two years behind on rent payments and owed the city more than $76,000…"

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