Once a carriage house for the Marshall Field and Company Horses at the turn of the century, Briar Street Theatre has put on many shows since it was reconstructed in 1970. Today, the venue offers impressive sight lines and acoustics for a one-of-a-kind show-going experience in Chicago’s Lake View East neighborhood. It is the home theater for the long-running Blue Man Group performance, which is touted as, “Hard to describe. Easy to love.” It combines instruments, high-tech effects, and audience participation.
Briar Street Theatre Facilities
What is the Briar Street Theatre today began as a carriage house in 1901. Then, the spaces were used for stables for the Marshall Field’s department store delivery service. Of course, the building outgrew its purpose and became unused. In 1970, Topel and Associated owner Walt Topel purchased the building from a moving company to use for his film production.
Topel redesigned the space into a sound stage and from 1977 to 1985, used it for his post-production company, Cinetronics. When the company relocated downtown, it was reopened as a theater and quickly became part of Chicago’s arts culture. Today, the venue is still owned by the Topel Family.
Inside, the original second floor still hangs by visible large turnbuckles. The 625-seat theater offers impressive sightlines and acoustics with a proscenium stage. There isn’t a bad seat in the house (or Horse, as some joke), as the layout was designed to have a perfect view from every angle. Today, it hosts the long-running Blue Man Group performance.
Briar Street Theatre Programs
Since its beginnings as a theater in the 1980s, Briar Street has hosted many notable performers. Mickey Rooney, Veronica Hamel, Shelley Berman, and George Segal have all take the stage here. The venue has hosted noteworthy performances including Driving Miss Daisy, Having Our Say, Politically Incorrect, and Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
Today, the venue hosts the long-running Blue Man Group. “Hard to describe. Easy to love,” Blue Man Group is made up of three bald men dressed in black. Their exposed skin is painted blue. During the performance, audience participation is encouraged. The group artfully combines theater, persuasive music, science, art, and vaudeville.
The show has been popular since the 1980s. Take note if you are in the first five rows. These “poncho seats” are provided ponchos to protect show-goers from paint and other elements coming from the stage.
Getting to the Briar Street Theatre
Briar Street Theatre has an adjacent lot for parking for $15. The theater suggests arriving early to ensure there is ample parking. For public transit, take the Brown, Red, or Purple L train to Belmont. Or, take an array of CTA bus lines to Clark & Belmont, Halsted & Belmont or Clark & Barry/Halstead near the theater.
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