Today, I went over to the old Firehouse on 35th St, just east of Chicago. I’ve walked by and driven by that building for more than a decade, but had never been inside. Today I went in to talk with Mark at the Land Stewardship Project. As I went up those funky stairs in the back for the very first time, I thought, “Wow! this really WAS a firehouse!”
Mark’s a great guy; we talked for a bit, I told him about the project, and we made a date to speak more about his experiences living and working in the neighborhood. When I told him that a hope of the project was to connect people in the neighborhood together with parts and people in the neighborhood they don’t know, he told me that he’d been to Pillsbury House to catch a play once or twice, and been in the building a couple other times, but didn’t really know all that goes on in there. As he told me this, he gestured to Pill House through the window of his office right next door. He looks out at it from his desk, and lives only 4 blocks away.
After saying goodbye, I went over to Pill House, and sat in the lobby to take notes from our conversation. A young guy who’d been chilling there with some friends came up and asked me what time it was.
We got to talking; he’s at the Pill House building often when he’s on his way to Full Cycle next door. (Full Cycle, a branch of Pillsbury House, is a nonprofit bicycle shop in south Minneapolis that offers a six-month, paid internship program for homeless youth. )
I’d mentioned I’m from NY and he asked me what life is like there different from here. He’s into boxing, (17-0 record), and wondered what the gyms are like in NY.
And then, when I told him I worked with the theater here and gestured to it at the back of the lobby, he said “Oh, the theater’s back there?”
Mary Beth, who works at the front desk, opened the theater door for us and turned on the lights so we could take a peek around and have a look inside.
He was psyched, and surprised that the room sloped down, instead of going straight back; he just had all kinds of questions. He asked what kind of work people do on the stage, can they create their own pieces, like portraying Prince? Later, he mentioned Ray Charles too, and getting a piano onstage.
As we’re talking, Marion walks in; he’s an artist who collaborates often with Pill House, a stage director who works around the country; he had on his team jacket from the Broadway production of August Wilson’s play “Jitney”. He was here today to rehearse “Buzzer”, a powerful play about people in the midst of a changing neighborhood; the production did so well at Pillsbury House last year, that they’re remounting at the Guthrie next month.
I introduced them, and the young guy asked Marion if there were any performances here coming up. Marion walked over and got him a flyer for the season of productions, and told him he’s welcome to catch a show here anytime. “I’ll definitely come back and see a play here” he said.” I got some time on my hands.”
This neighborhood, this building. People next door to it, who walk in and chill out in it, who live around here or just drive right by it, don’t know all the things inside of it. But today, a young man working on bicycles and business skills, and a middle-aged man who’s at the top of his game as an American theater artist, today they were in the same room together, they met and exchanged names, just as people do.
Only because of this building, these arts groups, this neighborhood.