BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
With over 50 resident theater companies in one square mile radius of the Belmont “L” stop, the newly created Belmont Theater District needed just the right person to help grow the momentum surrounding Chicago’s greatest concentration of theaters.
Who better to spread the word than Alicia Senior-Saywell, a one-woman marching band of enthusiasm? Whether it’s planning an open house in which guests are able to take in serious drama followed by stand-up comedy, creating restaurant pairings for theatergoers, or spreading the word about the wealth of affordable ticket prices, the former Yale theater graduate is making the lights shine that much brighter along Belmont.
A partnership between the Lakeview and Lakeview East Chambers of Commerce, along with local theaters and businesses, has built one of the largest theater coalitions in the country. Part of the fun of Alicia’s job is being required to see plays in this formidable District that includes the Athenaeum Theatre, Briar Street Theater (which has been home to the Blue Man Group for years), Porchlight Music Theatre, The Annoyance Theatre, ComedySportz Chicago, Theater Wit, TimeLine Theatre, and more.
Alicia spoke recently about her enduring passion:
“I’ve been going to theater as long as I can remember. My grandparents, John and Virginia Morgan, took me to the Arie Crown to see Camelot with Richard Burton, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Oklahoma, just to name a few. I remember being thrilled by the large live orchestra, and one of my earliest memories is of a theater program, namely my grandfather, using one of those mini flashlights that you press, to read about the play.
“In 1986 my mother and I went to our first Steppenwolf play in their first Chicago space, which was further north on Halsted, and my family has not missed a Steppenwolf season since.”
Working with representatives of each theater is a part of Alicia’s role she enjoys most.
“Theater people are great ‘ideas people,’ and they are not daunted by the lack of a decent budget. They are a steadfast, optimistic, and creative bunch. Working together, we often offer BTD Theater nights featuring a different show each month, with a pre-show reception, discounted ticket prices, coupons for nearby restaurants, and a talk afterwards. We work under one of my favorite premises: a rising tide raises all ships.
“Throughout Chicago the theater community is very dense, it spans from Rogers Park and North Center to Evanston and throughout the suburbs. Promoting the theater that’s available to in my specific community—spreading the word about lower ticket prices—is very important.”
At Yale, Alicia was part of the extracurricular stage productions.
“Yale has a multitude of performing spaces available on campus. I worked on over 25 productions, and my job was to be the organizational force behind the creative endeavors. I watched the budget, ran cues, turned the lights on and off, and kept everyone on time. Learning to be the logistics person has kept me in good stead.”
After graduation, Alicia served as stage manager for the edgy and exciting Chicago theater company, Running With Scissors.
“It was superb working with veterans of Chicago theaters, and it was very well received for about five years. Then 9/11 happened and I decided to move to England. I was born there and have dual citizenship, so I can work there. It is one of the most amazing theater tows in in the world, I think because the weather is always so horrid that no one minds being indoors for a cultural event.”
Alicia met her future husband, rock musician Phil Saywell, while she was working as a production manager at a fringe theater in London. A friend invited her to hear her cousin’s band, The Reflections.
“Phil was the bass player, and I think one of the reasons we got married in England was so that The Reflections could play at our wedding.”
After Alicia and Phil moved back to Chicago, she soon became involved with Theater Wit. The opportunity to work with the Belmont Theater District was a natural next step.
“All day long, I get to talk to theater people or take people to great shows. It is a real neighborhood effort. We go to festivals and have booths where we pass out information on the special opportunities we offer. I am in Seventh Heaven.”
To learn more about the Belmont Theater District visit BTDChicago.com, the ultimate guide to Chicago’s largest theater district.