So what is Storefront Theatre? What are its essential qualities? What -if anything - makes it more than just "commercial theatre on a budget" or "regional theatre on a budget"?
The specificity of this question could sum up if not the entirety of chicago based theatrospherism, at the very least 2 out 3 posts we pick away at our keyboards.
I would not deem to know the answer to this question, but in the hopes of continuing the conversation I offer some potential hypotheticals...
Storefront Theatre is a theatre that has always attempt to exist despite or in direct contradiction to the effect of the market. Even the small little operations that make big bucks for one or two shows a year, still are constantly putting out productions that are either economic risks or appear to be so. The reason behind the risk could be anything from the profane to something marketed as 'cutting edge' (a euphemism that has lose its teeth long long ago).
It is possible that once storefront theatre no longer trucks the majority of its wares in the realm of that which is risky due to effects of the market... that at this point it becomes something else... something that eventually will become either commercial or regional or eventually dissipate.
Although equity companies often concede to slum it up in storefronts or warehouses, I think that storefront theatre has a huge traditional of being non-equity or sweat equity. Equity companies eventually want to be in equity houses. Companies that are non-equity love the idea of more numerous and comfortable seating, but for the most part have not as much use for seating over 50 unless a rave review makes its way into the big papers.
But even as I write this down, I am doubtful that many will agree with this assessment of what storefront theatre is. Something that maybe more folks could agree with? storefront theater that happens in a storefront as opposed to a traditional proscenium space. A storefront often has little lobby or sometimes none. A storefront often has folding chairs instead of comforting fabric seats. A storefront might give its audience some sort of thrill at achieving cultural cache, but rarely a class based societal cache that translated to season tickets at the Step or the Goodman. Storefront has no monopoly on quality, but from objective panoramic view surrenders none to other types of theatre either.
Storefront theatre often requires sacrifice on behalf of all involved. The actors and crew who give up time with their families for little of no money... The audience who give up the comfort/convenience of going somewhere where the parking is hard and maybe the seats are hard and maybe the theatre has no heat or no a/c or maybe the bus runs there only until 9ish meaning that anyone who sees a 2 act there has to walk a mile to get to a busstop and wait 30 minutes for a nite owl route.
Why does the artists and audience commit to this? Because they think that they are in for a possible experience that they either can not get or get with less frequency from other media and other non-storefront performance.
Tonight, I think that is what makes storefront theatre different from commercial or regional theatre.
If storefront theatre is a destination for the artist/audience rather than a stop on the way to commercial/regional theatre then...
The storefront is a temporary site/haven/space where a performance occurs that the economic market deems too risky to happen anywhere else.