A Conversation with Writers’ Theatre Artistic Director Michael Halberstam

Chicago-area theater? It’s doing just fine, thank you very much.

As part of our upcoming March feature on ideas, Make It Better talked with Michael Halberstam, Writers’ Theatre artistic director, about the state of theater arts. Turns out, creative arts have never been better.

What it is about the arts, and even theater in particular, that take people to a better place at the end of a play than they were at the beginning?

MH: What drives me to get up and go to work every day with such enthusiasm for my craft and my art is that 54 or 108 people will come together and share a common experience. We live in such a polarized divisive society (and entertainment like) reality shows enhance this black and white perspective. The editing gives you a very skewed perspective of what’s going on.

In the theater, we don’t guide your perspective with that kind of bias. We give you your entry point. And no matter what your perspective or your political beliefs … if we’re doing our job, you will all be moved.

What do you see coming in the future that offer people hope that fine art isn’t dying?

I’m very enthused by the rallying around and heartened by the amount of enthusiasm around the (new theater venue) project. It’s a kind of dynamic infusion that really is going to be a game-changer. There’s nothing like this in terms of a performing arts center on the North Shore.

If you look at Chicago theater as an example of how the arts are still flourishing you really do get a broad and encouraging sense of the enormous demand for fine art.

What should Chicago-area audiences appreciate about our theater community versus other locales?

I think Chicago audiences have a very low tolerance for BS … we tend to eschew and avoid pretention. (Theater) has to be genuinely good in Chicago. It’s got integrity and it’s really true of our arts scene because the bar is set high for us we aspire to purer goals.

We’ll never have the same kind of press machine or exposure, but rather, a higher level of integrity and depth and (projects) that were made just for you. (For example,) “The Glass Menagerie” came out of a passion project and it was produced just for you here in Chicago.


Halberstam co-founded the Writers Theatre in 1992 and is currently directing the theatre’s production of “Sweet Charity.”



Kelly Konrad is Make It Better’s senior editor and the in-house expert on things to do on Chicago’s North Shore. She is also pretty fanatical about books—you can follow her reviews and recommendations on Chicago Now.

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