Will the Understudy be a star in Andersonville?

Those of us who have been kicking around Chicago theater for more than a couple of decades fondly remember Scenes, the Lakeview theater-focused bookstore and cafe that provided a Clark Street hangout for all the companies producing in storefronts around the neighborhood (and their audiences), as well as a source (in those pre-Internet days) for scripts and other theater-related books. 

For a while, Scenes, which opened in February 1987, was the first of two theater bookstores in Chicago: Act 1 Bookstore on Lincoln (which was originally located in the basement of the Apollo Theater), owned by Rick Levine, was also a reliable go-to for classic and contemporary dramatic literature (though Act 1 didn’t serve delicious scones alongside the scripts). Scenes closed in late 1996; Act 1 was bought by new owners, renamed Soliloquy, and kept running for a while in a new location in Lakeview before shuttering for good, like so many other indie bookstores, in the first decade of this century.

From time to time, I’ve heard theater people wax nostalgic about Scenes, even as venues like Steppenwolf and the Den have provided more in-house bars and cafes. For the past several years, the Trellis at the Greenhouse Theater Center has offered a selection of used theater books (though as noted both by the website and in an email from Greenhouse president and CEO William Spatz, the long shutdown from COVID-19 meant that they had stopped taking donations). But that was it as far as a local brick-and-mortar home dedicated to theater literature.

One could well ask, “Where is the equivalent of New York’s Drama Book Shop—and do we need our own Lin-Manuel Miranda to make that happen?” (Miranda took some of his Hamilton Benjamins to buy and relocate the venerable Manhattan bookstore when rising rents threatened to shutter it permanently.)

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