This is Alex Honnet. Myself and my friends Caitlin Stephan and Walt Delaney (and some other great people at various times) ran a place called the Upstairs Gallery from 2011-2014. If you are a regular Steamroller reader you have probably heard of it, but maybe not! It was a performance space that gained a lot of traction really quickly and got a lot of people in the Chicago sketch and improv community excited. Ultimately though it wasn’t a sustainable thing and instead of trying to make tough choices and change it we made the also tough choice to close at the end of last summer.
I wanted to write something down about the way I feel right now as 2014 comes to a close and I have had a few months to reflect. It feels like things have sort of blown up here in Chicago. Lots of people are leaving, new spots for old theatres, so much potential but also so much change. The below is mostly personal stuff, I’m sorry for that, but maybe you read this and see some or your own experiences in it and you can get down on that.
- Quality of life - This is the single biggest thing. Having a life again is so amazing. I can go out to dinner, or take a vacation, or just go home, and that's all I'm doing. Life is still very busy, but it’s busy with my own stuff. I really miss being a part of a thing that brought people so much joy, but that is almost eclipsed by being able to just take 30 minutes before a show to eat some fucking pizza and sit on a couch.
Loss of identity - This was real bad for about a week. I was not sure who i would be without the moniker “Upstairs Gallery guy.” Turns out “guy who used to run the Upstairs Gallery” is also a thing, and it will probably last as long as it needs to before i find my way into some other identity like “guy who got burned out from doing too much improv.”
Starting over - Cait and I are producing a show at The Annoyance on Tuesdays at 8pm. It’s going well! (but would love to see you there.) We have been very very lucky to have Jen and Mick’s support in that spot. But it’s a bigger room, and it’s one night a week, and it’s an hour and 15 minutes. So it’s obviously different when you have been coming from running a space where there was so much time to work with, to focusing in on this one show and a few other projects. We’re figuring it out, the shows are getting more crowded and better, but that shift has made us think about a lot of things. We used to be a space, but now we’re an idea? or a group of people? or a production style? Probably all of those, maybe none of those. I overthink it for sure.
Missing your friends - I used to see everyone so much, just automatically. I took it for granted 100%. Now if you don’t have shows that line up at certain times, you might not see someone you used to see every few days for a month. It sucks.
Reconnecting with your non improv friends - They still don’t want to go see shows, but now that’s okay! We can get dinner, or sit around on couches or play Magic: The Gathering. It’s been really nice to spend time with them.
Everyone left! - and they’re still leaving! Goodbye everybody! But for real, this was one of the big reasons we closed. It felt like people were getting busy at other places or getting ready to make the push to the coasts. Suddenly though there seems to be this mass exodus. It's exciting and awesome to see friends leaving, but I miss you.
- Upstairs Gallery House teams - They’ve become harder to involve. We have less of a compelling thing for them to do. Instead of one or two shows a month it is maybe one every now and again. I don’t blame them for not having the same kind of space in their lives for these floating Gallery productions that they did for the physical space. Which dovetails well into the last point….
- No one really owes you anything - When we closed it I thought “Upstairs Gallery is all of us” meant that the community would stay involved and that I could just keep on controlling it in some way. That we would just pick up from that space and suddenly put on the best kind of Gallery shows up at The Annoyance on Tuesday nights. That hasn’t really happened. Which was tough to confront.
Like when we closed the Gallery we really did close that chapter of our lives. When we had a physical place, we could point to it and say, this is where we perform and the shows are like this. It was a gathering place and a hub for community. We had one thing, and now its something else and I knew what the one thing was, but we’re still figuring out what the new one is. Really at this point the Upstairs Gallery is not just about the shows we put up using the brand. It’s about the friendships and people that were a part of it when it was a physical space. The ideas and teams around it have been sort of freed up from it’s space and can now wander around and exist outside of that room. It’s out of my control. That’s pretty cool with me.
Thanks for reading this! If you are interested in what we’re doing as “Upstairs Gallery” now come check us out on Tuesday nights at the annoyance. Show is at 8pm. Introduce yourself after. Would love to chat.
We also produce some shows other places, like us on Facebook/follow us on Tumblr for all the info, or sign up for our mailing list: