The Practical Theatre Company: Scenes from the Early Days on Howard Street

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The front window of 703 Howard Street, painted by John Goodrich. Winter of 1980-81.

sc0000c1b2Practical Theatre member Reid Branson (AKA “Reedo”) sent me this cool stash of photos from the very first days and months on Howard Street in the winter of 1980-81 — when the 42-seat John Lennon Auditorium was under construction. Reid took the photos and his wife, Kathy Hahn, made the photochemical magic happen in the darkroom. That’s Reid in the photo above left — in character as Reedo Branson, the PTC’s street theatre candidate for President in 1980. Since we hadn’t built the theatre yet, all of us kids had to play in the street. (It’s the only photo in this post that I took.)

And now, here are the rare early JLA photos from Reid and Kathy…

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(L to R) Brad Hall, the author & Rush Pearson — with evidence of theatre construction and band rehearsal in the background. We got a lot of use out of 703 Howard Street even before the John Lennon Auditorium was finished.

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Rush Pearson (Left) and a guitar player whose name I don’t recall. (Sorry, sir!)  The stage has yet to be built — but there’s a stack of plywood against the wall. The Chicago Theatre Festival banner came by way of Rush, who had been a member of the Festival’s street theatre company.

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Looking toward Howard St., the author is in silhouette — and the seating framework is just starting to take shape. We did all the construction work ourselves, guided by the theatre’s designer, the late, great Louis DiCrescenzo. Work proceeded slowly for two reasons: none of us were great carpenters & we had to raise money in fits and starts to buy lumber and materials.

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Another angle on the construction of the 42-seat auditorium. The author can be seen in the background wearing headphones (yes, they had them back then) — and you’ll note some sort of play-pen or crib on the floor in front of me. So, what’s in that crib?


It’s my infant daughter, Maura. She was born in July of 1980 (the same month that the storefront at 703 Howard Street was leased and dedicated) so she’s around 6 or 7 months at the time this photo was taken in the lobby of the unfinished JLA. Lucky for me, Maura was a patient, good-natured baby who seemed to thrive amid the creative chaos of those early PTC days.


Taped to the wall is the poster for “Thrills & Glory”, designed by cast member Gary Kroeger. “Thrills & Glory” (which also starred Reid Branson, Rush Pearson and yours truly) was the first show to be performed in the completed John Lennon Auditorium. We had to work like demons to get the theatre ready for the show’s opening on March 21, 1981. We never lacked for confidence.


It looks as though the theatre seats (donated by nearby Wisdom Bridge Theatre and its director, Bob Falls) have been installed – though the stage and “the monolith” have yet to take shape. That looks like PTC member Al Leinonen at right. The little ceramic chap to his left, wrapped in odd garments is our mascot, Sri Abdul Aziz, whose unblinking eyes watched over the theatre.

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Another angle on Al, looking toward the house and those 42 magical seats. Behind Al, Sri Abdul Aziz gazes at the auditorium in wonder. Atop Sri’s head is the hat I wore as Infra-Death in the 1980 Mee-Ow Show. I hope that Al isn’t holding an umbrella because the roof is leaking…


PTC member Herb Metzler naps in the foreground, as Brad, the author and Rush work out a tune in the lobby of the theatre. It doesn’t appear as though the box office as been built yet. But, heck, we’re writing a show — and there will eventually be a finished theatre to perform it in!


This appears to be a gathering of Sturdy Beggars, including (L to R) Rush, Jamie Baron, Danny Deuel, Herb, Jeff Semmerling (?), the author and Brad. Perhaps it’s an early “Thrills & Glory” preview, maybe a break in construction work — or just another opportunity to party.


Casey Fox, Brad and Gary Kroeger — most likely at a “Thrills & Glory” rehearsal. Casey shot short comedy films for the show, Brad did his best to provide some direction — and Gary (the lone beardless cast member) played all the female roles. Ours was a very Elizabethan approach. Not.


Portrait of the author as a young theatre builder. I loved that storefront. Still do.


Filed under Art, Beauty, History, Improvisation, rock & roll, Uncategorized

12 responses to “The Practical Theatre Company: Scenes from the Early Days on Howard Street

  1. Rush Pearson

    Fun pics and blast from the way way past of PTC! The unknown guitarist looks like Phil Rothman from The Front Lines. And I think I still have “the order of business” we drew up for the first and last beggar convention, a three day sleepover at the theatre. And how many times did we have to delay the opening of “Thrills and Glory” cause of the brand new code stuff brought to our attention by the caring folks who zoned for the City Evanston?

  2. Jerry G

    Paul. Those were truly heady, heady times my friend. Permanently overjoyed to have been around it, through it, in it.

    Jerry G (Gizmo)

  3. Dave Silberger

    I was just about to say that was Phil, you beat me to it Rush. Also, I thought those more beggary photos might have been later on during Beggar’s Holiday, then I remembered that Jeff wasn’t in Beggars Holiday-he was in Baltimore learning to make masks. So I was wondering what it could have been instead-I plum forgot about the Beggar Convention!

  4. What great photos! Not a participant myself, but certainly an early fan and remember it well. Casey and I just got together last weekend when he was visiting the Bay Area.

  5. Anonymous

    Such great memories

  6. great photos, thanks for the “sharing.” Some of you look exactly the same.

  7. Susan

    Ah…the good old days of youth. Sure would like to see more and more of these-you guys were the funniest, most creative people I’ve had the privilege to see. I sure would love to laugh like that again. Maybe not laughing that hard is just the fault of getting old(er) and grumpier? Naw..hahaha.

  8. Brad

    Ah! I particularly love the shot of Rush playing guitar— that’s his blue green Fender and I might be playing the Riff’s beloved Strat (Paul and I didn’t own electric guitars yet—that’s where the first SNL check went) and on the wall you can see a CLOWN a BAG O FUN and a PLAYGROUNDS/ON THE FRITZ poster and a Reedo photo — Casemo was an excellent Carpenter. And I love that Paul Herb Ana I are all rocking flannel shirts. Wonderful photos Pablo!!!

  9. Brad

    One more thing ; we’ll two more —though it could be a million more things — look how much Baby Mo looks like Declan!! And we opened Thrills and G on my 22nd B day.

  10. Rush Pearson

    Oh, and I love John Goodrich’s Xmas window characters!

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