Columbia College Chicago Theatre Dept. Alums Declare: ‘Jackalope Is Here to Stay!’

Jackalope Theatre, a company founded and led by alumni and former students of the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department, has announced that it is temporarily moving out of its home base in Broadway Armory Park, a Chicago Park District facility at 5917 N. Broadway in Chicago’s north-side Edgewater neighborhood, and is putting plans on hold for its 2023-24 season and its annual gala.

“As you may have heard, the City of Chicago has officially announced its plan to temporarily house legal asylum seekers at Broadway Armory Park, where Jackalope has produced its mainstage productions since 2013,” the company announced on its website in a post dated July 27, 2023. “This shift will be effective at the Armory August 1st, 2023. This emergency, along with other operational issues that we are navigating, resulted in the cancellation of our scheduled world premiere production of Pretty Shahid by Omer Abbas Salem, along with the postponement of our annual gala and our 16th season. . . .

“Though the response to asylum seekers disrupting Chicago Park fieldhouse programming in other parts of the city was met with resistance, Jackalope fully intends to respond with the opposite – creating a culture of welcome and support to our new American residents who have endured so much to arrive in this safe place. It is at the very core of our mission to expand the American identity. . . .

One thing is for certain: Jackalope is here to stay. We are assured by the strength of our relationship with the Parks department, along with the broader Chicago theatre community, and we are currently working to secure a new home base for the time being. Stay on the lookout for updates as to our new space and future events.” To read the full announcement, click here.

Kaiser Ahmed

Jackalope’s artistic director is Columbia College alum Kaiser Ahmed ’08, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s Theatre Directing program, who cofounded the company in 2008 with Columbia College Theatre Directing program alum AJ Ware ’09 and former Theatre Department students Gus Menary and Andrew Burden Swanson. ​In an interview with the Chicago Reader, Chicago’s premier alternative online and print publication, Ahmed said: “We’ve had a lot of conversations with city and parks entities over the last two months in terms of the uncertainty of the use of the building, and then getting a stronger and stronger sense of the timeline” for the migrant shelter plan at Broadway Armory Park, where an estimated 300+ people will be housed.

“Every six months they’ll do an evaluation,” Ahmed told the Reader’s theatre editor, Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department alum Kerry Reid ’87. “So six months from August 1, the city and parks will reevaluate the need for the park to remain a shelter, and then potentially the community and the city and parks all decide, ‘OK, we’re good to move [the theater company] back in.’”

“Our conversations with the parks have been very based in being an arts partner and resident first, rather than being treated as an occupant,” Ahmed added. “Our arts partnership with the city is a ten-year partnership at this point, and they value it as much as we do.” To read the full interview, click here.

As reported previously in this blog, Jackalope began in 2008 as a senior project in a theatre management techniques course, in which the students wrote a five-year plan for a fictional theatre company. After leaving Columbia, the students decided they wanted to turn their make-believe project into reality. Jackalope made its professional debut in August 2008 with the world premiere of Last Exodus of American Men, written by Swanson and co-directed by Ahmed and Menary. The company’s history was chronicled in an article in the Fall/Winter 2017 edition of Columbia College’s alumni magazine Demo, titled “The Birth of a Jackalope.”