When asked to describe the new Chicago Theater Database, co-creator Dan Granata often throws out the simple explanation, “It’s like the Internet Movie Database, but for Chicago theatre.” However, Mr. Granata is quick to point out that it is meant to be much, much more. The CTDB’s mission statement describes it as, “a reference for the present, a record of our collected history, and a sustainable resource for building the next stage.”
Begun in the spring of 2007 as a personal project, the Chicago Theater Database, currently in beta, is now poised to become the central source for all information relating to the city’s theater community. Unlike the IMDb, however, the CTDB is intended less for archival purposes and more as a tool for today’s artists.
“There’s so much going on,” Mr. Granata said, “but nobody knows about it because it’s all so disparate.”
Mr. Granata began compiling the original data out of curiosity, starting with the big theaters like the Goodman and Steppenwolf and expanded from there. He hit a snag, however, when his computer crashed and all the data was lost. “I was basically depressed for about two months.” Then local performing arts trade publication PerformInk released their annual season preview. Using the raw data from the preview, Mr. Granata began the project again. This time he expanded the fields to include things like theater companies’ budget and non-profit information.
Mr. Granata made mention of the project on his blog, I, Homunculus. The blog later received a mention in a Time Out article, which caught the attention of sound designer Nick Keenan, whose own blog, Theater for the Future, was also mentioned. Mr. Keenan expressed an interest in the database project through a comment on I, Homunculus. Having been “called out,” Mr. Granata began work in earnest, this time partnered with Mr. Keenan, who even took the time to learn a new coding language. Since then the project has grown exponentially, and the CTDB has even partnered with PerformInk to produce the next season preview.
Among some of the features Mr. Granata hopes to include in the database is a calendar of opening, strike and rehearsal dates, and also venue availability. Mr. Granata hopes that having all of this information in a central location will help bring about a new era of Chicago theater. “I feel bad,” he said, “because we burn out so many young actors who could do better if they were armed with some basic information.” The community still operates on a “Steppenwolf mentality,” in which so many artists come here straight out of college with the intention of forming a company, but none of them have a real grasp of the current state of theater in the city. “It just doesn’t work with two hundred fifty companies.”
The Chicago Theater Database is now open to public viewing, although it is still in the early beta stages. The rest of the summer will be spent collecting data and ironing out issues such as how to list festivals, and how to handle name changes. According to Mr. Granata the team hopes to have the database “largely functional” within the next couple of months. Until then, the site is available to look around on, and see what data has been collected so far.