Former clown opens improv theater in Franklin Park
Bruce Forte and Richard Fredrickson, of River Grove, talk about the process of opening up a performance space in Franklin Park. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:30AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Just when Richard Fredrickson had figured out a way to fill his unemployed time, he got called back to work.
Fredrickson, 48, is a union electrician. Due to the recession, however, he’s been out of work for about two-and-a-half years.
Last year he was driving his 10-year-old son to a rehearsal of the Wizard of Oz at East Leyden High School. They were on Grand Avenue in River Grove when his son spoke.
“He said, ‘Daddy, this looks like a ghost town,’” Fredrickson said. “I laughed. I was having those thoughts too.”
Though amused, the thought also reminded Fredrickson of a long time goal, to open up a performance space.
The roots of the idea date back more than 20 years and across the country. Fredrickson grew up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago and studied to be an actor.
“I chased the dream out to California,” he said. “Then — out there to survive — I did kids parties as a clown.”
While out there he performed with an improvisational comedy group in a tiny coffee house owned by the daughter of actor Dom Deluise.
After three years he returned to Chicago and became active in local theater and improv groups including Griffin Theater, Kaleidoscope Theater and Mission Improbable improv group.
The idea of a performance space of his own, however, stuck with him. In January he became serious about finding a space.
He looked around River Grove — where he lives — and a couple other suburbs but didn’t get much encouragement from officials until he tried Franklin Park Village Hall.
“A guy came out and said come back to my office,” Fredrickson said. “He started talking about the whole thing. Right then I had a good feeling about Franklin Park.”
Ultimately he chose the space previously occupied by Palermo Bakery, 3531 Rose St. The space holds about 50 people. Fredrickson and others have built a small stage and put up theater lighting. A “soft” opening is schedule for July 18 and 19 with live music.
Fredrickson plans to incorporate his improvisational spirit into his performance space, to be named Hometown Tapestry.
“We’ll have different kinds of performances,” Fredrickson said. “Anything from improv, unplugged music, an illusionist. Maybe a poetry night, a staged reading. I picture the whole (space) as a stage that I can transform for whatever event we’re doing.”
Those events could also include high teas, art shows, student productions, acting classes and a rehearsal space.
“There’s nothing around here like this,” Fredrickson said. “I have to feel it out; what works, what doesn’t work.”
There are challenges. Fredrickson is learning the business end as he goes. He borrowed money to finance the space. And in late June he got called back to work for a two-month job.
“It’s a challenge (doing both),” he said. “Everyone is looking at me and saying, ‘Are you OK? You’re not overdoing it?’”
Having been unemployed so long, he’s hired friends and relatives who are themselves unemployed with the understanding that they are welcome to seek and take work elsewhere.