Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Play Gives Voice To Passionate Suburban Gentrification Debate

The Daily Northwestern

This weekend, nerdy Davis Street, snobby Sheridan Road, aging hippie Morse Avenue and bilingual Dodge Avenue got together with some of their siblings to discuss one of the area’s most controversial issues: gentrification and displacement in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Streets – or rather their personifications – were the main characters in a local play produced by Next Theatre Company on Saturday and Sunday. The play, called “If This Neighborhood Could Talk,” was meant to spark discussion about development in Evanston and Rogers Park, according to director Julie Ganey.

The play centered on 13 local streets and their “mother,” Lake Michigan, who held a surprise party for eldest sister Ridge.

“We sort of thought of siblings (because) one block is not disconnected from the next block,” said Ebony Joy, who wrote the play.

The party took a darker turn when Lake Michigan accused Ridge of betraying her brothers and sisters by considering so much development.

“So selfish!” said Lake Michigan, played by Stevette Alexander. “You were raised better than this!”

Sheridan Road, played by Amy Campbell, led the opposing side, who said gentrification wasn’t such a bad thing.

“A nurse can afford housing somewhere,” she said. “Just not here.”

Martha Cooper’s Dodge Avenue, who spoke in both English and Spanish, spoke for the majority of her “siblings” when she voiced her opposition to the kind of gentrification happening in Chicago.

“I don’t know about you, but I will not become another Lincoln Park,” she said.

Nerdy Davis Street, played by Tim Higgins, provided facts and statistics, reminding the ensemble and the audience that Evanston and Rogers Park meet government quotas for affordable housing and have more affordable housing than many of their North Shore neighbors.

Ganey said the play did not take any particular point of view on affordable housing. Instead, she said she aimed to promote civil debate about an increasingly complicated issue.

The play is the result of ten weeks of heated discussion and rehearsal, Ganey said.

Ganey started by seeking out people who had strong opinions on the issue of suburban development and gentrification. After finding appropriately outspoken residents, she brought them together for five Saturday morning meetings and encouraged them to talk. The debate became heated at times, she said, but that was the point.

“I tried to find people who I knew would be all over the map with their opinions about it,” she said.

After five weeks, Joy, an Evanston native and the Artistic Director of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, wrote a 40-minute play based on the opinions and debate she heard at the meetings. The meetings’ participants became actors, and after only five rehearsals they put on the free show.

The dysfunctional family of streets did not come to a clear conclusion, other than agreeing that it was up to local residents to make their voices heard.

The play’s participants said their opinions were not necessarily changed, but they gained an appreciation and respect for the opposing viewpoints.

“I don’t know if it changed (my opinion),” Childress said. “But it made me think.”

“This is real,” said Jackie Grossmann, who played Morse Avenue. “I just realized how complex this really is.”

Joy said the participants’ tensions inspired her.

“To me, it was about going underneath what they said and going to find the passion,” she said. “Consensus will not happen.”

Reach Megan Crepeau at [email protected].

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Play Gives Voice To Passionate Suburban Gentrification Debate