Dyrkacz, not typical theater owner

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

"Zygmunt Dyrkacz, owner of the Chopin Theatre located near Division Street and Milwaukee Avenue, called last week to take exception to my recent review of Gilead Productions' "Richard II." It's unusual for theater landlords to take such interest in the critical response to their tenants' shows, but the impassioned and intelligent Dyrkacz is far from your typical theater owner.

A 47-year-old Polish biologist who first came to Chicago to study social insects, Dyrkacz not only rescued the Chopin (built in 1918) from demolition but now oversees some 500 performances per year in his two nicely rehabbed performance spaces (the mainstage has 220 seats and a wonderfully expansive stage area).

Not only is this a very viable space creatively, but the Chopin also is among the city's most affordable little theaters to rent. On several unpublicized occasions, Dyrkacz has charged impoverished arts groups little or nothing.

But aside from non-supportive critics, a paucity of grants, and his inability to get a license that will allow him to serve wine and beer to patrons, Dyrkacz is also unhappy with his current financial situation and lack of support from the City of Chicago; he says that he may have to close the theaters if things don't improve.

"This city does not respect the arts in Wicker Park," Dyrkacz bitterly asserts. "If they spent as much money on the Chopin as they do on the signs for the big downtown places then my personal `Titanic' would be safe. But everything is political. That's why we've lost the opportunity to make Wicker Park the unconditional home for Illinois artists."

In the aftermath of a divorce, Drykacz now finds himself actually living at the Chopin with his two sons (who also function as the theater's cleaning crew). "My lovely wife took our house," he says. "And I got our sinking theater."