Monday, October 21, 2013

Open House Chicago Gives Chicagoans an Inside Look at Essanay

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of volunteering at Essanay Studios’ Open House event as part of Open House Chicago. The 2-day event gives Chicago residents the opportunity to get exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpses at some of the city’s iconic buildings and sites, and all for free! Not only did it mean giving visitors a look at Essanay’s historic Studio A (now Charlie Chaplin Auditorium, it also meant giving them the chance to watch a screening of “His New Job” on the big screen, and informing them one-on-one about our restoration campaign.

Although the day started slow, as the day got under way, I was thrilled to see the amount of eager visitors coming through the doors, taking pictures of the entrance way, and taking in Chaplin, for perhaps the first time, on the big screen. The atmosphere was friendly and fun, and it gave lots of eager film fans the chance to connect with one another (including me).

In addition to the film screening, we introduced visitors to our restoration campaign via the video we made for Indiegogo, and Essanay Centers President Gary Keller discussed the history of film in Chicago, the history of Essanay, and the future of the complex. We also presented a screening of “Being Charlie Chaplin,” a three-channel video installation piece created by Hale Ekinci wherein she competes with Chaplin for his job in “His New Job.”

For me, the most rewarding part of the event was the opportunity to connect with fellow film lovers and answer their questions. I spoke with one gentleman for at least 30 minutes, going from discussing Essanay, to discussing Hitchcock and French horror films.

The whole experience left me with the hope that the city is rediscovering this hidden gem and that our restoration project, and coverage about it, will once again bring the studio back into the spotlight. I hope we can hold another open house event very soon.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Save Essanay!

Virginia Valli Essanay Studios
Virginia Valli in front of the historic Essanay Studios entrance

For a few months now, I've had the opportunity to work closely with a wonderful group of people still firmly entrenched in the world of silent film -- the interns, volunteers and staff at Chicago's Essanay Studios. Although the complex has gone through many owners since the days of Broncho Billy Anderson and George Spoor, many of its iconic features remain, including its iconic terra cotta entrance that beautifully displays the studio name and Mary Spoor's iconic Essanay logo.

Essanay Studiios

The studio was named a historic landmark in the '90s, but our team is dedicated to making it even more than that. We're working to restore the iconic entrance way and restore and renovate the legendary Studio A to help it become the Essanay Centers. The Centers will be the the place for people in and around Chicago and Illinois to come and learn about early film, while also providing a performance space that can be used by students and experts in the world of the visual arts. 

The team has been working hard to make this dream a reality by seeking out grants and donations, but we need help. We've launched an indiegogo campaign to help us raise the funds needed to save and restore the cracking and crumbling entrance way, and to start the process of adapting historic Studio A to become an immersive early film experience. You can learn more about this project by visiting the campaign home page here:  Every little bit helps, and we've got some great perks for all of our generous backers!

You can also learn more by visiting the official Essanay site, or checking out the Essanay accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

Please help us spread the word and make this historic film landmark a beacon of old and new media for Chicago and silent film fans everywhere.