History of The WSSR
In the summer of 2013, Mike Werckle leased a run-down beauty salon at 410 Mulberry Street on the west side of Rockford, Illinois. He spent the next several months in the sweltering heat doing the back-breaking work of cleaning, demolishing old structures, removing stubborn tile, pulling thousands of staples from the floor, sanding the hardwood, and preparing the space to become a 60 seat black box theater.
By December, Mike had invited Liz Newman and Laurie Oliver on board, and they helped amass a group of actors and volunteers to paint the space black and build a set for the new theater’s first production, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom (presented with Sleeping Beauty, or Coma) by Charles Busch. The production values were simple: costumes pulled from closets, and a set made out of cardboard decorated by local artist Jesus Correa.
Originally slated to open December 20th, 2013, a blizzard forced the group to cancel the first weekend, but they opened to huge acclaim the next Friday, December 27, 2013– Vampire Lesbians of Sodom was a success, and it’s initial two week run was extended by an additional four weeks. The West Side Show Room was born! Shortly thereafter, Beth Edgerton was brought on board as Box Office Manager.
Acting as Artistic Director, Werckle’s goal was to produce one year of non-stop theater to see if The WSSR could attract an audience. The entire operation was intentionally rag-tag and under-the-radar, so the focus would be on creating exciting theater– not getting bogged down in red tape.
In 2014, The West Side Show Room produced three additional plays: MilkMilkLemonade by Joshua Conkel, Boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and Psycho Beach Party by Charles Busch. Each play was met with enthusiastic audience response, and helped cement The WSSR’s reputation for producing highly entertaining non-traditional works in an intimate setting.
In September of 2014, Werckle assembled an Advisory Committee of respected professionals to help guide the theater toward incorporation as a nonprofit. Anne O’keefe, Jeff Orduno, Rufus Cadigan, Carolyn Cadigan, Miranda Buell, and George Harnish served in this capacity.
In December 2014, after a full year at the Mulberry location without proper bathrooms, AC, or ventilation, The WSSR decided not to renew the lease, opting instead to look for a more modern space. The West Side Show Room officially incorporated as a nonprofit on March 16, 2015, and is still in the process of finding a new home.
As of July of 2015, The WSSR had produced its sixth play The Chalk Boy by Joshua Conkel at an interim space in the basement of The Nordlof Center.