Open to All: Anthony Guerrero and Red Tape Theatre

by Serena Wong

Chicago is home to plenty of art - the Cloud Gate (which looks like a bean and nothing like a cloud), architectural marvels, and food so good it could be art (two words for you: deep dish). It’s also home to a diverse, thriving theatre scene that includes not only large, renowned theatres like Steppenwolf and the Goodman, but smaller theatres that specialize in bringing diverse works to audiences.

In his second year as the managing director for Red Tape Theatre, Anthony Guerrero does just that. The theatre delivers immersive theatrical experiences without the “barriers of tradition” that stand between artists and their audiences - hence, a removal of the red tape. “All artists have something to say,” Anthony explains. “Our goal is to help build a community that can freely do that.”

The theatre is a storefront theatre, named for its “storefront” size. As the only theatre in the neighborhood, Red Tape’s newly-opened black box theatre seats 75 people. Anthony hopes that having such an intimate venue will increase audiences’ feeling of immersion in their productions. “It’s not necessarily more audience participation,” he says. “We want the audience to feel like they are integrated into the action of the production.”

Red Tape Theatre isn’t Anthony’s first rodeo - he’s worked with other arts organizations before, including the now-annual event Dance For Life. It is, however, one of the first new organizations he’s gotten to work with after having completed arts management coursework. With both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA, Anthony also obtained a Core Certificate in Arts Management from the Arts Extension Service in 2015.

“I never really thought about getting a certificate, the opportunity was just there,” Anthony confesses. He first heard about the program at the Americans for the Arts Convention in in Nashville. “I really liked the people I met from AES at the convention, and I was intrigued by the idea that I could directly apply my coursework to a case study organization of my choosing in real time.” He’d never taken online classes before, and liked the idea that they were available online as well as affordable.

To obtain his certificate, Anthony took Financial Management, Arts Fundraising, Grantwriting for the Arts, Arts Programming, and Foundations in Arts Entrepreneurship. While he did learn something from all of them, one of them was very close to his heart. “My favorite was Foundations in Arts Entrepreneurship,” he says. “I took it for personal reasons, and I’m glad I took it; the exciting part was that I got to be connected to my artistic side as well as my business side,”

While Anthony was obtaining his certificate, he was also a producer of the program Dance For Life. At the time, Dance for Life was an annual fundraising event raising money for charities working to fight AIDS. “The timing of the program basically helped me develop Dance for Life from an annual event to a full-blown nonprofit organization!” he laughs. “It was very convenient. All of the feedback I would get from my instructors and classmates I would take straight to the board.” Now, Dance For Life is a yearlong event under the “full-blown nonprofit” Chicago Dancers United, featuring several dance companies that encompass styles across the spectrum of dance.

Even today, the courses still come through in the handiest of times. “I learned something from all of them,” he says succinctly. “Financial Management taught me how to read and create budgets correctly, Arts Programming and Arts Fundraising helped me develop Dance For Life into Chicago Dancers United. Grantwriting has been essential to my work at Red Tape Theatre.

Red Tape is a part of the Free Theatre Movement, making grants and other kinds of contributed giving essential to the fulfillment of their mission. The goal of the Free Theatre Movement is to make theatre available for everyone by offering admission to shows free of charge. “We hope more companies will take on the model,” Anthony says, something he plans to achieve by requiring theatres who rent out the Red Tape theatre space to not charge admission. “Eventually, people will be able to see all kinds of theatre for free.”

While it might seem like Anthony’s hands are full with Red Tape’s ambitious mission, he has other personal aspirations he is also pursuing. This fall, Anthony will begin a Master program in Communications, Media, and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University, focusing on Arts and Cultural Studies. Ultimately, he plans to get his doctorate and become a professor. Anthony is excited to stay relatively close to Chicago, a city he has called home for so long.

There is one part of a professor’s job that Anthony already has down pat - the ability to give sage advice to curious students. He would absolutely recommend the Arts Extension Service courses to any those curious about arts management: “You’ll use the knowledge daily when you work in the arts,” he explains. “Even though it’s online, you’ll feel amazed by how much you’ll feel like a part of a real live classroom.”

Future college students, look out for a Professor Guerrero’s name on your syllabi.