Theater on the Lake is closed for renovations this summer, but the Park District's annual tradition of reviving hit shows lives on. Even the most hardcore of Chicago theater-goers can’t keep up with the roughly 30-plus openings that each month brings. So the Theater on the Lake program gives a second chance to those who missed some of the season’s best shows and to theaters that want to make their hits accessible for just a few more precious weeks.

This summer's Theater on the Lake shows have hit the road, with two of the remaining shows this summer at Berger Park and one in Smith Park. For the second consecutive year, acclaimed playwright Ike Holter (Sender, Prowess, Hit the Wall, Exit Strategy) is picking the Theater on the Lake lineup, selecting a summer’s worth of redos from the best of the best of the regular season.

We caught up with Holter for a conversation about which shows are no-brainer remounts, which don’t even get considered, and what he does when he’s not writing or seeing plays.

This is your second year curating Theater on the Lake. Does that mean you try to see pretty much everything that opens before summer hits?

When they asked me to come back, my response was, "Awesome, 1,000 percent yes." It’s amazing to be able to put some of these shows up again. I think I saw upward of 60 shows between March and May, so—what, three or four a week?

What do you look for?

Voices that are new, voices that we aren’t used to hearing. Women, playwrights of color, different takes on classics, subjects that are topical. Like with [First Floor Theatre’s] The Awake, it’s this Inception-style play about people who have suffered trauma during war. And our inability to deal with people who come back, traumatized, from war. Those issues are always swirling around us; it’s always going to be a current play.

Or look at [The Hypocrites’] Midsummer Dream. The adaptation (by Tien Doman and Sean Graney) is so thoughtful and funny and completely unexpected while also being true to the source. It’s an amazing take on a piece you may think you already know. I loved [Stage Left’s] Firestorm, too. It’s about political power players in crisis. The title refers to the doom everybody on stage feels as the election gets closer. Which, obviously, that’s timely.

Does a show’s commercial success play into your choice?

Not really. Well, wait. Sort of. If a show only had a short, sold-out run and people who wanted tickets couldn’t get them, that’s something I’ll definitely look at bringing back.

Anything you discard right off the bat?

Much as I loved The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, I’m never going to have the Goodman at Theater on the Lake. It’d be awesome if I did, but I don’t see them ever saying yes. It’s important to me to summon the shows’ original casts back, as much as is humanly possible. If we couldn’t get The Awake ensemble all back for the remount, I don’t know that we would have done it. And it’s important to have balance. I’m never going to have a whole summer of gruesome tragedies. Or light-hearted comedies.

 And when you’re not seeing shows?

Movies. I’m a huge movie person. Best thing out there right now is Strange Things on Netflix. It’s The Goonies meets E.T. meets Poltergeist. It’s incredible.

Theater on the Lake’s season continues as follows:

  • The Hypocrites, Midsummer Dream, July 27-30 at Smith Park, 2526 W. Grand Ave., through July 30. Free.
  • First Floor Theatre, The Awake, July 27-31, Berger Park Cultural Center, 6205 N. Sheridan. $10.
  • Stage Left, The Firestorm, Aug. 3-7, Aug. 10-14, Berger Park Cultural Center, 6205 N. Sheridan, $10.

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