Henry Riggs of The New Colony Theater Company

By Stephanie Sack | Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Henry Riggs outside the DANK Haus. Credit: Stephanie Sack.

Actor, musician, writer, comedian, and South Carolina native Henry Riggs is one of the neighborhood’s most interesting transplants. His three-year-old theatre company, The New Colony, keeps offices in the DANK Haus, 4740 N. Western Ave., out of which they, “…collaboratively lead the Chicago arts scene into a new era of inspiration and innovation…or leave it in complete shambles.”

As the banjo player in The New Colony’s lauded bluegrass group, That Sordid Little Story, Henry and his bandmates recently won a prestigious Jeff award for “Original Incidental Music”, an exciting accomplishment for a young troupe.

In between running The New Colony’s social media and performing at venues all around town, Henry can be found at various haunts and happenings in Lincoln Square.

1. Do you feel that Lincoln Square is a neighborhood that is welcoming to wacky and creative types such as yourself?

Lincoln Square is the place! It’s a bit off the beaten path, it’s fairly family oriented, but it’s also a potential hot bed for nightlife and theatre and performance. I think that people are craving the wacky to a certain extent. Since the neighborhood is that blend of family and fun there is a tendency for a lights out rule to be around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. BUT, with the proper infusion of music or theatre or general insanity I think that people will embrace this awesome neighborhood as a cultural hub that might lead the next generation of great artists.

There is already some cool stuff going on in the hood with The Old Town School of Folk Music, The Paper Machete, Lincoln Square Theatre, and now The New Colony. It’s about to blow up and be super groovy.

2. Where is your favorite spot in the area to relax and renew?

I’m back and forth between coffee shops and parks (and trying to sound cool). Welles Park or Gross Park are both awesome places to hang out, toss a sports object, swing on a machine, or just soak up the sun. I also frequent The Grind, if I can find a seat, The Book Cellar, and the sunny Starbucks on the corner of Wilson and Lincoln. To renew, I just go to HarvesTime immediately. That place is unparalleled to any market in the city.

3. What would you change, if anything, about the neighborhood?

I don’t think I’m qualified or smart enough to suggest anything that would fix a neighborhood that’s already got a great thing going on. So, I’m gonna go with free money machines. That would be great. Maybe a couple more venues for performing- theatre and live music. I don’t know, who am I?

4. What’s the goofiest thing you have seen on the corner of Western and Lawrence this summer?

Oh man, so many stories come to mind. For simplicities sake I’ll have to say the droopy Statue of Liberty. Something to the effect of a, “Honk if you love Liberty!” sign being held by a man dressed in a Statue of Liberty outfit with a big foam crown drooping down. It’s some kind of mediocre advertisement for a car insurance company. It definitely does not make you want to honk for Liberty.

5. If a Center Square parent had a kid that wanted to become an actor, what would you tell them?

Help them cultivate a passion for the work and let them fully immerse themselves in the fantastic institutions in Chicago. If they have the support and passion early on then they will develop the drive they need to succeed. Help them to learn an instrument, or take comedy classes. The triple threat will put them leaps and bounds above the rest. Create a dialogue with them about the art so that they learn the value of good performance rather than the shallow pursuit of fame. Encourage them to write. Creative writing goes along way in terms of understanding the world of performance.

But, either let them dive in fully or lead them towards a different career path. The whole backup plan thing just kind of messes with your head. If you are passionate about your work then you truly never have to work a day in your life.

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