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. Mike 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.
That summer, The WSSR Participated in the Rockford Area Arts Council's ArtsPlace program. ArtsPlace is a seven week arts apprenticeship program for Rockford high school students funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Originally intended to be an offshoot of ArtsPlace, the WSSR collaborated with RAAC on the Rockford New Play Festival in August of 2014. Six ten-minute plays were chosen from over 150 submissions and were presented to a capacity audience at The Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center. The event was so successful, the Rockford New Play Festival returned for another successful run in 2015. By 2017, the festival had grown enough to offer playwrights a royalty for the rights to present their work.
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.
In July of that year, while it continued to look for a new performance space, The WSSR produced its sixth play The Chalk Boy by Joshua Conkel in the basement of The Nordlof Center.
Still on the search for a space, The WSSR obtained its 501(c)3 Tax Exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service on July 8, 2016.
In March of 2017, The West Side Show Room sponsored Rufus Cadigan's production of Blunderland, which was presented in the Center for Arts and Spirituality in the basement of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Rockford.
In 2019 The West Side Show Room resumed theatrical productions with the announcement of their first play in the new space: Men On Boats.