Lookingglass Theatre Announces “Eastland: An Original Musical Watch Party”

Lookingglass Theatre Company has announced a one-night watch party of Eastland: An Original Musical Watch Party, Thursday, August 20 at 7pm (Central), a free online public fundraiser of the acclaimed production in support of Lookingglass Theatre Company. As the next offering in the Chicago Stories Initiative, Lookingglass invites audiences to revisit a relatively unknown piece of history that unfolded in the heart of the City. After the show, online guests may join creative team members Andrew White and Andre Pluess for a post-show conversation. 

Since Eastland premiered on our stage in 2012, audiences have consistently expressed their desire to see this cathartic show once again. Lookingglass wil revive, for one night only, this original musical about Chicagoans facing an historic challenge with tenacity, bravery, and hope. This virtual event will be streamed on Lookingglass Theatre’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Moored on the Chicago River between Clark St and LaSalle on July 24, 1915, the Eastland began boarding as thousands of Western Electric employees and their families climbed the ramp, excited for their annual company outing. Overflowing with passengers, the boat leaned further and further to port – and was soon tipped entirely on its side. Within minutes, cries filled the air, families were torn apart and unexpected heroes emerged to rescue dozens of Chicagoans from a watery end.  

Lookingglass ensemble member Andrew White resurrects the ghosts of America’s forgotten tragedy in this Lookingglass original musical, with music by ensemble member Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, directed by Amanda Dehnert. Inspired in part by Jay Bonansinga’s “The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy,” Eastland: An Original Musical was the recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. 

Playwright Andrew White notes “Everyone knows about The Titanic, but comparatively few know of the Eastland disaster, even though it took place right downtown Chicago.  One reason may be that the Eastland passengers were working-class, first-generation immigrants who, like today, kept the country going but were too easily overlooked, discarded, and forgotten.”  

Lookingglass artistic director Heidi Stillman says, “So much of the story of the Eastland disaster feels deeply resonant with the current moment: how ordinary people are swept up in an historic event with an uncertain future, how some respond with callousness and others with kindness and courage; and throughout it all, the need to preserve and tell our stories.” 

As with Sunset 1919 , Eastland revisits a piece of Chicago history that is too often forgotten and untold. This public event will be offered to online viewers as a shared celebration of the human spirit—including the everyday heroes who emerge in times of tragedy.   

Like many theaters, Lookingglass’ doors are closed right now, and for the near future, to protect audiences and artists from the threat posed by COVID-19. As a non-profit, currently unable to produce live theater in our space, now— more than ever— Lookingglass looks to rely on donations to survive the crisis. Proceeds from this event will directly support the theater’s Looking Forward Campaign, a fundraising effort to sustain Lookingglass Theatre Company and its artists through the pandemic. 

More information on the Eastland Watch Party can be found here: lookingglasstheatre.org/event/eastland-watch-party. Lead event sponsors for the event include BMO Harris Bank, Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation with Mary Jo and Doug Basler.