It’s said the theater is proudly populated by hot dogs, but no one compares to Gorilla Tango Theatre founder Dan Abbate. Aside from running venues in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood and Skokie, he also holds the official Guinness World Record for the largest commercially available hotdog — which weighs 7 pounds and is appropriately named “The Big Hot Dog.”
“My family has always been in business; manufacturing in metals to be precise,” says Abbate, who has Sicilian lineage on his father’s side. (His mother is of German-Hungarian ancestry.) “The businesses they ran were in very competitive fields. They had to be smart to survive and grow. Theater, movies and entertainment are no different. My experience growing up in manufacturing allowed me to create and grow Gorilla Tango as one of the few successful for-profit theaters and entertainment companies in Chicago.”
Abbate, 32, says his Italian roots helped make him a well-rounded entrepreneur: “Growing up with Italians, my father and grandfather always stressed the importance of family, loyalty and honor in your personal and business dealings. I continue to conduct myself with these ideals today.”
Family also sparked his love of theater, which dates to childhood. “I started acting when I was 9 years old,” he recalls. “I did the agents, commercials and TV sort of route for a few years. Then I went to college at 15 and majored in theater.”
Though he changed majors to philosophy (“I found the world of academic theater a bit of a bore”), the theater bug never left his system. Abbate did improv training after college and still takes classes when time allows. “I really enjoyed improv,” he notes. “It was a great excuse to have a good time with friends, and share those good times with an audience.”
Trained like a veteran performer and seasoned like a successful businessman, Abbate definitely brings something fresh to the table. Gorilla Tango Theatre produces a wide range of live entertainment, including parody burlesque shows. A lot of the shows are racy and profane, and some feature nudity, but Abbate is comfortable in his own skin.
“Average folks who don’t regularly come to the great shows produced in Chicago might have a skewed picture of theatre as an entertainment option,” Abbate says. “Its not all Shakespeare and musicals. We build shows that are a ‘fun night out.’ I like to put up any show that is really goofy and fun, and has a high probability of mainstream appeal and thus profitability.”
That mindset casts Abbate for the role he was likely born to play: executive producer. “In the last few years, I’ve take a more active role in shaping a variety of different shows and films by putting in place structures, financing and staff to directly oversee the execution of these projects.”
That means you’ll soon see Gorilla Tango shows in New Orleans, Los Angles, New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Richmond (followed by London and Toronto if all goes well). So believe the Chief Gorilla and Big Hot Dog Honcho when he predicts: “Gorilla Tango is the Disney of the future. We’re building an infrastructure through which creative people can profitably create, and find an audience in a democratized, Internet-enabled world.”
For more information on Gorilla Tango Theatre, visit gorillatango.com.