Theater in Chicago

Theater in Chicago describes not only theater performed in Chicago, Illinois but also to the movement in Chicago that saw a number of small, meagerly funded companies grow to institutions of national and international significance. Chicago had long been a popular destination for tours sent out from New York managements, as well as an origins of many shows sent to appear worldwide. According to Variety editor Gordon Cox, beside New York City, Chicago has one of the most lively theater scenes in the United States.[1]


Illinois Theatre, Chicago, Illinois
Illinois Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, c.1909

The young settlement of Chicago in 1834 saw its first commercial production by the fire eater and ventriloquist, Mr. Brown. In 1837, the first resident theater company, the short-lived Chicago Theater opened in the Sauganash Hotel. One of the players was then a boy named Joseph Jefferson, who grew to become a very successful comedic actor. Chicago's main theater prize, the Joseph Jefferson award is named after this pioneer. New theaters, including Rice's Theater, owned by an empresario and future mayor, and McVicker's Theater began booking nationally prominent acts beginning in the late 1840s. After the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Scottish-American producer, David Henderson, gave Chicago a national theater reputation at his Opera House and other theaters. Lively foreign language theaters patronised by new immigrants also sprang up.[2]

Hull House, the social settlement house of Chicago, had from the 1890s a theatre program under Laura Dainty Pelham which performed the Chicago premiers of numerous of the new plays of Galsworthy, Ibsen, and George Bernard Shaw. In 1912 Maurice Browne founded the Little Theater in Chicago, crediting Pelham's Hull House influence.[3] This, along with the founding of the Toy Theatre in Boston the same year, is credited with starting the American Little Theatre Movement.[4] The troupes that are commonly regarded as having started the postwar stage renaissance were The Second City, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, St. Nicholas Theatre Company (founded by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy) and The Goodman Theatre.

The Second City, founded in 1959, by Paul Sills and Bernie Sahlins is the country's premiere improvisational theater, and its method of developing material has strongly influenced such playwrights as David Mamet (who was a dishwasher there), Jules Feiffer, Lanford Wilson, Jeffrey Sweet, James Sherman, David Auburn, Mark Hollmann, Greg Kotis and Alan Gross. In 1968 Paul Sills left Second City to open The Body Politic Theater where he created Story Theater. The Kingston Mines Theater, where the musical "Grease" premiered, began shortly afterwards, the two theaters across the street from each other on Lincoln Avenue. In 1970 Sills invited Stuart Gordon and his Organic Theater Company to move to Chicago and begin what he termed "a scene." The success of these three theaters inspired the creation of other small troupes that grew, notably the Steppenwolf Theatre and the Victory Gardens Theater, both of which, along with the Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Lookingglass Theatre Company, were honored with regional theater Tony Awards, the only city in the country to have five theaters so honored.

The Goodman Theatre had existed for a number of years with a reputation as a home for revivals, but the arrival of artistic director William Woodman and his assistant Gregory Mosher changed its profile. When Mosher took over as artistic director he enhanced the Goodman's reputation largely due to the work of David Mamet whose play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" had been Mamet's first success at the Organic Theater Company in 1974. Mosher later produced and directed American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross at the Goodman. The Goodman Theatre also was where Hurlyburly by David Rabe premiered under the direction of Chicago improvisational theater alum Mike Nichols.

After Mosher moved to New York, the artistic directorship went to Robert Falls, former director of the Wisdom Bridge Theatre. Falls is particularly known for his ongoing collaboration with actor Brian Dennehy, including productions of Death of a Salesman and Long Day's Journey Into Night that went to Broadway and won Tony Awards for both of them.

Briefly, The Goodman Theatre is known as the house of directors; Steppenwolf Theatre is known as the house of actors, Victory Gardens Theater as the house of writers; The Second City as the house of improvisation, and Organic Theater Company and later Lookingglass Theatre Company as the home of original image-based productions. Several leading directors associated with these troupes -- Dennis Zacek, Mary Zimmerman and Frank Galati—are alumni of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. In addition, writers such as Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Tribune, Newcity's senior editor Nate Lee and Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times helped encourage Chicagoans to come out and appreciate live theater.[5][6]

Since 1990, Performink has been an industry newspaper for Chicago theater, including show openings and reviews, audition listings, and industry and union news for Chicago actors, directors, dancers, designers, and other theater professionals.

The Drury Lane Theatres were a group of six theaters in the Chicago suburbs founded by Tony DeSantis. He began producing plays in 1949 in a tent adjacent to his Martinique Restaurant to attract customers, then built his first theater in 1958.[7]


Chicago is home to more than 200 small theatre companies such as A Red Orchid Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, Redtwist Theater, Trap Door Theatre, The Conspirators and TUTA Theatre. Some have their own performance venues, while many perform in untraditional theatre spaces such as storefronts or bars, or any number of studio or black box theatres around Chicago.

Touring productions also visit the city regularly, mainly playing at the big theaters in the Chicago Theatre District in the Loop.

Following in the tradition of The Second City and Steppenwolf, many of these companies, including American Blues Theater, Stage Left Theatre, The Factory Theater, Organic Theater Company, and Lifeline Theatre, are ensemble-based. An ensemble-based company is formed of a group of artists (actors, directors, designers, playwrights, etc.) who work collaboratively to create each production.

Chicago theater has a long record of introducing new plays and playwrights. Many of the theaters in Chicago have new play workshop programs to cultivate work from current playwrights. Chicago Dramatists, which was begun by a group of ex-students of a playwriting workshop at Victory Gardens Theater, has an ongoing program of developing new writers, most notably Rebecca Gilman.[8]

The Victory Gardens Theater plays host to a dozen resident playwrights and most of the productions there are premieres of their plays, a number of which have gone on to productions elsewhere. Some of these include James Sherman's Beau Jest, Jeffrey Sweet's The Action Against Sol Schumann, Kristine Thatcher's Voice of Good Hope, Charles Smith's Jelly Belly, Steve Carter's Pecong, Claudia Allen's Deed of Trust, and Douglas Post's Earth and Sky.

Stage Left Theatre's Downstage Left program has cultivated nationally known playwrights Mia McCullough, David Rush, Margaret Lewis and David Alan Moore.

Theatre Building Chicago formerly had an ongoing program for the development of new musicals until being taken over by Stage 773 in 2010.

Chicago dell'Arte is local company currently creating and producing new works of Commedia dell'arte. The Company also sponsors and in-house troupe known as Le Corone Rosse.

Polish language productions for Chicago's large Polish speaking population can be seen at the historic Gateway Theatre in Jefferson Park.

Oracle Theatre offers public access theater in Chicago sustained by the donations, where the seats are free and open to anyone.[9]

Chicago is home to both non-union and union theater companies. Union shows adhere to strict contracts for all artists involved. Artistic trade unions such as Actors' Equity, commonly known simply as "Equity," and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society bargain for contracts guaranteeing minimum wages and other rights involved with the rehearsal and production process. Shows may run for a varying number of weeks, depending on ticket sales. Musicals tend to have longer runs than do stage plays. The majority of theaters in Chicago are located on the city's North Side and in the Loop.

Both Actor's Equity and non-Equity productions in the Chicago area receive honors from the Joseph Jefferson (Jeff) Awards, awarded by a panel of volunteer judges.

See also


  1. ^ Cox, Gordon. "'Hamilton' to Play Chicago in Long-Term Run Starting in 2016". Variety. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  2. ^ Adler, Tony (2005). "Theater". The Encyclopedia of Chicago (online ed.). Chicago: Chicago Historical Society and Newberry Library.
  3. ^ Peggy Glowacki and Julia Hendry, Images of America: Hull House, Arcadia Publishing, Chicago, Illinois, 2004 p. 34, ISBN 0-7385-3351-3
  4. ^ Marcia Noe, "The Women of Provincetown, 1915-1922/Composing Ourselves: The Little Theatre Movement and the American Audience" (review) American Drama, Winter 2005
  5. ^ Hieggelke, Brian (2009-06-05). "Back through the Lookingglass". Newcity Stage. Retrieved 2010-10-31. ... Newcity’s first senior editor Nate Lee penned a cover story that November, as the production moved from the confines of Chicago Filmmakers to the larger space inhabited by Remains Theatre. In the process of reporting, he insisted I see it and took me along. It was unforgettable, and probably had much to do with our growing and sustained commitment to theater coverage. (Though in fairness, Nate’s passion for Chicago theater, or theatre, as he insisted, from our very first issues set the pace from day one.)
  6. ^ Lee, Nate (2009-11-12). "Romper Room: Back flips, harem girls and the secret of life from the Lookingglass Theatre Company". Newcity Stage. Retrieved 2010-10-31. The critics agree, as they say. If I were to add my own voice to the shouts of praises for Lookingglass Theatre and their current hit play, “Arabian Nights,” I believe I’d use ancient words like “kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria.”
  7. ^ "Anthony De Santis, 93, Theater Owner, Dies". The New York Times. June 9, 2007.
  8. ^ Centerstage Media, LLC. "Who's Who Chicago". Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  9. ^ Walsh, Katy (27 April 2011). "Review "WOYZECK": Bi-Level Imagery Amazingly Gripping". Retrieved 3 May 2011.

External links

1990 Mr. Olympia

The 1990 Mr. Olympia contest was an IFBB professional bodybuilding competition held on September 15, 1990, at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

1992 Ms. Olympia

The 1992 Ms. Olympia contest was an IFBB professional bodybuilding competition was held on October 17, 1992, at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, Illinois. It was the 13th Ms. Olympia competition held.

1996 Mr. Olympia

The 1996 Mr. Olympia contest was an IFBB professional bodybuilding competition held on September 21, 1996, at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.

Central Music Hall (Chicago)

Not to be confused with a different Central Music Hall in ChicagoCentral Music Hall (1879–1900) was a mixed-use commercial building and theater in Chicago, situated on the southeast corner of State and Randolph Streets. It was designed by celebrated German-born American architect Dankmar Adler. It was the first important building designed by the famous architect, in which he made initial use of his knowledge of acoustics. The building was demolished in 1900, around the same time Adler died, in order to build the Marshall Field & Company store, now Macy's.

DGUSA Untouchable

DGUSA Untouchable was a professional wrestling event series produced by Dragon Gate USA from 2009-2011. The events involved different wrestlers from pre-existing scripted feuds and storylines. Wrestlers were portrayed as either villains or heroes in the scripted events that build tension and culminate into a wrestling match or series of matches.

As part of Dragon Gate USA's talent exchange agreement with independent promotion, Chikara, wrestlers from either company can work in either vicinity.

At Enter The Dragon/Open the Historic Gate two months prior, Mike Quackenbush, after competing in an eight-man tag team match, came to the ring following his match to give a monologue, known as a promo, to the live crowd in attendance, only to be interrupted by rival from DGUSA, Yamato, leading to an assault, which saw Quackenbush's ally, Jigsaw, come to his aide, which prompted Gran Akuma, to interfere himself, aiding Yamato; this prompted a tag team match between the two respective alliances at Untouchable.

Another match announced for the show was independent wrestler Bryan Danielson against Dragon Gate Open the Dream Gate Champion Naruki Doi, who is often deemed the "ace" of the company's Japanese counterpart. This would be one of Danielson's last matches on the independent circuit before signing with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Conversely, Brian Kendrick was recently released from WWE, and made one of his first appearances back on the independent circuit against CIMA.

Dick's Picks Volume 26

Dick's Picks Volume 26 is the 26th installment of the Grateful Dead's archival series. It was recorded on April 26, 1969 at the Electric Theater in Chicago, Illinois and on April 27, 1969 at the Labor Temple in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It contains a rare cover of the Jimmy Reed song, "I Know It's a Sin".

Greenland (1988 play)

Greenland is a 1988 play by Howard Brenton. It is a neo-Brechtian epic psychodrama with many actors, props and scene changes, on which the writer worked for seven years. It is the last of Brenton's three Utopian plays, following Sore Throats and Bloody Poetry.Howard Brenton's Greenland is not to be confused with the 2011 play of the same name co-authored by Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne.

The play opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 26 May 1988 and played there for a season. Its United States premiere was at the Famous Door Theater in Chicago in January 1994.

Happy Happy Good Show

Happy Happy Good Show was an improvisational comedy revue held at the Victory Gardens Studio Theater in Chicago during the summer of 1988. The cast and writers were largely made up of writers on strike from Saturday Night Live after the 1987–1988 season. The show is most notable for showcasing the performance talents of Bob Odenkirk, Robert Smigel, and Conan O'Brien, as the three had previously only showcased their writing talents. The revue was directed by Mark Nutter.

Video clips of Happy Happy Good Show were shown on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 2006, when the program was taped for a week in Chicago.


Hughie is a short two-character play by Eugene O’Neill set in the lobby of a small hotel on a West Side street in midtown New York during the summer of 1928. The play is essentially a long monologue delivered by a small-time hustler named Erie Smith to the hotel’s new night clerk Charlie Hughes, lamenting how Smith’s luck has gone bad since the death of Hughie, Hughes' predecessor. O’Neill wrote Hughie in 1942, although it did not receive its world premiere until 1958, when it was staged in Sweden at the Royal Dramatic Theatre with Bengt Eklund as Erie Smith. It was first staged in English at the Theater Royal in Bath, England in 1963 with Burgess Meredith as Erie.The play was first presented on Broadway in 1964 starring Jason Robards as Erie and directed by José Quintero. Robards received a Tony Award nomination for his performance, and revived the production in 1975 in Berkeley, California with Jack Dodson as Charlie Hughes. Robards and Dodson returned to perform it at the Hyde Park Festival Theatre in 1981 and the Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island in 1991, also televising their performances in 1984 for PBS.

Hughie has been produced on Broadway three times since the 1964 Robards/Quintero production. In 1975 it was paired in repertory with another short play, Duet, this time with Ben Gazzara as Erie (who also won a Tony Award nomination for the role), and in 1996 by the Circle in the Square Theatre in a production directed by and starring Al Pacino. The designers for that production were David Gallo (sets), Donald Holder (lights), Candice Donnelly (costumes) and John Gromada (sound). The Goodman Theater in Chicago put on the play in January and February 2010, with Brian Dennehy in the title role. The production was variously well-reviewed, with emphasis on Dennehy's strong performance. The play was revived in 2013 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. with Richard Schiff as Erie. It returned for a fourth time to Broadway with Forest Whitaker as Erie Smith in February 2016. The 2016 revival was directed by Michael Grandage with Darren Bagert as a lead producer. The production had a shortened run of 55 performances and closed on March 27, 2016.Hughie has been televised at least four times in addition to the 1984 Robards/Dodson version: in 1959 (for Swedish television), 1960 (Norwegian television), 1963 (Dutch television) and 1983 (French television).

Kaleidoscope World Tour

The Kaleidoscope World Tour was a Tiësto tour in support of his album Kaleidoscope. The tour will include 150 dates, spanning 5 continents.On October 31, 2009, for his Halloween show at Congress Theater in Chicago, Tiesto dressed as the hometown Chicago Bears NFL quarterback Jay Cutler for his entire four-and-a-half-hour set.

Live at the Regal

Live at the Regal is a 1965 live album by American blues guitarist and singer B.B. King. It was recorded on November 21, 1964 at the Regal Theater in Chicago. The album is widely heralded as one of the greatest blues albums ever recorded and is #141 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2005, Live at the Regal was selected for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in the United States.

Some musicians, including Eric Clapton, John Mayer and Mark Knopfler, have acknowledged using this album as a primer before performances.

The album was included in Robert Christgau's "Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings—published in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)—and in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Live in Chicago (Panic at the Disco album)

Live in Chicago is a live album and concert film by American rock band Panic at the Disco. Released on December 2, 2008, it documents the band's performances at the Congress Theater in Chicago, Illinois, on May 23 and 24 on the 2008 Honda Civic Tour. At the time of its release the band dropped the exclamation mark from its band name.

Love-Lies-Bleeding (play)

Love-Lies-Bleeding is the title of a three-act play by Don DeLillo. It is his third play and had a world-premiere reading May 2, 2005, at Boise Contemporary Theater in Boise, Idaho, directed by DeLillo himself. Subsequently the play has been produced at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and again in Boise at Boise Contemporary Theater. The international premiere was July 7, 2007 in Sydney, Australia with Lee Lewis directing acclaimed Australian actress Robyn Nevin in the Sydney Theatre Company production.

Moe. Sells Out

This was a promotional tie-in with the jam band moe.'s 1998 album Tin Cans & Car Tires. It was recorded live on July 17, 1998 at the Vic Theater in Chicago, Illinois. It is currently out of print. The album title is a take off from The Who's 1967 album The Who Sell Out.

Octane Twisted

Octane Twisted is a live album released by Porcupine Tree on 5 November 2012. The album contains a live performance of the band's 2009 album The Incident in its entirety recorded at the Riviera Theater in Chicago on 30 April 2010. The second CD contains other tracks also recorded in Chicago (CD 2, tracks 1–4), along with 3 songs from the band's final show at Royal Albert Hall in London on 14 October 2010 (CD 2, tracks 5–7). The initial pressing also included a DVD containing a video of the Incident set.

Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Remy Bumppo Theatre Company is a theater in Chicago known for productions from playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw and Tom Stoppard. Nick Sandys serves as the company's Artistic Director.

The Final Riot!

The Final Riot! is the second official live album by American rock band Paramore and was released on November 25, 2008 with a bonus DVD containing the full live concert plus behind-the-scenes footage.

The DVD was filmed on August 12, 2008, at the Congress Theater in Chicago on The Final Riot! Summer Tour. It contains a documentary entitled "40 Days of Riot!", showing the band on tour. It is available in a standard and limited deluxe edition, which includes a 36-color-page booklet of the tour, along with another documentary, 40 MORE Days of Riot!.

The Playground Theater

The Playground Theater, founded in 1997, remains the only continuously operating non-profit theater in Chicago dedicated to an art form invented in Chicago - Modern Theatrical Improvisation. The Playground was founded in 1997 by its original member companies.

The Playground theater exists as a non-profit co-op, governed by its member companies, or "teams." The Playground currently is home to over 12 house teams in addition to guest teams, and members of the theater's Incubator Program.

Located at 3209 N. Halsted Street, The Playground features performances every night.

From time to time the theater holds auditions for its signature Incubator Program, in which applicants are judged on their skills at scene-based improvised comedy. Those who pass are assembled into Incubator Teams with a certain guaranteed number of shows on The Playground's stage. The newly hatched teams are then free to govern their own fates, hire their own coaches, and generally pursue a career as an improv ensemble. Some Incubator teams eventually wind up applying for membership status with the theater.The Playground launched Playground Theatricals in 2015 with the production of Don Chipotle, an original play written by Juan Villa. Playground Theater was created to provide a venue for Chicago’s improvisers to have more artistic control over the work they produce. At the end of 2016, The Playground Theater announced the launch of a new program for writers, directors and performers called MOSAIC. MOSAIC which will focus on artists exploring individual identity and celebrating uniqueness. MOSIAC accepted a 7-month MOSAIC writer and production residency will run in association with The Department of Cultural Affairs at the Chicago Cultural Center. MOSAIC will begin accepting submissions for COMEDY and THEATRICAL productions in 2016.

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