03.10.2010 - Columbia College To Host First Chicago Theater History Symposium



Chicago: Theatre Capital of America Past, Present, and Future

A scholarly symposium presented by the Theatre Department of Columbia College Chicago –  the largest and most diverse private arts and media college in the nation with more than 120 academic programs and nearly 12,500 students.

Dates: May 18-22, 2011

Place: Columbia College, Chicago, IL


For the poet Carl Sandburg it was the 'City of the Big Shoulders.' Architect Daniel Burnham called it 'the Paris of the Prairies.' That mix of raw energy and refined aestheticism makes Chicago one of the world's great cities—and

 the current theatre capital of America.”

                                                      Michael Billington, The Guardian, 2004




The rise of Chicago as a center of theatrical creativity over the past half-century is a signal development in the history of modern theatre.  From the development of Second City-style improv and sketch comedy to the Story Theatre experiments of Paul Sills, from the intimacy of Chamber Theatre literary adaptation to the dazzling epic visions of Frank Galati and Mary Zimmerman, from bold reimaginings of classic American and Shakespearean drama to the development of risky new work by emerging writers, from the freewheeling fantasy of Stuart Gordon's Organic Theatre to the gritty naturalism of David Mamet and Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago's distinctively ensemble-focused theatre movement has had an extraordinary impact nationally and globally.


Professional non-profit theatre in Chicago continues to grow and diversify, as new generations of artists build on the work of their predecessors while incorporating rapidly evolving new technologies and international influences. However, the causes, nature, and effects of the Chicago theatre phenomenon are little written about by scholars, teachers, and even theatre professionals. Moreover, because the founders of the earliest theatres in the "off-Loop theatre movement" of the past half-century are now in their sixties and seventies, the days approach rapidly when scholars will no longer have opportunities to learn directly from the founders’ experiences. The archival, theoretical, and pedagogical foundations for mature, useful scholarship about Chicago theatre must still be built, and the future of Chicago theatre as a force in world theatre must be charted. 


By creating the first forum for scholars from Chicago and the Midwest, around the U.S., and overseas to consider these and related issues, Columbia College Chicago's 2011 symposium on "Sustaining Chicago Theatre: Past, Present, and Future" can significantly influence scholarship about--and the future of--the performing arts on local, national and global scales.


Request for Proposals


The organizing committee invites 300-word abstracts (including up to 10 low res images or up to 2 minutes video where relevant) addressing the past, present, and/or future of professional theatre in Chicago in relation, but not limited, to the following topics (other side):


1.       Theory and Praxis; Workshops; Master Classes (acting, auditioning, casting, directing, designing, dramaturgy, ensemble, improvisation, narrative, writing, criticism);  

2.       Education, Training, and Access (schools, colleges, programs, teachers, economic strata, social circles, professional networks);

3.       Classical and Contemporary (Shakespeare, Loop, off-Loop, fringe, mainstream, musicals, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, abilities, presence/absence of international influences);  

4.       Management and Development (funding, patronage, boards of directors, unions, producing, marketing, sales, social media, audience development, government relations, public policy).


Proposals from emerging scholars and artists and attendance by graduate students are particularly encouraged. 

Proposals should include the following items:

1.       Your name, title, status (e.g., artist, faculty, independent scholar, management, student) and academic and/or professional affiliation (if applicable).


2.       Your contact information (particularly email).


3.       The title and abstract for your paper, panel, workshop, master class. Please limit abstracts to 300 words. Proposals for panels of two or more scholars and for workshops and master classes with multiple leaders are welcome. Please include the above information for each participant.


4.       The technical requirements of your presentation.


Deadline for submissions: September 1, 2010


In your e-mail, please write “Sustaining Chicago Theatre Proposal” in the subject heading and in the body of the message include the title of the proposal, your name, address, telephone, email address and affiliation (if applicable). 

Receipt of your submission will be confirmed via email and you will be informed of the committee’s decisions by November 15, 2010.

E-mail proposals to: chitheatresymposium@colum.edu


For information on the conference see http://www.colum.edu/TheatreSymposium. You may also contact Albert Williams, Senior Lecturer, Columbia College Theatre Department, at 312-369-6141, awilliams@colum.edu, or Dr. John Green, chair of the Columbia College Theatre Department, at 312-369-6160, jgreen@colum.edu.

 Date of issue: March 3, 2010

04.23.2009 - Two New Entries to Database

Tara Mallen and David Zak have kindly provided biographical information to the database.Reporting for these entries was done by Tabbi Koller, a student in the Chicago theater history class of Professor Andy White at Valparaiso University
02.25.2009 - Molly J. Neylan's Entry in Database Completed

Molly J. Neylan, co-founder of GroundUp Theater, has provided biographical information for her entry in the project's database. The information was collected by Alison Wojahn, a graduate student and member of Prof. R. Andrew White's class, Theatre 390-B Chicago Theater. This term, 17 students in the class are  collecting biographical information about the founders of Chicago's professional non-profit theaters. Professor White is a member of the project's advisory board.
01.17.2009 - Redmoon Artistic Director Resigns to Refocus His Energies

Jim Lasko, Redmoon Theater's artistic director for 17 years, announced his resignation on January 13. In his announcement he assessed Redmoon's mission:

"My travels have revealed to me the power of public art and I realize now that advocacy for accessible art and activating public space has been a large part of my drive with Redmoon.  I hope to continue my work as an advocate for public art.  I don't know what form that will take but it is a conviction that I must act upon.  If the foundation of democracy is a healthy exchange among its citizens, then there is no more important medium than public space, a place where people from diverse backgrounds and situations gather to witness their commonality.  The vitality of that essential democratic experience, one constantly undermined by commercial interests, can be best assured by high quality, well conceived art.  I want to promote that exchange however I can.
"Redmoon was founded in 1990 to promote a unique brand of performance committed to the highest quality artistic product and to civic well-being.  Pulling with equal conviction from contemporary art forms and ancient theatrical forms, Redmoon has created a performance style that is equal parts pageantry, gadgetry, acrobatics, and ephemera.  Over the past decade we have garnered international attention for our theatrical productions like Hunchback, and our site specific performances which have been seen everywhere from the Jackson Park Lagoon to the facade of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.  Over recent years Redmoon expand its International profile, participating in projects in Holland, Ireland, and Australia."

To read the full statement, click here

06.28.2008 - Ira Nadel's Biography of Mamet Published by Palgrave Macmillan

Ira Nadel, Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, and a member this project's advisory board, has written a biography titled David Mamet: A Life in the Theater. The book has been published in North America and the United Kingdom by Palgrave Macmillan.

The subtitle, Nadel writes in his introduction, is "misleading. While it summarizes [Mamet's] commitment to the theatre world, it discounts his efforts in other genres. A striking feature of Mamet's long career is his sucess with forms outside the theatre, while never really leaving it. . . . The challenge is to balance artistic clarity with moral honesty, which occasionally requires the use of the con. Mamet's artistic diversity is not so much the evolution of an aesthetic as the need to try something new, one of the themes of this narrative."

Mamet's quest, ballasted by a strong work ethic, has deep roots in his Chicago experiences where theatre was a "'popular entertainment. It was very close to blue-collar amusement, like going to see the Cubs,' . . . The theatre was both a spectacle and a show and rarely thought of as intellectual as it was in New York . . . Similarly, playwriting, like acting, is no mystery for Mamet. It emanates out of the Chicago tradition of 'writing as a legitimate day-to-day skill, like bricklaying . . . you need a script. Well, hell, figure out how to write one.'"

At the end of the introduction, Nadel suggests the challenges he faced while further defining the book's aims: "Mamet is keenly aware of what theatre can reveal, though he rarely permits self-exposure on any personal level. He protects his private life partly because he believes 'biography makes rotten drama' and partly because he distrusts it. People get things wrong. Facts go astray. Events are forgotten. But at the end of his newest collection, Bambi vs. Godzilla, he addresses the artistic responsibility of biography, explaining that it is difficult to 'engross the audience . . . as the end is known. It calls for greater skill and imagination on the part of the writer in finding an internal story within the generally known historical moment.' This is not quite a call for psychoanalysis but the need to identify inner stages of development that unite outward events. . . . The aim of this account is to align the outer story of Mamet's life with the inner, while not losing sight of his primary rule for good writing: telling the audience 'WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.'"

The director of this project extends congratulations and thanks to Professor Nadel on the successful completion of this challenging task. The book achieves it aims and advances our understanding of both Mamet's artistry and the development of theater in Chicago.

06.24.2008 - Jeffrey Sweet's Plays Published by Northwestern University Press

Jeffrey Sweet, playwright and member of this project's advisory board, will celebrate the publication of an anthology of his plays with a reception on Monday, June 30, at the Victory Gardens Biograph space, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue, in Chicago. Sweet is a member of the Playwright's Ensemble at Victory Gardens which will produce his new play, Class Dismissed, next March.

The title of the anthology is The Value of Names and Other Plays. Northwestern University Press's website says: "The title work, first mounted in 1982, is a comedy-drama about the aftermath of the blacklist whose continued relevance makes it a frequently produced play today. The family drama Porch suggests larger social changes through the interaction of a small-town shopkeeper and his defiant daughter. The lauded American Enterprise, set in the Chicago of the robber barons, is a song-filled true story about a millionaire whose stubborn idealism leads to disaster. Stay Till Morning is a rueful comedy about sex and accommodation in the Florida Keys. The three plays that grew out of his fascination with the effects of World War II, Berlin 45, Court-Martial at Fort Devens,­ and The Action Against Sol Schumann dramatize the ways in which that conflict transformed private fates. Each script is accompanied by an extended introduction from the playwright as well as complete performance notes."  To order a copy, click on this link: http://nupress.northwestern.edu/title.cfm?ISBN=0-8101-2395-9

The director of this project is glad to see American Enterprise included. The "robber baron" is George Pullman and the play concerns the Pullman strike and the events leading up to it and its aftermath. It premiered at the Organic Theater on March 6, 1991, directed by Wesley Savick, with Gary Houston as Pullman. It was orginally published in 1991 by Chicago Plays, Inc (isbn 1-56850-012-2). Based on Sweet's research, and including his songs, the play successfully braids history, music, and action into a work of theatrical art that deserves a much wider audience.

06.24.2008 - Theatre and Dance Foundation Website Launched

Albert Williams, drama critic for The Reader and advisory board member for this project, is rallying support for the founding of a Chicago Performing Arts Museum. Williams has been been encouraging this project for more than a year but now has placed the issue squarely before the theater community via his blog, On Stage. Click on this link to read Williams' case and the numerous comments it drew from a cross-section of the theater community. http://blogs.chicagoreader.com/onstage/2008/06/06/chicago-performing-arts-museum-why-not/

On June 20, Williams posted an update: "A public 'town meeting' of persons interested in the creation of a museum and archive devoted to Chicago theater and dance will take place Monday, August 4, at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport. Contact Jason Epperson, jason@eppersontheatrical.com, for more information.

On June 27, Williams announced the launch of the website for the Chicagoland Theater and Dance Foundation, organized by Jason Epperson. The website says that " mission of the foundation is to fund the preservation of Chicago's rich and diverse performing arts history, with the specific goal of developing a performing arts museum and archive in downtown chicago." The website's address is http://chicagoperformingarts.org/default.aspx

Check Williams' blog regularly for news about Chicago Theater.

06.02.2008 - Paul Sills Dies

Paul Sills, son of Viola Spolin and a pioneer of improvisational theater, has died at age 80.  Links to obituaries can be found under Sills' name in the database.

Please use this site as a place to send information about:

1) the lives of the founders of Chicago theatres;

2) changes in theatre ensembles and artistic philosophies;

3) changes in address and specifications of performance spaces;

4) the locations of archival materials, including, but not limited to, manuscripts, prompt books, notes, drafts, design sketches and plans, props, images, sound recordings, subscriber lists, board minutes and related administrative records and correspondence, however ephemeral and insignificant they may seem now. Any document or object associated with your work, especially if its provenance and context is well documented, potentially lights the paths of historians and teachers. Please see the Bibliography section for suggestions on developing plans for your archives.

Updated: 8/27/07 

06.25.2007 - Kapfer Research Award Supports Chicago Theatre History Project

The research supporting the Chicago Theatre History Project is made possible in part by the $10,000 Philip and Miriam Kapfer Endowed Faculty Research Award conferred by the Creative Work and Research Committee of Valparaiso University.
06.25.2007 - A Fragment of Philosophy

"What is done interests me more than what is thought or supposed. Every fact is impure, but every fact contains in it the juice of life. Every fact is a clod, from which may grow an amaranth or a palm." --Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes in 1843