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Chicago on the World’s Stage

Today is World Theatre Day, which unites theatre professionals, theatre organizations, theatre universities, and theatre lovers all over the world. First celebrated in 1962, the day is a celebration for those who can see the value and importance of the art form “theatre” and “acts as a wake-up call for governments, politicians, and institutions which have not yet recognized its value to the people and to the individual and have not yet realized its potential for economic growth.”

Chicago’s oldest and largest not-for-profit theater originated in 1922, when the parents of Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, a Chicago playwright who died of influenza while in the army in World War I, sent a letter to the trustees of the Art Institute proposing a theater at the museum as a memorial to their son. Three years later, a professional repertory company opened the auditorium, designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw.

After founding director Thomas Wood Stevens left in 1930, the professional company was dissolved, but the school of drama Stevens had established was continued and student productions took over the Goodman stage. In 1957, however, the newly hired John Reich, a Viennese teacher and director, mingled professional with student actors; and in 1969, Reich set up a fully professional theater company. In 1977, having divorced itself from the school (which merged with DePaul University), the Goodman formed its own board, the Chicago Theatre Group.

The era of William Woodman, Reich’s successor in 1973, was marked by the emergence of Chicago playwright David Mamet, whose American Buffalo had its premiere at Goodman’s Stage 2 in 1975 in a production directed by Gregory Mosher, who would succeed Woodman as artistic director in 1978. In 1984 the Mamet-Mosher collaboration culminated with the American premiere of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Glengarry Glen Ross.

With Mosher’s departure to New York, artistic leadership in 1986 went to Robert Falls, a star of the city’s burgeoning off-Loop theater scene. Highlights of his tenure include a 1992 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater, a landmark 1998 revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the Goodman’s move in 2000 from the Art Institute to a new complex on Dearborn Street, being ranked by Time magazine as the “#1 Theater in the US” in 2003, and another Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for Ruined.

In the Digital Chicago project Two Short Plays by Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, get to know the life of the Chicago arts patron and playwright with a digital edition of some of his texts, including The Wonder Hat and Back of the Yards.

Clockwise from top left: The Goodman Theatre’s first location at 159 E. Monroe St., Chicago, c. 1930. An inscription on the lintel reads “To restore the old visions and to win the new.” CHM, ICHi-080646; Raymond W. Trowbridge, photographer. Cast, crew, and guests celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Goodman Theatre with a live performance and cake, 159 E. Monroe St., Chicago, June 2, 1975. ST-20003192-0009, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM. The Goodman Theatre Center under construction at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Randolph Streets, Chicago, October 1, 1999. CHM, ICHi-065051; John McCarthy, photographer. Tennessee Williams at a rehearsal of his play A House Not Meant to Stand at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, March 19, 1981. ST-11003176-0010, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM 

Digital Chicago

Developed in partnership with Lake Forest College, Digital Chicago is a collection of digital projects about forgotten or at-risk aspects of Chicago’s history and culture. The scholarly work draws heavily from the Chicago History Museum’s vast research collection, which encompasses a broad category of documents, images, publications, and printed materials.

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago's Stories
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