Chicago Theater

Chicago Theatre

The Chicago Theatre (Image: CJSMith / CC by/nc/sa)

By Kelly KleimanChicago’s Tony Award Winners

The Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards recognize achievement in Broadway theater, but each year the American Theater Critics Association selects a regional theater company to receive the special Award for Regional Theater Excellence. Chicago is the nation’s only city with five Tony-winning companies.

The authorKelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice.Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, In These Times, Dance Magazine, Huffington Post and on the BBC and Chicago Public Radio. She is also editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management.

Goodman Theatre. The Goodman’s Artistic Director Robert Falls has himself won Tony Awards for directing productions of Death of a Salesman and A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. These productions began their lives in Chicago and went on to New York. Falls participated in Chicago’s 1970s theater renaissance, founding his own company (Wisdom Bridge) in the far north corner of the city before coming downtown to run the Goodman.

Steppenwolf Theatre. Many of the best-known actors to emerge from Chicago are Steppenwolf ensemble members, including John Malkovich (movies including “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Being John Malkovich”), Gary Sinise (“Forrest Gump” and television’s “CSI: New York”), Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”), John Mahoney (“Say Anything,” television’s “Frasier”), William L. Petersen (“CSI”), Kathryn Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and many others.

Steppenwolf began in 1974 performing in a church basement in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Its play “August: Osage County,” written by ensemble member Tracy Letts, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for its Broadway production in 2008, supplementing two earlier Tony Awards for the company’s shows.

The Auditorium Theater at Roosevelt University. (Image: Beth Bullock CC by/sa/nc)

Victory Gardens Theatre. Victory Gardens styles itself “the playwright’s theater” (in contrast to the Goodman, the director’s theater, and Steppenwolf, the actor’s theater). Its playwrights ensemble includes the Pulitzer-Prizewinning playwright Nilo Cruz.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. From its performance origins on the roof of a North Side pub, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre has grown to be one of the continent’s premiere producers of the Shakespearean canon, with its own purpose-built home smack in the middle of the city’s major tourist attraction Navy Pier. In addition to its own performances the company imports productions of Shakespeare from around the world and will represent the United States in the Shakespeare festival during the London Olympics.

Lookingglass Theatre. Another theater with famous ensemble members, including David Schwimmer (television’s “Friends”) and Mary Zimmerman (Tony Award for her production of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” which originated at Lookingglass). The company now makes its home in the Chicago Water Pumping Station, one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire. The reworked space provides plenty of vertical room for Lookingglass’s trademark physical theater, including acrobatics and dance applied to classical texts.

African-American Theater

Chicago has the largest African-American theater community in the United States. Its leading troupes include the Black Ensemble Theatre, which specializes in musical theater and has just opened a new home in the Uptown neighborhood; ETA Creative Arts, a South Side institution entering its fifth decade presenting works of uplift about the African-American experience; MPAACT, a home for contemporary and experimental work; and Congo Square, which produces work of the African diaspora including a number of English and Caribbean playwrights and sponsors Festival on the Square, a showcase of work by other black artists.

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