Stagestruck City: Chicago’s Theater Tradition and the Birth of the Goodman

Introduction

Despite changes in direction and location, the Goodman Theatre has endured for over 90 years and is now an icon of a flourishing and nationally recognized Chicago theater community. Stagestruck City: Chicago’s Theater Tradition and the Birth of the Goodman explores the theatre’s founding within the context of a remarkable heritage of live performance and popular amusement in the city. The curtain opens to a treasure trove of Second City stage history drawn from the Newberry’s rich nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century collections. Colorful posters, programs, play scripts, letters, drawings, photographs, and prints offer glimpses of the commercial theater world that thrived in the city's downtown before the Great Fire of 1871, re-emerged even more grandly from the rubble, and grew phenomenally into the twentieth century. They also tell the story of alternatives to out-of-town productions performed on commercial stages: plays by Chicago writers; plays written and performed by African Americans; experimental and often amateur plays produced in little theatres; and new and classic works staged by the Goodman Theatre’s professional repertory company.

Kenneth Sawyer Goodman’s vision for a Chicago repertory company, with a dramatic arts school comprising faculty made up of actors in the company, grew out of his participation as actor, scenery and costume designer, playwright, and producer in the little theatres that developed in the city during the early 1900s. A true student of the theater, he thought long and hard about how these often short-lived experiments could be sustained. When Goodman died in the 1918 flu epidemic, the stage was set for his grieving parents to put his ideas into action. Opening in 1925, The Kenneth Sawyer Goodman Memorial Theatre and School of the Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago realized its namesake’s ideas and offered plays that fulfilled his motto: “To restore the old visions, and to win the new.”