Victory Gardens Theater
Victory Gardens Theater is a theater company in Chicago, Illinois dedicated to the development and production of new plays and playwrights. The theater company was founded in 1974 when eight Chicago artists, Cecil O'Neal, Warren Casey, Stuart Gordon, Cordis Heard, Roberta Maguire, Mac McGuinnes, June Pyskaček, and David Rasche each fronted $1,000 to start a company outside the Chicago Loop and Gordon donated the light board of his Organic Theater Company. The theater's first production, The Velvet Rose, by Stacy Myatt premiered on October 9, 1974. Since 2011, Chay Yew has continued their mission as the Artistic Director.
Clark Street, 1974
The company’s initial home was the Northside Auditorium Building, 3730 N. Clark Street in Chicago, originally a Swedish social club. Its second production—a country-western musical co-produced with commercial producers called The Magnolia Club by Jeff Berkson, John Karraker and David Karraker—was the company’s first hit. Marcelle McVay was the first Managing Director.
In 1975, director Dennis Začek staged The Caretaker by Harold Pinter, beginning a relationship that led to Začek being named artistic director in 1977.
Key on-going collaborators worked with the company for the first time in the Clark Street space, including actor William L. Petersen, Marcelle McVay, director Sandy Shinner, and playwrights Steve Carter and Jeffrey Sweet. All of these people continue relationships with the company today. McVay, who is married to Dennis Zacek, subsequently became managing director and Sandy Shinner later became associate artistic director.
Body Politic Theater, 1981
In 1981, the success of Sweet’s third play with the company, Ties, led to it being transferred to an extended run in the larger space downstairs at the Body Politic Theater at 2257 N. Lincoln. When Ties closed, downstairs became Victory Gardens’ new home. Upon the demise of the Body Politic company some years later, Victory Gardens acquired the whole building, housing four stages.
In 1989, Začek’s staging of James Sherman’s Beau Jest was such a hit that it moved for a long run off-Broadway and was subsequently staged in hundreds of productions around the world. In 2008, Sherman released a film version of the play starring Lainie Kazan and Seymour Cassel.
In 1996, the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble was created, a coming together of a diverse group of playwrights under a producing organization, virtually unheard of in American resident theaters. Founding members Steve Carter and James Sherman were joined by Claudia Allen, Dean Corrin, Lonnie Carter, Gloria Bond Clunie, John Logan, Nicholas Patricca, Douglas Post, Charles Smith, Jeffrey Sweet and Kristine Thatcher as the founding members of the company’s Playwrights Ensemble.
On June 3, 2001, Victory Gardens received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Winning the award made them one of five Chicago companies to be so honored the other four being the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and Lookingglass Theatre Company.
Move to Biograph Theatre, 2006
In 2006, Victory Gardens underwent a $11.8 million renovation and opened a re-designed Biograph Theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue as its new home. The Biograph, the notorious location of the ambush of gangster John Dillinger, opened with a party hosted by William L. Petersen, who played Dillinger at Victory Gardens at the beginning of his career. The space at 2257 N. Lincoln has been redubbed the Victory Gardens Greenhouse and is mostly rented to a variety of non-profit companies including Shattered Globe and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. In 2008 the Victory Gardens Greenhouse was sold to the Wendy and William Spatz Charitable Foundation. It is now the Greenhouse Theater Center.
In 2010, Victory Gardens named the studio space at the Biograph Theater the Richard Christiansen Theatre in honor of longtime Chicago Tribune theatre critic Richard Christiansen, author of the book A Theatre of Our Own.
Current Leadership with Chay Yew
Chay Yew was named Artistic Director in 2011. Chay is joined by Erica Daniels, who acts as Managing Director of the company.
Current Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble:
- Luis Alfaro
- Philip Dawkins
- Marcus Gardley
- Ike Holter
- Samuel D. Hunter
- Naomi Iizuka
- Tanya Saracho
- Laura Schellhardt
Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble Alumni:
Recent Production History
- Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori (Music) and Lisa Kron (Book & Lyrics) (September 2017)
- Fade by Tanya Saracho (November 2017)
Breach: a manifesto on race in America through the eyes of a black girl recovering from self-hate by Antoinette Nwandu (February 2018) Lettie by Boo Killebrew (April 2018)
- Mies Julie by Yaël Farber (May 2018)
- Hand to God by Robert Askins (September 2016)
- Roz and Ray by Karen Hartman (November 2016)
- A Wonder in My Soul by Marcus Gardley (February 2017)
- Queen by Madhuri Shekar (April 2017)
- Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías (June 2017)
- Sucker Punch by Roy Williams (September 2015)
- Never the Sinner by John Logan (November 2015)
- Cocked by Sarah Gubbins (February 2016)
- Hillary and Clinton by Lucas Hnath (April 2016)
- The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley (June 2016)
National Artistic Advisory Board
Victory Gardens has assembled several national theater artists who serve as artistic advisors and ambassadors. This board includes Luis Alfaro, Nilo Cruz, Eve Ensler, David Henry Hwang, Tony Kushner, John Logan, Craig Lucas, Sandra Oh, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jose Rivera, Anika Noni Rose, Sarah Ruhl, Jeanine Tesori, Paula Vogel, George C. Wolfe, and B.D. Wong.
- Lee, Felicia R. (September 17, 2014). "MacArthur Awards Go to 21 Diverse Fellows". The New York Times.