The only constant is change. That’s certainly true of Chicago-area theater, which continues to grapple with the lingering effects of the COVID-19-related shutdown along with closures and leadership changes that mark every year.
In March, Lincolnshire’s Marriott Theatre witnessed the end of an era with the departure of executive producer Terry James and artistic director Aaron Thielen after 40 years and 27 years respectively. That same month, Aurora’s Paramount Theatre inaugurated a new era with the launch of its Bold Series in the newly renovated 165-seat Copley Theatre.
Marriott Theatre veterans Peter Marston Sullivan, left, and Peter Blair took over the theater’s artistic director and executive producer roles in 2022. – Courtesy of Brandon Dahlquist Photography Meet the new boss
• Marriott named two veterans — associate producer Peter Blair and associate artistic director Peter Marston Sullivan — to succeed James and Thielen. Blair (with the theater since 2005) and Sullivan (who started at Marriott in 2004) took over as executive producer and artistic director respectively, further cementing a professional partnership that began 20 years ago at Chicago’s now defunct Bailiwick Repertory Theatre. Additionally, Marriott’s Patti Garwood, the area’s longest serving music supervisor and conductor, retired in June after 28 years, 158 shows and more than 11,000 performances.
• Rob Gretta, former artistic director of Nebraska’s Post Playhouse, took over the artistic leadership at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in March following a six-month search. Less than five months later, Gretta resigned for personal reasons, according to a statement by Metropolis board members.
• Writers Theatre named Seattle Rep’s Braden Abraham as its new artistic director. Abraham takes over in February.
• Goodman Theatre welcomed one of its own as its new artistic director. Susan V. Booth, Goodman’s director of new play development from 1993 to 2001, served for 21 years as the artistic director for Atlanta’s Tony-Award-winning Alliance Theatre Company. Goodman’s first female artistic director in its 97-year history, Booth succeeded Robert Falls, who departed in September after 35 years at the artistic helm.
by signing up you agree to our terms of service Former Goodman Theatre director of new play development Susan V. Booth succeeded outgoing artistic director Robert Falls in October.
• Another Goodman alum, Marissa Lynn Ford, the former associate managing director, took over as executive director of the League of Chicago Theaters, which represents more than 250 theaters in the city and suburbs.
Hail and farewell
• First Folio Theatre executive director David Rice announced the Oak Brook theater will cease operations in April 2023, earlier than previously announced. Rice, who co-founded First Folio in 1996 with his late wife, director Alison C. Vesely, moved up the date for personal reasons.
• Chicago Shakespeare Theater founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines, who staged CST’s inaugural production of “Henry V” on the roof of Chicago’s Red Lion Pub in 1986, announced she will retire next year. Executive director Criss Henderson also announced his departure from the venerable company, which — under Gaines and Henderson — earned multiple Laurence Olivier and Joseph Jefferson Awards as well as a regional Tony Award in 2008.
• Raven Theatre artistic director Cody Estle, who saw the Chicago theater transition from non-equity to equity status during his five-year tenure, resigned to take over as artistic leader of Milwaukee’s Next Act Theatre.
• Eclipse Theatre Company, founded by DePaul University theater students who later adopted a one playwright per season approach, closed after 30 years. The House Theatre of Chicago, renowned for its unique, whimsical storytelling, closed in May after 20 years.
• Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater ceased operations in 2022 after 15 years and AstonRep Theatre Company announced it will close next year after its 15th season.
• Underscore Theatre Company announced its closure after 11 years. However, the company’s Chicago Music Theater Festival showcasing new and in-development musicals will live on, thanks to Kokandy Productions, which will produce the festival going forward.
• 2022 proved tumultuous for the Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater, whose future appears uncertain months after the board of directors suspended and then dismissed artistic director Ken-Matt Martin in June after a little over a year in the position. VGT’s playwrights ensemble and resident directors subsequently resigned in protest according to statements posted on social media. According to published reports, board members fired the remaining full- and part-time staff. Published reports also indicated board members might consider renting out VGT to other companies in place of staging its own productions. The theater’s last Facebook post is dated July 8.
• The 37-year-old American Blues Theater, an award-winning ensemble known for its beloved radio play adaptation “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” announced it will open its permanent Chicago home in late 2023. Steep Theatre, which purchased a property in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, also intends to open in 2023.
• Two years after pandemic-related losses and property tax issues shuttered iO Chicago, the improv theater reopened in a newly renovated space.
• To improve accessibility and promote inclusion and equity, storefront stalwart Strawdog Theatre Company adopted a free theater model in 2022. Tickets are free, but donations are accepted and reservations are required.
• The Joseph Jefferson Committee introduced a new category for productions running between nine and 17 performances to acknowledge theaters producing shorter runs and for companies rebounding from the pandemic.
Among the veteran theater artists who passed away this year was Hollis Resnik, an 11-time Jeff Award winner and veteran of Marriott, Northlight, Paramount, Court, Chicago Shakespeare and the defunct Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Apple Tree theaters. Resnik also performed in the national tours of “Les Miserables,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Sister Act” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Theatergoers also bid farewell to Larry Neumann Jr., a storefront theater stalwart who earned one of his three Jeff Awards for First Folio’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten”; TV and theater character actor Danny Goldring; actor/playwright/disability rights activist Susan Nussbaum; actor/teacher Mary Ann Thebus who taught at Steppenwolf, The Artistic Home and Wisdom Bridge theaters; and longtime Chicago theater critic Richard Christiansen among others.