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Diversity and Variety Propel Chicago’s Goodman Theatre

By Amy Ross

Many know it for its annual production of A Christmas Carol, but it is through diversity and variety of that the Goodman Theatre truly propels itself forward after almost 90 years of serving the Chicago theater scene. The largest and oldest non-for-profit theatre in the city, the Goodman combines a largely new repertoire of productions with some popular shows returning in subsequent season after successful premieres.

“We tend to do more large-scale work than our larger peers, and a greater variety of work in each season; because each of our resident directors has a distinct aesthetic viewpoint as well as different cultural backgrounds, the diversity of our work is usually greater than that of other companies,” said Steve Scott, the Goodman Theatre producer and member of the Goodman Artistic Collective. Aside from its annual production of A Christmas Carol, which has been consistently remounted for 37 years, the Goodman produces eight subscription productions each season; five in the Albert Theatre and three in the Owen Theatre.

In addition, it typically presents or co-produces multiple special events such as as the New Stages Festival, an initiative born in 2003 to give playwrights an opportunity to take risks and experiment. “Nonprofits companies such as the Goodman exist to do artistic work and programs that bring cultural or educational benefit to the community, so plays produced by those companies are apt to be less readily known, more serious thematically, or more controversial,” he said. The size of the cast and crew of each production varies greatly, oscillating between as few as two actors, in Venus In Fur, to as many as 29 actors and an orchestra of 1,1 in Brigadoon.

The Goodman’s permanent year-round staff consists of about 150 people, including administrative and technical employees. Each season, it jobs around 200 people total for productions and special events. The Goodman does not have a resident acting company, although it does have resident directors and a resident sound designer.  Each season, approximately 80% of the actors are based in Chicago, as are about half of the designers and at least half of the directors. 

Making living as a theater artists remains a challenge because many companies are small offer limited pay. Most wind up working day jobs outside the industry or in teaching, administrative or other non-artistic positions. For organizations like the Goodman, the growth and consolidation of the Chicago theater industry have also lead to increased competition for high-profile projects, for audiences, for first-rate artists, and for financial support. Many more resources are destined toward fundraising, especially at larger institutions such as the Goodman, where the development department has grown to 16 people, in addition to the effort and time of many other senior staff members.

According to Scott, who has overseen hundreds of productions in his career at the Goodman, Chicago houses over 200 professional theatres, most of which produce very high quality work. Furthermore, the community of theater critics is notably receptive to innovation, compared to other cities. “Chicago has a much larger audience for theater than most other cities,” Scott said, “That audience support allows new theaters to spring up with great frequency, and older theaters to grow and survive.” The Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn Street in the North Loop Theatre District. 

The 90th Anniversary Season includes 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rapture, Blister, Burn, and August Wilson’s legendary Two Trains Running.