“With $1,000 from seven Chicago artists and a light board, Victory Gardens was born – a non-profit theater dedicated to the promotion and development of Chicago theater talent: actors, directors, designers and playwrights. Marcelle McVay became the first employee of Victory Gardens as Managing Director. Notice came with newcomer Dennis Zacek’s 1975 production of “The Caretaker” with Frank Galati, Michael Saad, and William J. Norris. The production wins eight Jeff nominations and Zacek is asked to join the theater’s board of directors.
“Only four years after its founding, Zacek becomes Artistic Director and commits the budding company to presenting a racially integrated season. In 1979, Sandy Shinner joins the staff as Audience Development Director. She is later promoted to Literary Manager and then Associate Artistic Director, and has since then has directed more than 50 plays at VGT. In 1996, the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble was formed, a coming together of a diverse group of writers under the roof of one producing organization, virtually unheard of in resident theater in the U.S.
“On June 3, 2001, Victory Gardens receives the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The award is presented for “displaying a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theater nationally.” In 2004, Victory Gardens embarked on a new era, announcing it has purchased the historic Biograph Theater, two blocks north of VGT’s home at the Greenhouse Theatre. After two years of renovation, hundreds cheer on September 28, 2006 as Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph marquee was lit for the first time during a sunset ceremony, one day before the first preview of the first live theater production in the newly converted Biograph Theater, the world premiere of ‘Denmark’ by ensemble member Charles Smith, directed by Dennis Zacek. Continuing on its streak of excellence, The Wallace Foundation Excellence Award project granted the company $400,000 over four years to attract diverse theater-goers through a new series.
“Founding Managing Director, Marcelle McVay, announced her departure from Victory Gardens in 2008. After an extensive nation-wide search, Jan Kallish is announced as the company’s new Executive Director. On March 1, 2010, VGT’s new studio theater is named the Richard Christiansen Theater in honor of the Chicago Tribune’s Chief Critic Emeritus and longtime champion of Chicago’s live theater scene.”
“From its founding in 1974 through the present day, Victory Gardens Theater has dedicated itself to playwrights and their works as well as emphasizing the development of an ethnically and culturally diverse community of artists. Recipient of the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, Victory Gardens continues to expand on its new works initiative through its 14-member Playwrights Ensemble, as well as work from playwrights who are changing theater in the United States and abroad. Victory Gardens has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater.”
Leadership (Past and Present)
Chay Yew joined Victory Gardens Theater in July 2011 as its first new artistic director in 34 years. He is a recipient of the Obie and DramaLogue Awards for Direction. His productions have been cited by the Los Angeles Times and New York Times as one of the “Ten Best Productions of the Year;” Seattle Times and Strangers’ Best Achievement in Theatre; and was named Best Director by Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has directed world premieres by playwrights Jose Rivera, Naomi Iizuka, Kia Corthron, Julia Cho, David Adjmi and Jessica Goldberg, and performance artists Rha Goddess, Universes, Alec Mapa, Sandra Tsing Loh and Brian Freeman. He is the recipient of the London Fringe Award for Best Playwright and Best Play, George and Elisabeth Marton Playwriting Award, GLAAD Media Award, Asian Pacific Gays and Friends’ Community Visibility Award, Made in America Award, AEA/SAG/AFTRA 2004 Diversity Honor, and Robert Chesley Award; he has received grants from the McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller MAP Fund and the TCG/Pew National Residency Program. Chay is also an accomplished and widely respected playwright, and his plays are published in two titles, “The Hyphenated American Plays” and “Porcelain and A Language of Their Own,” by Grove Press; the latter was nominated for a Lamda Literary Award. He is editor of a new anthology “Version 3.0: Contemporary Asian American Plays” for TCG Publications. An alumnus of New Dramatists, he has held residencies at Mu Lan Theatre Company, Northwest Asian American Theatre Company and East West Players. He serves on the National Advisory Board at the Playwrights Center and the Artistic Advisory Board of Partial Comfort Theatre. He is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect and Vineyard Theatre Community of Artists. He has also served on the Board of Directors of Theatre Communications Group and is presently on the Executive Board of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Upcoming productions include the world premiere of Dael Orlandersmith’s “Black and Blue Boys” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Goodman Theatre (spring 2012).
Jan Kallish joined Victory Gardens Theater in February 2009. Previously, she served as Executive Director of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre from 1997 to 2003. Under her leadership, the historic landmark (Adler & Sullivan, architects, 1889) completed a $14 million renovation. There she created a home for the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, and as a presenter, an acclaimed international dance series that included The Bolshoi Ballet, The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Ballet Hispanico, Dance Africa, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Ms. Kallish also launched and was Executive Producer of Ovations! Concert Celebrations of Great American Musicals. Modeled after City Center Encores! in New York City, Kallish produced “Strike Up the Band,” “One Touch of Venus,” “Babes In Arms,” “Promises, Promises,” and “Call Me Madam,” all at the Auditorium Theatre. As a theatrical producer, credits include “The Color Purple,” Broadway and first North American tour; “A Catered Affair,” Broadway; “Princess Caraboo” (in development book and lyrics, Marsha Norman; music, Jenny Giering; director, Gary Griffin); associate producer, “Execution of Justice” by Emily Mann (About Face Theatre, Chicago). She has served as a consultant to Matthew Bourne’s “NewAdventures” (U.S. tours of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Car Man”) and from 2006 to 2007 as CEO of the Nederlander Broadway China joint venture in Beijing, where she oversaw operations for the first licensed performing arts joint venture in China, and oversaw renovations plans for Shanghai Majestic Theatre, Shanghai. Ms. Kallish is a Tony Award voter, a member of the Broadway League, the International Society of PerformingArts (ISPA), serves on the Board of the Classical Kids Music Education Chicago, and is a Board Member at The League of Chicago Theatres. She is an adjunct faculty member of DePaul University’s Theatre School in Chicago, where she teaches commercial theater management.
Mr. Zacek has held the position of artistic director for 30 years, and recently accepted the Actor’s Equity Association’s (AEA) Spirit Recognition Award. The Spirit Award is given to institutions that “have made non-traditional casting a way of life.” He also received the 2005 Jeff Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chicago Equity Theatre. He, his wife Marcelle McVay, and the theater are co-recipients of the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. He is also the recipient of the 2004 Artistic Leadership Award from the League of Chicago Theatres. Mr. Zacek and Ms. McVay received the 1999 Rosetta Lenoire Award from Actors’ Equity and the 1998 Sidney R. Yates Arts Advocacy Award from the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation.
He has directed more than 250 productions in his career, including, most recently, the Chicago premiere of “Blackbird” by David Harrower, the world premiere of Jeffrey Sweet’s “Class Dismissed,” James Sherman’s “Relatively Close,” the Midwest premiere of “A Park in Our House” by Nilo Cruz, the world premieres of “Cynical Weathers” by Douglas Post, “Denmark” by Charles Smith, the inaugural production at Victory Gardens’ new home at the Biograph, “Symmetry” by David Field, “The Family Gold” by Annie Reiner, “Affluenza!” and “The Old Man’s Friend” by James Sherman, “Unspoken Prayers” by Claudia Allen, “The Action Against Sol Schumann” and “Flyovers” by Jeffrey Sweet, and others.
Additional projects include Marisha Chamberlain’s “Scheherazade” (National Winner of the FDG/CBS competition), John Olive’s “Clara’s Play” (production and direction award, Academy of TheaterArtists and Friends), and James Sherman’s “Mr. 80%” (direction award, Academy of Theater Artists and Friends). Mr. Zacek directed Arthur Cantor’s production of James Sherman’s “Beau Jest” at the Lambs Theater in New York, where it holds the record as the longest-running show in the history of the theater. Other New York credits include Lonnie Carter’s “The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy,” presented by Woody King’s New Federal Theater, and Charles Smith’s “Jelly Belly,” which was produced by the New Federal Theater. Mr. Zacek is a professor emeritus of Loyola University and was included in 2005 in Utne magazine’s first-ever list of “Artists Who Will Shake the World.”
Productions of Note
Outstand Regional Theater (2001)
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (2009): Production – Play – Large; New Work – Play (Kristoffer Diaz); Director – Play (Edward Torres); Actor in a Principle Role – Play (Desmin Borges); Fight Choreography (David Woolley)
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Artists of Note
David Woolley: Fight Choreography, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (2009)
Desmin Borges: Actor in a Principle Role – Play, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (2009)
Edward Torres: Director – Play, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (2009)
Francis Guinan: Actor in a Supporting Role – Play, “A Guide for the Perplexed” (2009)
Kristoffer Diaz: New Work – Play, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (2009)
Nick Sandys: Fight Choreography, “The Defiant Muse” (2008)
Future Stage: Mike Daisey brings his monologue on the dysfunction of the theater to Victory Gardens
At Rise, a Star is Born: How Mattie Hawkinson became the talk of the town at Victory Gardens this summer
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Where They Perform
“In 2006, Victory Gardens successfully completed an $11.8 million renovation of Chicago’s famed Biograph Theater, and moved two blocks north from its longtime venue at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, to its beautiful new home in one of Chicago’s most celebrated historic landmarks. Renamed the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, the new venue opened with a state-of-the-art 299-seat mainstage which has greatly expanded the company’s artistic flexibility, while enhancing Victory Gardens ability to welcome patrons old and new.
“Last summer, Victory Gardens completed the second phase of renovation at the Biograph, building an intimate, new, 109-seat studio theater on the second floor of the Biograph. On March 1, 2010, Victory Gardens new studio was officially named the Richard Christiansen Theater, in honor of the Chicago Tribune Chief Critic Emeritus and longtime champion of Chicago’s live theater scene.”
“In the Next Room or the vibrator play” by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Jessica Thebus
“What We’re Up Against” by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Sandy Shinner
“We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915” by Jackie Sibblies Drury, directed by Eric Ting
“Equivocation” by Bill Cain, directed by Sean Graney
“Failure: A Love Story” by Philip Dawkins, directed by Seth Bockley
“Disconnect” by Anupama Chandrasekhar, directed by Dexter Bullard
“The Whale” by Samuel D. Hunter, directed by Joanie Schultz
“Chicago is Burning” by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew
Full season announcement here.
Box Office: 773.871.3000
Tickets range up to $48
$15 tickets with student ID; some tickets available for $20 via phone for each performance
2433 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614Directions here.Unless otherwise noted, all biographies and quotations are from the theater’s website.