As the Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre prepares for its 2016-2017 dramatic season, they have many reasons to celebrate. Perhaps chief among them is the 30-year tenure of Robert Falls as artistic director of Chicago’s oldest (established in 1925) and largest nonprofit theater, a fruitful pairing that has expanded the social significance of the Goodman in myriad ways.
Joining the Goodman fold in 1986 and combining forces with long-time Executive Director Roche Schulfer, Falls immediately established his directing bona fides with Bertolt Brecht’s “Life of Galileo,” which starred Brian Dennehy. It marked the beginning of a 30-year friendship and artistic collaboration that has resulted in multiple Tony Awards.
Dennehy and Falls are two of 10 change-makers in the Goodman’s Artistic Collective, an aesthetically diverse group of creative partners — directors, actors, playwrights — that Falls credits for his longevity at the theater: “I’ve been able to accept invitations to direct outside the Goodman, knowing that there are these artists [with] long affiliation who can well produce themselves and collaborate in my absence.”
The Tony Award-winner and MacArthur fellow Mary Zimmerman is part of this elite group and explains its significance. “The theater is a very peripatetic profession,” she shares. “Having an artistic home where you feel welcome — and inside the door — is an immeasurable advantage and feeling of security.” The Goodman offers that support to its artists, a collaborative model that Falls has long championed.
Falls’ tenure has also ushered in an era of committed social change to the venerable theater. That includes an unswerving commitment to cultural diversity, both on stage and behind the scenes, as well as the part that arts plays in education.
“As an arts organization, I felt the Goodman had a unique position and responsibility in the city of Chicago,” says Falls. “It had the ability to be a leader in community involvement and engagement.” So for the past 30 years, the Goodman has taken a leading role nationwide in utilizing art as education and become a positive community force, expanding from the initial Student Subscription Series to serving more than 8,000 people each year, both young and old, with quality educational programming, most of it free of charge.
This past May, in what Falls calls a “game-changer,” the Goodman opened the Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement, a 10,000-square-foot space dedicated to education and community engagement initiatives. “We had hit a ceiling — literally — about what we could do,” says Falls. He credits the leadership of Director of Education and Engagement Willa J. Taylor with dramatically expanding programming to align with the artistic values of the Goodman and its commitment to the community.
“The Alice is the first of its kind — a center dedicated to education and engagement — at a theater in Chicago (and most of the country),” says Taylor. “It provides space for us to not only increase the number of participants in our current programs but to increase the number of programs we provide; and, because of its technological sophistication, it significantly increases our capacity to train and support teachers through professional development and creation of curriculum.”
None of this happens without a supportive board of trustees, currently under the leadership of Chair Joan Clifford. They have come through not only with increased fundraising, but with moral support of these important initiatives that define the Goodman as an inclusive community arts organization. And with Falls at the artistic helm, the sky is the limit.
For more information about the Goodman’s educational programming, go to goodmantheatre.org/Engage-Learn.
Zimmerman will direct the opening show of the 2016-17 season, the joyful Bernstein/Comden/Green musical “Wonderful Town.” It’s a departure from her famous theatrical adaptations of beloved literary works (Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” among them), but one she relishes. “Doing musicals is a joyous experience that I came to later in life,” says Zimmerman, “and ‘Wonderful Town’ is an underdog musical. In terms of Bernstein’s work, it’s not as well known. But it’s gorgeous.” “Wonderful Town” will run Sept. 10–Oct. 16 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre.
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