An Oral History
of Chicago Theater

a book in progress 
     Mark Larson

About Ensemble

During the span of my own lifetime (1952-present), Chicago’s theater scene transformed itself from a “theater desert” to a nationally influential artistic force. In his book, The Second City: Backstage at the World's Greatest Comedy Theater,  Sheldon Patinkin writes, “There was no existing precedent in 1952 for starting your own theater company in Chicago." Today, Chicago is home to nearly 300 homegrown theaters, large and tiny. They all consider themselves part of the same unique community in which,  like an ecosytem, the elements make one another  possible.

 "The Chicago ethos," Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune’s chief theater critic, told me in an interview, "is predicated on the notion that people who know each other well will do better work together. And the majority of people here know each other very well. The [Chicago] aesthetic is based on ensemble and that gets extended [ as an ethos] to the community itself."
Ensemble is a book and television project in development by Mark Larson with Agate Publishing and HMS Media. We aim to capture, in a mosaic of voices, the ensemble aesthetic and ethos, restless spirit, and daring commitment to invention, risk, new works, and one another that shaped and continues to propel the artists of Chicago’s theater community.

This site keeps you apprised of our progress on the project  and invite comments, leads, and suggestions here .  

Entrance lobby at Columbia College
Getz Theater Building, Chicago


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Michael Patrick Thornton
Director, Actor,  Co-Founder,
The Gift Theater
"A weird thing happened when I was dying."
I talked with Michael during the run of the world premieire of David Rabe's Good For Otto. He talks about the founding of The Gift, from finding a space to perform to the impact of almost dying twice on the defining ethos of the theater itself.
Photo: Joe Mazza, Brave-Lux Inc
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Barbara Gaines
Director, Founder
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 "You feel a sense of relief that this very complex range of emotions can be shared,” 
Near the end of her mother's life, Barbara witnessed significant changes in both her and a dear friend brought on by serious illness. She talks here about how she weaves her grief and her joy into her art.

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