Theater of Our Own: A History and a Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago

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Winner of the Illinois State Historical Society Book Award for Superior Achievement

Who produced the first stage adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1902-nearly forty years before the movie classic? What entertainment juggernaut began in a converted Chinese laundry on Wells Street in 1959? Where did Louis (Studs) Terkel make his stage debut? When did the original production of "Grease" open at Kingston Mines Theater?

Richard Christiansen, former chief critic for the Chicago Tribune, answers these and many more questions about the rich role of the theater in Chicago, from its earliest days in 1837 to its present state as a diverse community of artists with international stature. In A Theater of Our Own, he draws upon his exclusive interviews, insights, and memories gathered over a period of more than forty years of reviewing the arts. This history and memoir traces the evolution of the Chicago theater scene from small theaters to major institutions such as the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the Goodman Theater, and The Second City. Along the way, Richard Christiansen relates his behind-the-scenes conversations with some of Chicago's most acclaimed writers, directors, and actors—David Mamet, Frank Galati, Mary Zimmerman, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Harold Ramis, Gary Sinise, and Joe Mantegna—all a part of Chicago's theater renaissance from the 1970s onward. To this day, Chicago remains a city known for its imaginative, innovative, and influential theaters and artists. A Theater of Our Own, a valuable contribution to the history of theater, is a book written for anyone who enjoys the theater and its people.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is everything it ought to be—both reference and romantic. Would that everyone had the theatre smarts Christiansen has." —Twyla Tharp

"No one is better qualified to chart the history of theater in Chicago than Richard Christiansen. Eloquent on the subject for decades, he remains enthusiastic, loving, and discerning. A worthy Boswell for one of my favorite theater towns." —Hal Prince

"Richard Christiansen is that rare drama critic whose capacity for wonder has not abated despite 'a thousand and one' nights on the aisle. His love of theater is palpable on every page, in every anecdote, as is the pride he unabashedly takes in his city and in its talented sons and daughters. A Theater of Our Own is a colorful history of Chicago's rise to prominence on the American cultural scene but, perhaps more accurately, it is a celebration of live theater by one of its greatest champions." —Donald Margulies

Library Journal
In this carefully plotted survey, Christiansen, one-time arts critic for both the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Tribune, travels back in time to the beginnings of the Windy City (1837) and its early theaters, playhouses, and actors; once we reach the 1960s, the chronicle turns into a firsthand account of the author's time on the aisle. There are interesting short pieces on individual actors, plays, and theaters, e.g., "What They Did for Pay" lists the day jobs of Chicago theater professionals in their early years (imagine John Malkovich as a bookstore clerk). The origins of landmark plays from Grease to The Grapes of Wrath are also described, as are the stories of the Second City, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and the Goodman Theatre. Interviews and conversations with the likes of David Mamet, Mary Zimmerman, Gary Sinise, Frank Galati, and Laurie Metcalf offer a backstage look at the Chicago theater scene. Including photos of players, plays, and playbills, this well-wrought production is recommended for all theater and performing arts collections.-Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810120419
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 1,029,928
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Christiansen has been an arts journalist for more than forty years, covering theater, dance, film, the visual arts, and a variety of arts and entertainment subjects in Chicago, the nation, and abroad. He began his career in 1956 as a reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago and moved to the Chicago Daily News a year later. In 1978, he joined the Chicago Tribune as its critic-at-large, arts and entertainment editor, and, finally, chief critic and senior writer, a post he held until his retirement in 2002.

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Table of Contents

1 A thrilling little place 3
2 Something attractive at the McVicker's 11
3 The city assumed a metropolitan air 19
4 Two barrels of slippers 35
5 A glimpse of that order and beauty 45
6 By all means start your own theatre 51
7 We were a landlocked town 67
8 There actually was a national theater 75
9 Chicago is hard up for writers 87
10 It's a comedy school 97
11 It was an honor to work there 119
12 We improvised 133
13 Let all the flowers of the arts bloom 145
14 We'll have a scene 161
15 It's good writing 175
16 It was the arrogance of youth 189
17 The field is littered with bodies 195
18 We needed to tribe up 219
19 The vast Chicago theater market 235
20 It all came together with Salesman 251
21 The new theater capital of the United States 265
22 They've become institutions 283
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