Because the impact of 10 years of Chicago’s theater life has been so dramatic, it’s important that you, I, theatergoers and just plain lovers of Chicago stop and pay attention to what a handful of visionaries with the backing of one courageous mayor did. And are still doing.
Do you remember what pre- Chicago-Theatre-District-downtown-Chicago was like? Ewe. I used to work downtown. The idea of staying downtown for dinner, a class, or the theater was out of the question. All I wanted to do was get home as quickly and safely as possible. And I wasn’t the only one. Downtown Chicago was dark, deserted and desolate.
Fast forward to today. Downtown Chicago sparkles. She’s got a magical, magnetic, mesmerizing charm. It’s all because of theater district.
I’ll never forget the first time we went to a play downtown. It was a crisp November night and the city was glistening. Our walk back to our hotel (yes, we made a weekend of it) was gorgeous. And we had plenty of company. It was like Paris, where people are still dining at 11:00 pm. The Goodman and Broadway in Chicago alone attracted 13.5 million theater patrons who contributed in excess of $5 billion. Those billions were spent in theater tickets, restaurants, hotels, bars, retail stores, etc., etc., etc. Add to that the many performing artists whose work was applauded, nurtured and grew. And add to that the fact that Chicago just became a more inviting, livable city. I didn’t even want to linger in downtown 10 years ago. Now the idea of living downtown is quite appealing.
So, on June 3, the literati, glitterati, and the notarati gathered together to pay homage to the man who made it all happen, our mayor, Richard M. Daley. His vision, tenacity and faith in the long-term success of this plan to revitalize the city center was the catalyst that brought together the members of the artistic community who could create the infrastructure for his plan. Daniel Burnham—“Make no little plans.”—would have been proud.
Now we celebrate the Goodman Theater, the first to make its move from the Art Institute to the Harris/Michael Todd Theater on Dearborn. In its first decade in its new home, the Goodman has generated over $300 million in economic impact in its state-of-the-art two theater complex welcoming nearly 2 million patrons, serving 30% more students and employing more than 3,000 artists. The Goodman has earned more than 90 awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Pulitzer Prize by Lynn Notage, one of 25 new-work Goodman commissions over the decade.
Need another cause for celebration? Add to that the colossal draw of BROADWAY IN CHICAGO with its line-up of blockbusters such as The Producers, Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Billy Elliot the Musical.
And here’s the beauty part, the impact of the Downtown Theater District resonates throughout the city and into the suburbs as theaters continue to grow in size and artistry. Thanks to the League of Chicago Theatres, Chicago boasts more theaters than any city in the world with more than 250 producing theater companies with some remarkably inventive venues, a total of 115 performance venues and 5 million tickets sold annually. Information and links to all Chicago productions can be found at ChicagoPlays.org.
Chicago is the only city with four theaters that have been awarded the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre Excellence: Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman, Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens. We may be the only city with a Talk like Shakespeare Day and a Laugh Out Loud Day. All thanks to our vibrant theaters.
Join in the celebration on Monday, June 28 at 6:00 pm at this year’s Broadway in Chicago FREE concert in the park at the Petrillo Band Shell during the Taste of Chicago. Dress up like your favorite Broadway character to celebrate while you're treated to performances from the casts of Billy Elliot the Musical, Shrek the Musical, Rock of Ages, Disney’s the Lion King and Wicked to name a few. Look for me! I’ll be wearing my Groucho glasses from Laugh Out Loud Day. “Hello, I must be going…”