Art Works Blog

Thank Goodness for the Goodman!

Chicago, Illinois

In this scene from Tracey Scott Wilson's The Good Negro, (l to r) Rutherford (Demetrios Troy), James (Billy Eugene Jones), and Henry (Teagle F. Bougere) rouse congregants to join them for a non-violent march. Photo courtesy Goodman Theatre

Before moving to Washington, DC , I spent a very happy---albeit sometimes frigid!---seven years in Chicago. I can say without a doubt that art truly works in Chicago---from the  classic and contemporary masters on view at the Art Institute to the Thursday night jump blues at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge to the literary scene that thrives in the city's libraries, colleges, and bars. And, of course, there are the theaters, ranging from bare bones black boxes under the el tracks to majestic spaces like the Goodman Theatre's North Dearborn Street home in the downtown theater district. Thanks to the 88-year-old, Tony Award-winning theater, I've seen work by Shakespeare, August Wilson, and even Gertrude Stein. I was delighted to chat a bit by e-mail with Executive Director Roche Schulfer about this grande dame of Chicago theaters.

NEA: How would you describe the Goodman Theatre in five words or less?

ROCHE SCHULFER: Quality, diversity, community.

NEA: What?s do you think is uniquely ?Chicago? about the Goodman Theatre?

SCHULFER: In the work on our stages and in our artists, Board of Trustees, and staff, the Goodman reflects the vast cultural diversity of Chicago. We are committed to developing new plays and artists; to the reinvestigation of the classics; to collaboration among artists, staff, and trustees; and education and engagement in the Chicago community through our public schools and learners of all ages.

NEA: What do you think is unique about the Goodman Theatre among Chicago theaters?

SCHULFER: The Goodman seeks to be a theater for all---a place where diverse audiences can experience extraordinary productions and programs. To achieve this we have established a creative home for a group of artists from different backgrounds who bring a wide range of visions and aesthetics. Key to Artistic Director Robert Falls? leadership and creative direction are Artistic Associate Brian Dennehy, Associate Artist Frank Galati, Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez, Resident Director Chuck Smith, Associate Producer Steve Scott, Artistic Associate Regina Taylor, and Resident Director Mary Zimmerman.

NEA: What?s on stage now? What?s coming up?

SCHULFER: The Good Negro by Tracey Scott Wilson and directed by Chuck Smith is playing through June 6. After that Henry Godinez is directing Karen Zacarias's The Sins of Sor Juana, and that will run June 19-July 25.

From June 19 to July 25, we're also having our 5th Biennial Latino Theatre Festival, which has been a biennial event since 2003, and has introduced more than 20,000 Chicagoans to prominent Latino theater companies around the globe. Under the direction of Henry Godinez, Latino Fest is a multi-week event that transforms the Goodman into a hub of international artistic exchange with productions by local, national, and international theater artists, plus a variety of events, such as workshops, master classes, panel discussions, and post-show love music by local bands. This year, Teatro Buendía, one of Cuba?s leading theater companies, makes its U.S. debut in Latino Fest with two productions over two weekends, July 8-11 and 15-18.

NEA: What do you want audience members to take away from every Goodman Theatre experience?

SCHULFER: Whether the Goodman is producing world premieres, the classics, culturally diverse works or musicals, we want our work to speak to audiences in a contemporary way about the challenges and possibilities of the world in which we live.

NEA: How would you describe the arts community in Chicago? The theater community?

SCHULFER: The arts community is large, dynamic and collegial; the theater community is wide-ranging and intensely collaborative.

NEA: NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman?s rallying cry is ?Art works.? How does that apply to the Goodman Theatre? To the arts in Chicago?

SCHULFER: Art works because of its intangible impact on audiences---through productions and educational programming---and its economic impact through the enormous number of jobs it generates.

NEA: If you could give the NEA one piece of advice, what would it be?

SCHULFER: Emphasize the labor-intensive nature of the arts industry, and the overwhelming fact that the bulk of new investment in the arts goes to job creation.

NEA: Any final thoughts?

SCHULFER: Through its relationship with organizations, artists, and state and local arts councils, the NEA has been a model public/private partnership in which a modest amount of government support leverages an enormous amount of private support. It?s an American success story that should be celebrated.

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