1883 – 1918: Kenneth Sawyer Goodman and His Legacy
Today’s Goodman Theatre traces its roots back to the early years of the 20th century, when the “Chicago Renaissance” heralded pioneering activities in all forms of the arts. One of the leaders of that movement was Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, a young Princeton-educated scion of a wealthy lumber baron.
A multifaceted artist—in addition to his theatrical activities, he headed the Prints Department at the Art Institute of Chicago— Goodman was most passionate about playwriting, creating works in a remarkable variety of styles, from realism to expressionism to commedia-style farces. Many of these plays premiered in Chicago’s “little theaters,” small private companies that eschewed commercial fare in favor of new, often more controversial theatrical voices: Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neill, or local writers such as Goodman and his sometime collaborator, Ben Hecht. The successes of these enterprises convinced Goodman that Chicago was now ready for a major “art theater,” a resident company which would produce both new and classic works with resources not always available to the “little theaters.”
In the summer of 1915, he approached the leaders of the Art Institute of Chicago with a proposal for such a company, to be run in tandem with a training program for drama students, both housed at the Institute, thus creating, in Goodman’s words, an “art university.”