1922 – 1931: The Founding of the Goodman Theatre

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World War I cut short the writing career of Chicago playwright Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, who had ambitious plans for a theater at the city’s Art Institute that would be dedicated to both new and classic works. Joining the Naval Reserve in 1917, he died the next year at the age of 35, a victim of an influenza epidemic.


Goodman’s parents soon took up Kenneth’s cause, and in 1922 pledged their financial support for a theater that would be a living memorial to their late son. Ground was broken, and in the fall of 1925 the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman Memorial Theatre opened its doors.



For a few years, the two-fold mission of creating both a professional theater and school that Goodman had envisioned was a success. Student artists learned the techniques of stage performance and design, while a professional repertory company brought to the Goodman’s stage a heady mixture of classical drama, premieres of European experimental works (including Georg Kaiser’s expressionistic sensation Gas), new plays (most successfully Tour du Monde, adapted from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days) and even a series of short operas.


But by 1930, the dawning Great Depression brought financial challenges to a program still highly subsidized by the Art Institute itself. Finally, in the spring of 1931, the Institute announced that it was suspending the Goodman’s professional company; for the foreseeable future, the Goodman Theatre would be the Goodman School of Drama.


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