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A Red Orchid Theatre
MISSION STATEMENT: A Red Orchid Theatre is an ensemble of artists dedicated to the proliferation of live theatre in the modern world. We believe that theatre is the greatest sustenance for the human spirit and approach our work with a palpable sense of social compassion, aesthetic rigor, and honesty. By presenting new plays from all over the world and by reviving insightful works from the past that bear new relevance today, we aim to seek out and build new audiences for the modern stage.

A Red Orchid Theatre was founded by a group of theatre artists in 1993. Since its founding, the theatre has received extensive critical acclaim from local and national press. The theatre has grown in size from a few dedicated individuals to twelve highly accomplished and highly skilled ensemble members who boast impressive credits throughout the Chicago theatre community. An artistic staple on the near northside of Chicago, the theatre is situated on Wells Street among many fine restaurants and upscale boutiques in the bustling Old Town community. Within its cozy space, designed and built by the founding members, A Red Orchid Theatre has sustained itself for nearly fifteen years as one of the few professional theatre houses in Chicago with a seating capacity of an intense and intimate eighty seats. We are committed to presenting new and rarely seen works at reasonable prices, permitting they aspire to our exceptional standards of production, artistry and professionalism.

The theatre opened in 1993 with Jack Gelber’s The Connection, a reflection on the beat generation in a nihilistic comedy. The play concerns a group of heroin users - jazz musicians, street folk, and other artists - who come together to wax poetic on the trappings of modern society, do drugs, play music, and suffer the consequences of a bleak existence. This first play, a study on the unique beat subculture, led to the theatre's name. Writers and poets seemed the best source from which to draw the name for the company and since the company’s first play was from the beat generation of writers it only felt right that the name come from the same inspiration. The founding members looked to many beat writers to name the company. There were considerations from the Jack Kerouac canon; as well as Gregory Corso, Allan Ginsberg and many others; however, in the end William Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch won out with an inspired passage in which the "a red orchid" name is used to reflect on the fragile beauty of life on the edge.

A Red Orchid Theatre quickly earned a name for itself in the early years by producing a rapid series of successful shows to extraordinary praise from the press, audiences, and awards committees. In 1994, Born Guilty by Ari Roth presented an examination of the lives of adult children of Nazis in post World War II Germany. This production was produced with such success that it was moved to a larger venue for an extended run, and received national press coverage in The Wall Street Journal. The 1996 production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial received acclaim that announced A Red Orchid to be “the essence of Chicago theatre.” During this founding period, five consecutive productions were Jeff-Recommended, and, in the summer of 1996, Canus Lunis Ballonis, a twisted story of a Sunday night poker-game amongst drinking buddies gone weird, received a Non-Equity Jeff Citation for Best New Work. Through the founding members pursuit of new works and past classics in need of a fresh approach, A Red Orchid Theatre garnered a reputation for producing experimental and edgy shows with impeccable acting and designs.

In 1996, A Red Orchid Theatre became an Equity Theatre house. This decision emphasized the theatre’s priority to use and reward Chicago’s best actors with a Cat I Equity contract, providing health insurance for the theatre’s working artists, and mandating an increased budget and box office revenues to secure the theatre’s longevity.

In the latter half of the company's history, the theatre's profile and acknowledgement from the Chicago theatre community intensified. In 1998, Mike Cullen’s The Cut garnered the Joseph Jefferson Award for best scenic design - acknowledging Stephanie Nelson's transformation of the Red Orchid space into an elaborately convincing coalmine. In the fall of 2000, Tracy Letts’ Bug was nominated for three Jeff awards, including nominations for Best Actor to ensemble member Michael Shannon, Best Actress to Kate Buddeke and Best Sound Design for ensemble member Joe Fosco. The Red Orchid production brought a new vision to Letts’ play - a story of love, paranoia, and government conspiracy in a motel room on the outskirts of Oklahoma City- and inspired The Barrow Street Theatre to bring Letts’ script, along with many of the original Red Orchid cast members, for Bug’s New York City premiere.

Since the theatre’s founding in 1993, nine ensemble members have joined early members Guy Van Swearingen, Michael Shannon, and Larry Grimm. In 2001, Tiffany Wilson, resident stage manager, Joe Fosco, resident sound designer, and actors Kirsten Fitzgerald and Doug Vickers were asked to join the creative team at A Red Orchid. In the summer of 2004, accomplished local playwright Brett Neveu along with renown Chicago actors Lance Baker, Danny McCarthy, Jennifer Engstrom, and Mierka Girten cemented the ensemble in its current state as a group of highly accomplished professionals with diverse artistic specialties.

On the cusp of its twelfth anniversary in the fall of 2004, A Red Orchid Theatre launched its first full three-production season with a subscription offer, and accrued fifty regular subscribers. A Red Orchid looks to the future to bring a regular season of shows to the Chicago community as well as grow its subscriber base and visibility, and continue to increase its production and operating budgets. A Red Orchid Theatre operates with the conviction that passionately committed theatre will draw passionately committed audiences, and hopes to see that conviction bring fruit to its dreams of steady success for itself and for the state of modern theatre in Chicago!

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