As expected, Steppenwolf's smash hit production of August: Osage County received multiple Tony nominations--seven, to be exact. But the surprise announcement at this morning's Tony Awards press conference was that Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) has been named recipient of the 2008 Tony Award for an outstanding Regional Theatre. The announcement was made in New York City March 13 by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, co-presenters of the Tony Awards.
The announcement makes CST the fourth Chicago theatre company to receive the Regional Theatre Tony since 1985, and the second in seven years. No other American city is home to as many Regional Theatre honorees. Previous local recipients have been Steppenwolf Theatre Company (1985), Goodman Theatre (1992) and Victory Gardens Theater (2001). In each case, the Tony Award helped jump-start planning and fundraising for a new theatre complex for the winner, and the 2008 Tony Award may serve the same purpose for CST. The troupe currently is developing plans for a new stage somewhere on Navy Pier, although not within the confines of CST's present Pier quarters. It would be a flexible space offering an alternative to--and a larger seating capacity than--CST's 510-seat mainstage
Founded by Barbara Gaines in 1986, Chicago Shakespeare Theater today has 20,600 subscribers, a budget of $13.7 million, a full-time staff of 77 (plus 60 part-timers and 190 actors, musicians and designers) and a handsome purpose-built theatre complex with spacious lobbies, an education center and a 200-seat blackbox theatre in addition to the mainstage. The company continues to be guided by Gaines as artistic director and by Criss Henderson as executive director. Many other important staff members have been with CST for years, among whom a partial list would include associate artistic director Gary Griffin, audience development director Alida Szabo and stage management chief Deborah Acker. Numerous actors, designers and composers also have worked with CST over many seasons. The company chiefly utilizes Tiers V and VI of Equity's CAT agreement as well as SDC and USAA contracts.
According to the American Theatre Critics Association, which makes an annual regional theatre recommendation to the Tony folk, the recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award should display "a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theatre nationally." Chicago Shakespeare Theater was among a handful of nationally-recognized companies to participate in the 2004 National Endowment for the Arts touring initiative, Shakespeare in American Communities. CST also has been seen in New York City with its innovative approaches to Shakespeare, Rose Rage (2004) and Marionette Macbeth (with Carlo Colla e Figli, 2007). Additionally, through its World's Stage Series, CST has brought international directors and theatre companies to the United States from England, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, France and Russia, providing Chicago artists, audiences and critics significant opportunities for cross-cultural interaction.
Beyond the United States, CST productions have been seen in London and in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and this summer the CST's new rap Shakespeare show Funk It Up About Nothin--written and performed by The Bombity of Errors team--will travel to the Edinburgh Festival in August after a Chicago run (June 25-Aug. 3).
Both Gaines and Henderson are expected to accept the Regional Theatre Tony Award as part of the 2008 Tony Awards ceremonies June 15 at Radio City Music Hall (New York).
And they will see some familiar faces in the audience. The six August: Osage County nominees are Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton for Best Lead Actress, Rondi Reed for Best Featured Actress, Anna D. Shapiro for Best Director, Ann G. Wrightwood for Best Lighting, Todd Rosenthal for Best Scenic Design, and Tracy Letts, who will likely chalk up a Best Play Tony to go along with his Pulitzer.
But that won't be all for Steppenwolf. Reed is joined in the Featured Actress category by fellow Steppenwolf ensemble members Laurie Metcalf and Martha Plimpton, for their roles in November and Top Girls, respectively.
The presentations will be hosted this year by Whoopi Goldberg and broadcast live on CBS.