Actors Scott Adsit and Jeff Perry were among the more than 800 people who turned out to celebrate the life and legacy of the late Sheldon Patinkin, longtime Chair of the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department, on Monday, January 26, 2015. Scott–a former Columbia student, veteran of The Second City’s mainstage revues, and star of the hit film Big Hero 6–emceed the tribute, which took place at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Jeff–co-founder of Steppenwolf Theatre, a former Columbia Theatre faculty member, and a regular on TV’s Scandal–was one of a dozen speakers who shared their memories of Sheldon as a director, mentor, and beloved friend. Both Scott and Jeff flew in for the event, which was presented by the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department, Steppenwolf, and Second City–three leading Chicago cultural institutions with which Sheldon had long and deep personal and professional connections. Happily, photographer and Columbia alumnus Lenny Gilmore was on hand to document the event.
Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, president of Columbia College, announced plans to rename the Columbia College Theatre Department’s New Studio Theatre in Sheldon’s honor. Andrew Alexander, CEO and executive vice president of Second City and a member of the Columbia College Board of Trustees, reflected on Sheldon’s contributions to Columbia, Second City, and SCTV, the popular television sketch comedy show that Alexander produced in Canada with Sheldon as a writer and associate producer.
Callie Johnson, an alumna of Columbia College’s Musical Theatre Program, opened the evening with a song from a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that Sheldon directed at City Lit Theater. Anne Libera, Director of Comedy Studies at Second City and coordinator of Columbia College’s Comedy Writing and Performance Program, also spoke.
Director and actor David Cromer, a Columbia Theatre alumnus and former faculty member, reflected on Sheldon’s profound impact. David also read a statement from his onetime Columbia classmate, Steppenwolf ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro, who was unable to attend because she was in New York directing the Broadway premiere of Larry David’s new comedy Fish in the Dark.
Sheldon’s family was graciously represented by his relatives Simon Landon and Lynn Patinkin.
Among those in attendance for the memorial event were: Columbia Theatre alumna and faculty member Stephanie Shaw, with David Cromer; Paul Amandes, Interim Chair of the Columbia Theatre Department, with Meg Thalken; and Kelly Leonard, executive vice president of Second City, with his wife Anne Libera.
The occasion was also a joyful reunion for former Chicago theatre colleagues. The Rev. Susan Osborne-Mott (left), an actor, director, and Columbia Theatre faculty member before she became an Episcopalian minister, came in from New Jersey for the event; here she’s joined by Tom Mula, scenic designer and Columbia faculty member Jacqueline Penrod, and talent agent and former Columbia teacher Harrise Davidson.
The program closed with Columbia students Ren Griffith, Courtney Mack, David Stobbe, and Cole McMillan singing “No One Is Alone,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods–the fall mainstage production Sheldon Patinkin was directing when he passed away last fall. The song’s lyrics rang true for those gathered to honor their beloved friend, mentor, and colleague on January 26:
“Things will come out right now / We can make it so / Someone is on your side / No one is alone.”
Sheldon Patinkin, who died September 21, 2014, at the age of 79, was Chair of the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department from 1980 to 2009, when he assumed the title of Chair Emeritus, continuing to teach and direct at the College until his death. During his time at Columbia, the Theatre Department educated hundreds of students who have gone on to distinguished careers in theatre, film, and television. Sheldon was also an Artistic Consultant at Steppenwolf Theatre and co-founder of The School at Steppenwolf, and an original member of Second City from the company’s founding in 1959 by Bernard Sahlins, Paul Sills, and Howard Alk. He served as Sills’ assistant director and then succeeded Sills as artistic director of the groundbreaking comedy theatre, eventually becoming an Artistic Consultant there.
Shortly before his death, Sheldon and his friends established the Sheldon Patinkin Endowed Award at Columbia College Chicago, which will give cash stipends to outstanding graduating Theatre students to aid in their journeys toward professional careers. For more information or to make a donation, click here.
All photos: Lenny Gilmore ’10, Columbia College Chicago