The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department and the college’s office of Development and Alumni Relations invite alumni and supporters of Columbia College‘s Theatre Department to the first-ever Columbia College Theatre Reunion Weekend October 19 and 20, 2018. The event celebrates the Theatre Department’s rich history and exciting future and marks the reopening of the beautifully renovated Getz Theater Center of Columbia College, located at 72 E. 11th St. in Chicago’s South Loop.
The weekend features performances, theatre and film industry breakout sessions with distinguished Columbia College alumni panelists, receptions, building tours, and a keynote talk by Columbia College alum Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15, artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre. All events take place at the Getz Theater Center. To register, click here.
The reunion weekend opens on Friday, October 19, with a gala performance of the Columbia College Theatre Department‘s 2018-2019 Mainstage Season opener: The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale. With an all-student, all-female cast and an alumni-led creative/production team, The Penelopiad (which has additional performances through October 27) is Atwood’s retelling of Homer’s heroic epics The Iliad and The Odyssey from the point of view of the women, including Penelope, queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus. Directed by Columbia alum AJ Ware ’09, co-founder of Chicago’s award-winning Jackalope Theatre, this is the first production in the Courtyard Theater, the Getz Theater Center’s splendid new 181-seat mainstage performance venue. The performance is preceded by a reception starting at 5 PM, and joining us as special guests will be Jim Jacobs HDR ’14, coauthor of the hit musical Grease and benefactor of the Jim Jacobs Musical Theatre Scholarship at Columbia College, and Mark Kelly HDR ’17, Chicago’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and former Vice President of Student Success at Columbia College. Both Kelly and Jacobs are recipients of Honorary Doctorates from Columbia College.
The reunion weekend continues Saturday, October 20, with an Open House highlighted by a keynote talk by Columbia College alum Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15, artistic director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company and winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for her Broadway directorial debut with the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama August: Osage County. Shapiro, a 1990 graduate of Columbia, also received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the college in 2015. In a recent interview with the college’s Alumni Relations office, Shapiro declared:
“I think that Columbia is the most anti-elitist, inclusive theater-practicing organization that I know in the country. Its ethos of inclusion and representation just comes from: Anybody who wants to do this can do this, and we’ll support the people who want to do it. . . . At its heart, [Columbia] helps young people who didn’t think there was a place for them to tell stories learn how to tell stories.”
Shapiro will speak to Theatre Reunion Weekend attendees on Saturday, October 20, at 10 AM, preceded by a breakfast reception at 9 AM.
Following Shapiro’s talk on Saturday, there will be a series of industry breakout sessions on Chicago Theatre, Film and TV, Musical Theatre, Comedy Writing and Performance, Playwriting/Writing for Performance, and Theatre Design and Technology, featuring distinguished Columbia College alumni — artists and entrepreneurs working in theatre, film, and TV in Chicago and around the country — including: Ilesa Duncan ’99, artistic director of Lifeline Theatre, executive and artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Chicago, and a 2007 Joseph Jefferson Award nominee; Tiffany Keane Schaefer ’12, founder and artistic director of Otherworld Theatre Company; musical theatre writer Preston Max Allen ’13, a 2018 Joseph Jefferson Award nominee; actor and Eclipse Theatre Company ensemble member BrittneyLove Smith ’11; Chicago actor Hannah Starr ’14, a 2018 Joseph Jefferson Award nominee; Almanya Narula ’16, stage combat choreographer and editor and publisher of Chicago Theatre Now; TV actor and stunt performer/coordinator Christian Litke ’05; musical theatre performers Janissa Rose Saracino ’13 and De’Jah Perkins ’18; Alison Dornheggen ’01, artistic director of the Wilmette Center for the Arts Theatre and a Babes With Blades Theatre Company ensemble member; director and choreographer Jon Martinez, winner of the 2018 ALTA Award for Outstanding Director of a Production–Musical from the Alliance of Latinx Theater Artists of Chicago; Rose Hamill ’16, managing director of Broken Nose Theatre; comedian KJ Whitehead ’15; casting director and acting coach Jason Buyer ’95; scenic and puppet designer Therese Ritchie ’18, recipient of the 2018 John Murbach Columbia College Chicago Prize for Collaborative Design; playwright and actor Christopher M. Walsh, a 2014 Joseph Jefferson Award nominee; actor and director Mandy Walsh ’99, a Factory Theatre company member; scenic designer John Zuiker ’05, a 2010 Joseph Jefferson Award winner and 2017 Emmy Award nominee; dancer-choreographer Rachel Damon ’05, founder and artistic director of Synapse Arts; actor, playwright, and Nashville Story Garden artistic director Aaron Muñoz ’01; playwright Cassandra Rose ’10, artistic director of the Chicago Theatre Marathon and a Chicago Dramatists 2017-2019 Tutterow Fellow; lighting designers Jesse Klug ’05, a 2009 and 2017 Joseph Jefferson Award winner, and Michael Alex Joseph ’16; Carol Cohen, founder and executive director of Haven Theatre and benefactor of the Carol Cohen Award for design and technology students at Columbia College; Alex Rhyan ’15, production manager of the Windy City Playhouse; and many more!
Columbia Theatre faculty panel moderators include playwright Paul Amandes, musical director Jermaine Hill, improv teacher Anne Libera, scenic designer Jacqueline Penrod, and solo performer (and Columbia alum) Stephanie Shaw ’92, MFA ’09.
Also on Saturday, the Columbia College Theatre Department will showcase the first performance by our MFA Program in European Devised Performance Practice, the department’s first graduate-level program, launched in 2017 in partnership with the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA). Titled Oklahoma!: Winner Takes All, the performance is FREE.
The Getz Theater Center was acquired by Columbia College in 1980 as the home of the then-combined Columbia College Chicago Theatre/Music Department. The department was then chaired by theatre director and teacher Sheldon Patinkin, who recruited a faculty of professional artists from Chicago’s nationally lauded theatre scene, including members of Steppenwolf Theatre and The Second City. Patinkin served as chair from 1980 through 2009, then continued to teach at Columbia until his death in 2014. The Sheldon Patinkin Award, established in his honor, provides financial assistance to outstanding Theatre students in their journey to a professional career. To contribute to this award, click here.
The first production in the building’s mainstage auditorium, then known as the 11th Street Theatre, after Columbia took over the building was Island of Lost Coeds, an original musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, coauthors of the born-in-Chicago Broadway and Hollywood hit musical Grease. The show was directed by Sheldon Patinkin and June Pyskacek, who had produced the original version of Grease.
In 1985, the college restored the 11th Street Theatre with a generous gift from philanthropist Emma Getz in memory of her late husband, businessman Oscar Getz. The Getzes were distinguished patrons of the arts who helped raise funds for the founding of the Lyric Opera in the 1950s and the restoration of the Auditorium Theatre in the 1960s. The Getz family’s support of Columbia College’s Theatre program was facilitated by the college’s then-dean, Lya Dym Rosenblum, who had come to the United States as a child with her family as refugees from Hitler’s Germany in 1938 thanks to the sponsorship of Oscar Getz. The restored Emma & Oscar Getz Theatre was formally dedicated on October 27, 1985, with a gala headlined by famed Broadway director Joshua Logan and his wife, Nedda Harrigan Logan.
From 1980 through 1995, the Theatre and Music programs at Columbia College were combined in a single department, chaired by Sheldon Patinkin, with composer-in-residence William Russo serving as director of the Contemporary American Music Program. The Theatre and Music programs shared classroom space and faculty, and the Getz Theatre hosted productions by both the Theatre and Music programs until the two programs split into separate departments and the Columbia College Chicago Music Department relocated next door to the former Sherwood Conservatory of Music building. Today, the Theatre and Music departments still collaborate on an interdisciplinary Musical Theatre Program.
In 2018, marking the 90th anniversary of its construction, the historic 72 E. 11th Street building was designated as the Getz Theater Center of Columbia College Chicago after undergoing a two-year renovation project led by the architectural firm Gensler. While the building’s Art Deco facade was diligently preserved, the proscenium-style main auditorium was transformed into the 181-seat Courtyard Theater. The center’s other three performance spaces are the Sheldon Patinkin Theater (formerly known as the New Studio); the Classic Theater, a black-box studio used primarily for student directing projects; and Studio 404, a flexible space well suited to immersive multimedia productions.
The Getz Theater Center brought all theatre facilities at Columbia College under one roof: it houses a costume shop, a lighting design lab, a makeup and prosthetics lab, costume and prop shops, a dance studio, a library/resource center, classrooms, offices, and a fully-equipped scene shop adjacent to the Courtyard.
The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department offers degrees in Acting, Comedy Writing and Performance (in partnership with The Second City comedy theatre and training center), Musical Theatre, Theatre Design and Technology, and Theatre with concentrations in directing, playwriting, and stage management, as well as minors in Acting, Theatre Directing, Writing for Performance, and Stage Combat. In 2017, the department introduced its first graduate degree program, the European Devised Performance Practice MFA, in partnership with the London International School of Performing Arts.
Over more than 35 years, under the leadership of Sheldon Patinkin and his successors John Green and current interim chair Peter Carpenter, the Columbia College Theatre Department at the Getz Theater Center has reflected and helped shape the development of Chicago as an international theatre capital while training thousands of young creatives who have gone on to distinguished careers as performers, writers, composers, designers, directors, choreographers, musical directors, producers, administrators, entrepreneurs, critics, and teachers in theatre, film, TV, academia, and the media.
In conjunction with the Columbia College Theatre Reunion Weekend, the Columbia College Chicago Library is hosting a display of pictures, programs, and other materials related to the history of the Getz Theater Center of Columbia College Chicago. Titled “Setting the Stage: The Theatre Building at Columbia College Chicago,” it chronicles the history of the 72 East 11th St. building, from its construction in 1928-29 as the home to the Woman’s City Club of Chicago to its renovation in 2018. The exhibit is on the fifth floor (east side) of the library at 624 S. Michigan, Chicago. Free and open to the public, on display through October 21.
Please join us for the Columbia College Theatre Reunion Weekend October 19 and 20, 2018. To register, click here.
Below is a gallery of posters from Columbia College Theatre Department productions over the decades. To see more posters, click here. For more information on the history of theatre education at Columbia College Chicago, click here.