The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department fondly honors the memory of Sheldon Patinkin – longtime chair of the Theatre Department, noted director and teacher, and cherished friend and mentor to many in the Chicago theatre community — who was born August 27, 1935.
Sheldon Patinkin was Chair of the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department from 1980 — when the College moved into what is now the Getz Theatre Center of Columbia College Chicago at 72 E. 11th St. in Chicago’s South Loop — to 2009, when he assumed the title of Chair Emeritus, continuing to teach and direct at the college until his death on September 21, 2014. Sheldon’s own account of his experience as Chair of the Columbia College Theatre Department is chronicled in a 1998 interview for the Columbia College Oral History Project.
Sheldon’s lasting impact is warmly acknowledged by Columbia College Theatre Department associate professor Susan Padveen, recently appointed as the Interim Allen and Lynn Turner Chair of the Theatre Department: “I joined the Columbia College Theatre Department in 1990 at the invitation of Sheldon, whom I knew from working at the International Theatre Festival of Chicago,” recalls Padveen. “Now, 30 years later, I am happy to share space with Sheldon, my mentor and in many ways the molder of my mid-stage career here in Chicago. We’ve had great leadership in the Theatre Department at Columbia, always right for the time we were in. Sheldon’s gift to the theatre community spanned decades, and he always worked to respond to where the world was with his work, his mentorship, and his humanity. You always knew if a student was in trouble — his hand was quick to go into his pocket for that wad of bills, and when someone had screwed up (let’s be fair, sometimes that screw-up was only in Sheldon’s imagination), the conversation always ended with (doing the voice) ‘I love you.’ We jokingly called it the Love Department, but in these challenging times, it’s what I remember wistfully. Trying hard, succeeding or failing, but being appreciated for just being, not doing. Happy birthday, Sheldon, we will always miss you. In my interim position, I hope to follow in your footsteps. No smoking in the office, though!”
Shortly before his death, Sheldon established the Sheldon Patinkin Award at Columbia College Chicago to assist outstanding Theatre students in their journey to a professional career. For more information, and to contribute to the Sheldon Patinkin Award, please contact Columbia College’s office of Development and Alumni Relations.
A beloved mentor to thousands of performers, directors and creative spirits, Sheldon was also a leading creative voice for over five decades at The Second City, America’s premier comedy theatre and training center and the Columbia College Theatre Department’s partner institution in the department’s groundbreaking BA Program in Comedy Writing and Performance. As a student at the University of Chicago in the early 1950s, he developed friendships with director Paul Sills and producer Bernie Sahlins, forming a company called the Playwrights Theatre Club. After Sills and Sahlins cofounded The Second City in 1959, Sheldon became the theatre’s general manager, eventually succeeding Sills as Artistic Director. By the mid-1960s, he was a leading artistic voice at the theater, directing many of the resident company shows.
Sheldon was also an Artistic Consultant at Chicago’s internationally lauded Steppenwolf Theatre and co-founder of The School at Steppenwolf, and taught at The School for 17 years. As stated on Steppenwolf’s website, The School at Steppenwolf was established in consultation with Sheldon by Steppenwolf co-founder (and former Columbia College Theatre Department faculty member) Jeff Perry, Steppenwolf’s then-artistic director Martha Lavey, and Lavey’s successor as artistic director, Columbia College alum Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15, a former student of Sheldon’s. They developed a 10-week “ensemble studies” curriculum designed for actors to intensively practice their craft with and through each other, inspired by values that Steppenwolf believes informs not only great ensemble work but great acting: the ability to act spontaneously, instinctively and with joyful abandon, while maintaining the specificity and discipline required of great dramatic writing.
As previously reported in this blog, on September 28, 2015, Columbia College’s president, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, formally dedicated the Getz Theatre Center’s lower-level studio performance space (formerly the New Studio Theatre) as the Sheldon Patinkin Theatre.