Artistic director leaving Victory Gardens

May 12, 2011 10:07:05 AM PDT
A leader in Chicago's theater community is taking his final bow.

After 34 years, Tony Award winner and Victory Gardens Theatre artistic director Dennis Zacek is retiring.

He was dedicated to the community with a strong commitment to Chicagoans with disabilities.

Zacek's accomplishments will not be forgotten. If anything it has encouraged local and national theaters to follow his lead.

From making Victory Gardens Theatre the most accessible for people with disabilities to showcasing performances with actors with disabilities as well as written by people with disabilities, Zacek was the driving force behind making it happen.

"As the artistic director, Dennis has the role of choosing the season and the other artist staff hopefully brings him wonderful projects to consider, and so we have always tried to make sure that we looked at plays with him and I too, making sure the whole community of Chicago was represented at Victory Gardens," said Sandy Shinner, associate artistic director.

Under Zacek's leadership, Victory Gardens became the home of Access Project. Co-director Mike Ervin shares the role with Sandy.

"He wants everybody to be able to experience the excitement of theater and everybody means everybody," said Ervin. "He develops new voices. This theatre has been used to develop playwrights, including myself, where I have disabilities."

"We really were able to integrate all of our access services and our disability artists, artists with disabilities into the main stage, and that was a hugely successful program because we were also able to start a conversation with the subscribers who came to the theater who had never thought about issues of disabilities in the way they thought about them after 'Love Person,'" Shinner said.

"And if it means doing something extra, something that may cost some money, that's OK. That's what you're supposed to do," Ervin said. "Unfortunately, not a lot of people think that way. It'd be nice if everybody thought that way, but that's what makes Dennis different."

"The goal always was to get the programming out into the community," Shinner said. "It wasn't to keep the programming for Victory Gardens for ourselves and to be unique, it was to get the programming out into the community. And so several theaters have certainly followed suit and happy that we've been able to be a training ground for them."

"I think the reason that they are that way is because of the mission, and the reason the mission is what it is is because if who Dennis is. He has always believed in giving a chance to people that need a chance," said Ervin.

Zacek will be honored Friday at a gala. For more information about Victory Gardens Theatre, Access Project and Dennis Zacek visit

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