Chicago Shakespeare Theater founder to step down after 37 years as artistic director

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, April 2, 2023
Our Chicago Part 1: Longtime Shakespeare Theater director to step down
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Looking for things to do in Chicago? 'The Comedy of Errors' runs through April 23 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The woman who brought us the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is stepping down after 37 years as artistic director.

Barbara Gaines founded the theater in 1986. She said William Shakespeare himself convinced her that Chicago needed such a theater.

"I couldn't believe that no Shakespeare, or a tiny bit of Shakespeare, was being done every few years in one of the most culturally beautiful theaters in America. And so, I and a few wonderful actor friends, we did this performance on the roof of the Red Lion Pub in 1986. And, I should tell you it was a karmic force in action, because the show was to happen on the roof of the Red Lion Pub, and you needed the upper deck. And if it rained, we wouldn't have had a theater, because I chose the audience members for who could help us financially. So, it rained on the buildings next door to the Red Lion Pub. And, it rained across the street at the Biograph Theater, and it rained in the alley. But, it never rained on that pub, so we never had to cancel a performance," Gaines said.

Gaines said it was high school kids who made her confident that the city would embrace the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

"We brought something called 'Shakespeare's greatest hits' to inner city high schools, and those kids, absolutely, I remember them running from their seats after they gave it a standing ovation, and they ran to get the actor's signatures. And then, I knew we would be fine," Gaines said.

Since then, Gaines has directed nearly 60 productions. Her final one as artistic director is "The Comedy of Errors." Gaines said it's hilarious.

WATCH: Our Chicago Part 2

"It's the perfect play. If you want to drag someone to Shakespeare, it's perfect, because there's a whole other play within the play," Gaines said.

It runs through April 23, which happens to be William Shakespeare's birthday.

Gaines said she thinks the theater needs, "new, younger blood, new ideas." As for what's ahead, while Gaines won't be artistic director, she hopes she will still be directing.

"And that's where that passion is going to go. I'm also working on a new musical based on Macbeth," Gaines said.

Click here for more information on "The Comedy of Errors."