Under the leadership of Artistic Director Chay Yew, Victory Gardens is dedicated to artistic excellence while creating a vital, contemporary American Theater that is accessible and relevant to all people through quality productions of challenging new plays and musicals.
Victory Gardens Theater is a leader in developing and producing new theatre work and cultivating an inclusive theater community. Victory Gardens’ core strengths are nurturing and producing dynamic and inspiring new plays, reflecting the diversity of our city’s and nation’s culture through engaging diverse communities, and in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, bringing art and culture to our city’s active student population.
In 1974, with $1,000 from seven Chicago artists and a light board, Victory Gardens was born. Marcelle McVay became the first employee as Managing Director. Dennis Začek later becomes Artistic Director in 1978 and commits the company to presenting a racially integrated season.
In 1995, Victory Gardens then assumed leadership from Remains Theatre of The Access Project, an innovative program that uses technology to make theater more accessible for persons with disabilities. Victory Gardens becomes Chicago’s number one presenter of barrier-free live theater. Since its founding, the company has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater.
In 1996, the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble was created, a coming together of a diverse group of playwrights under a producing organization, virtually unheard of in American resident theaters. Founding members include Claudia Allen, Dean Corrin, Lonnie Carter, Steve Carter, Gloria Bond Clunie, John Logan, Nicholas Patricca, Douglas Post, James Sherman, Charles Smith, and Jeffrey Sweet. Kristine Thatcher joined the ensemble later that year. In 2007, Nilo Cruz and Joel Drake Johnson round out the Ensemble to fourteen members.
On June 3, 2001, Victory Gardens received the Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The award was presented for “displaying a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theater nationally.” Julie Harris kicks off a press conference stating “Victory Gardens stands for everything I believe in, especially bringing new plays to audiences.” Dennis Začek, Marcelle McVay, and Associate Artistic Director Sandy Shinner accepted the award on behalf of the theater.
In 2004, Victory Gardens announced the purchase of the historic Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue, and two years later, on September 28, the Victory Gardens Theater marquee at the Biograph was lit for the first time during a sunset ceremony.
In 2006, Victory Gardens successfully completed an $11.8 million renovation of Chicago’s famed Biograph Theater, and moved two blocks north from its longtime venue at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, to its beautiful new home in one of Chicago’s most celebrated historic landmarks. Renamed Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, the new venue is a state-of-the-art 299-seat mainstage which has greatly expanded the company’s artistic flexibility. In 2009, Victory Gardens completed the second phase of renovation at the Biograph, building an intimate, new, 109-seat studio theater on the second floor.
On March 1, 2010, at a special launch event for Victory Gardens $1 million Campaign for Growth, the theater’s new studio was officially named the Richard Christiansen Theater, in honor of the Chicago Tribune chief critic emeritus and longtime champion of Chicago’s live theater scene.
With the arrival of Chay Yew in 2011, Victory Gardens had its first new Artistic Director in 34 years. Chay remains committed to the development, production and support of new plays that has been the mission of the theater since its founding. Victory Gardens continues to cultivate work by a diverse range of established and emerging artists, continuing the vision set forth by Dennis Začek, Marcelle McVay, and the original founders of Victory Gardens Theater.