Mission & History

The Victory Gardens Theater was founded in 1974, since then it has produced more world premiers and Chicago premiers, worked with more living playwrights, and exported more new plays for production elsewhere than any other theater in the region.

Our Mission

Victory Gardens Theater nurtures and produces relevant, new theater work that reflects the diverse stories of our world and contributes to the vitality of the American Theater. Our work inspires dialogue towards meaningful civic change and creates an inclusive theater experience that belongs to everyone.

Our Vision

To be the leader in bringing stories to the stage that help ignite social change for a better world.

Our Values

Integrity, Diversity, Innovation, and Excellence.


In 1974, with $1,000 from seven Chicago artists and a light board, Victory Gardens Theater 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 Theater then assumed leadership from Remains Theater of The Access Project, an innovative program that uses technology to make theater more accessible for persons with disabilities. Victory Gardens Theater becomes Chicago’s number one presenter of barrier-free live theater. Since its founding, the company has produced more world premiers than any other Chicago theater.

In 1996, the Victory Gardens Theater 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 Theater 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 Theater 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 $11.8 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 was committed to the development, production and support of new plays that has been the mission of the theater since its founding and continued to cultivate work by a diverse range of established and emerging artists. He departed Victory Gardens in 2020, after 9 years as Artistic Director.

In 2020, the onset and endurance of the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant change, challenges, and development for the entire world, including Victory Gardens. The new normal led to the expansion of theater to online performances and delivery, allowing Victory Gardens to continue to reach audiences in their homes.


In 2022, after more than two difficult years with canceled and abbreviated seasons, low audience turn-out, and artistic leadership and staffing challenges, the Board of Directors transitioned the organization to a foundation. While there are currently no planned productions at Victory Gardens Theater, the Board of Directors is working on new ways for the theater to achieve its mission to nurture relevant, new theatrical work reflecting the diverse stories of our world and contributing to the vitality of American Theater.