BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Two of Chicago’s most recognized young leaders, Nora Daley Conroy and Patrick Wood Prince, have firmly placed Chicago theater at center stage when it comes to their volunteering efforts.
Nora is currently completing her term as Chairman of the Steppenwolf Theatre’s board, while Patrick serves as Vice Chair of the Goodman Theatre’s trustees. Talking with them recently gave us an opportunity to see what’s ahead for these acclaimed theatres and to accentuate what a difference skilled volunteers can make in the arts.
Nora shared with us her passion for Steppenwolf:
“I have always loved voices and stories. Getting to know the ensemble of artists is irresistible. There are many artists, such as Tracy Letts, who keep coming back to Steppenwolf to do their best work. Steppenwolf has been called the nation’s premiere ensemble theater. Personally, I have loved being on the play development committee, a great chance to get a first look at new works coming to our main stage.”
Patrick echoes that sense of behind-the-scenes magic and adds:
“It has been like pulling back the curtain, when you begin to understand how the playwright and director work together and what a talented cast can accomplish. As a student at the Latin School and then at St. George’s, I loved being in plays. When I came back to Chicago in 2005, and was invited on the Goodman board, I said I would take a look. I tried to quietly learn, was plugged into a committee or two, and then began to see that everything is so much bigger behind the scenes. Joan Clifford is our board chair and she does a fine job.”
How fortunate to be there when these two talented leaders compared notes:
Tell me a little about your theaters this season.
Nora: Steppenwolf is trying to add more voices and institute shorter runs for its actors. It can be really a challenge for actors to commit to long runs. For example, Laurie Metcalf has a show in New York and one in Los Angeles, but she was able to come back and work with us for a short period in our new black box theater called 1700, which is already adding more opportunities for actors.”
Patrick: The Goodman is dedicated to its mission of advancing regional theater, finding talent, and not just out being out there searching for big names. Wonderful Town, which closes October 23 after an extended run, is a great example of what we can do. There are lots of characters—north of 25—an 18-piece orchestra and a terrific show. Coming back to back with another musical War Paint—that is quite a feat. Another great example will be Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya, directed by Robert Falls, which will in open in February. Once you dive into Chekov you see what an amazing production that will be.
Who are some theater people who have inspired you?
Patrick: Our Executive Director, Roche Schulfer, came to the Goodman right out of high school to work at the box office. The theater had to vacate its Art Institute location, and there was a chance it would go away entirely. It is amazing to watch him curate the ensemble. And Bob Falls, our artistic director, is a subtle genius and one of the funniest people around. He has been at the Goodman for 30 years.
Nora: Hallie Gordon, our artistic director for young adults, particularly inspires me. Her unique approach combines the play production with educational components to enhance arts education for young audiences. Working closely with the Chicago public and metropolitan area schools and other community partners, we annually ensure access to the theater for more than 15,000 participants from our city’s diverse communities. A great example is The Burials, a new play by Caitlin Parrish that just completed its run. It is about a brilliant young millennial whose life is shattered when her brother goes on a shooting rampage—a powerful modern day story of civic responsibility and a response to gun violence.
Patrick: The Goodman also places great importance on outreach and serves as a catalyst for positive social change. We recently opened The Alice, a center for education and engagement named for the late trustee Alice Rapoport. There are over 8,000 youth and lifelong learners who have been involved recently in our outreach programs.
With everyone seemingly getting everything off of electronic devices, what are some of the benefits of live theater for young people?
Patrick: What I have discovered with live theater is that there is so much more to it than actors on the stage and the story. I would encourage young people to use your electronic device to look up Anton Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill, or William Shakespeare. There is a reason why their stories are still making it to the stage after 400 years in Shakespeare’s case or over 100 years like Chekhov or O’Neill. Live theater also discovers contemporary storytellers that will become a part of history. Live theater is a vessel for the house to put together a great team to produce the emotions, thoughts, passions, and life of the storytellers.
Nora: I advise everyone to go online before attending and see the photos of the rehearsals, read about the upcoming play, and learn about the author. We are always trying to deepen the relationship with the playwright and beginning online facilitates this.
Thanks to Nora’s leadership and the generosity of donors, Steppenwolf recently opened the Front Bar, an area where theatergoers can gather afterwards to discuss the play and now an audience destination.
Stepping down as Board Chair but remaining on the Board’s Executive Committee, she will be succeeded by Eric Lefkofsky. Nora was recently toasted by Steppenwolf’s Executive Director David Schmitz:
“Nora Daley’s contributions over the past seven years have been tremendous—from founding the theater’s first young professionals group in 2000 and launching the first Women in the Arts Luncheon in 2010, which continues to be one of our most highly-anticipated programs, to her passionate advocacy for arts education and our Young Adults program. She is a change-maker and visionary.”
Steppenwolf’s 2016-2017 season opened with the world premiere of Visiting Edna by David Rabe, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, playing through November 6. Tracy Letts world premiere of Linda Vista, directed by Dexter Bullard, opens March 30.
Named by Time Magazine as the best regional theater in the country, The Goodman ushers in holiday spirit with the beloved Christmas Carol, opening November 19. In addition to Uncle Vanya, which opens February 22, the season includes The Destiny of Desire by Karen Zacarias, a seductive comedy about Latin American telenovelas that opens in March.