Spring 2023Theater

Chicago Shakespeare Theater to Honor 459th Birthday of the Bard with Wide Slate of Events

As the world celebrates William Shakespeare’s 459th birthday this year, Chicago Shakespeare Theater will honor the Bard with multiple events throughout the month. The theater will honor the legacy of its founding artistic director, Barbara Gaines, with the Spirit of Shakespeare Award, which will be presented at a fundraising event at the Theater’s home on Navy Pier on Monday, April 24, 2023. On April 23, the theater will invite Chicago to join in celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday with the premiere of TO BE, a free streaming event featuring performances from artists across disciplines and across the city. Also, the theater announces added performances of Gaines’ final production as artistic director, The Comedy of Errors, now extended through April 23.

Gaines receives the Spirit of Shakespeare Award in recognition of her incredible 37-year tenure at the helm of Chicago Shakespeare. The event on April 24 will celebrate her artistry, achievements, and the vital role she has played in the city’s performing arts community. Since 2011, the award has recognized those who embody Shakespeare’s spirit through community engagement and artistic leadership. Past honorees for the Spirit of Shakespeare Award include visionaries like legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, Mayor Richard M. Daley, esteemed Chicagoans John W. & Jeanne M. Rowe, and Marilynn & Carl Thoma, award-winning actors John Lithgow and Simon Callow, and Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall, among a long list of notables. 

Hailed as a leading director of Shakespeare, Gaines is well-known for her distinctly populist approach to classic texts and for imbuing her work with clarity and depth of feeling for the human condition. Over 37 years with Chicago Shakespeare, Gaines has directed more than 60 productions, including 33 Shakespeare titles and six world premieres. Gaines has also prominently directed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon (UK), Lyric Opera of Chicago, and The Old Globe in San Diego.

Among her many honors and achievements are the 2008 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre; the prestigious Honorary OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in recognition of her contributions strengthening British-American cultural relations; the Chicago History Museum’s Making History Award recognizing extraordinary contributions to Chicago; and Joseph Jefferson Awards for Best Production (Hamlet, Cymbeline, King Lear, and The Comedy of Errors), and for Best Director (Cymbeline, King Lear, and The Comedy of Errors). She is prominently featured as one of twenty women in renowned artist Kerry James Marshall’s mural, Rushmore, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Gaines has also received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Birmingham (UK), the Cultural Award from the University Club of Chicago, and the Public Humanities Award from the Illinois Humanities Council.

The highly anticipated awards event brings together Chicago’s civic and artistic communities to toast Gaines’ legacy and enjoy a three-course dinner from in-kind supporter and award-winning Chicago catering company Food For Thought with an evening of performances and stunning skyline views. 

Proceeds raised at the celebration will support the theater’s education and community engagement initiatives that annually serve thousands of students, teachers, and Chicagoans of all ages. Chicago Shakespeare’s nationally recognized arts-in-literacy initiatives support the work in classrooms for tens of thousands of students each year, and the theater’s creative community engagement programs foster neighborhood-based collaborations all year long, including the free Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks each summer. Event proceeds will fuel the Theater’s efforts and vibrant future: connecting audiences and artists, partnering with teachers and students, sharing stories with collaborators around the city and the world, and making a lasting impact on the city we call home.  

Along with the support of the event’s Headline Sponsors, Mark Ouweleen and Sarah Harding, and Burton X. and Sheli Z. Rosenburg, the Spirit of Shakespeare Awards celebration is generously supported by the theater’s Lead Consortium, including: The Jentes Family; Susan Manilow; Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan; The Segal Family Foundation; and Steve and Robin Solomon.

On April 23, the theater welcomes Chicago audiences to help celebrate William Shakespeare’s 459th birthday and the power of the arts with the debut of a free streaming event, TO BE. “All the world’s a stage” with a series of performances at the Theater’s home on Navy Pier and across the city. TO BE will pay tribute to Chicago Shakespeare’s history with an appearance by Bruce A. Young at the Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park, where he spoke the first word of the Theater’s inaugural production of Henry V in 1987. Young will be joined by esteemed Chicago actors Timothy Edward Kane and Lia Mortensen. TO BE will also spotlight the current vitality and possibilities of the arts in Chicago, with performances by community arts partners including spoken word artist Jose iasEL Gonzalez and Yin He Dance, a company rooted in Chicago’s Chinese American community. The event will also feature vocal performances by Chicago talents Neala Barron, Luke Nowakowski, Juwon Tyrel Perry, and Cherise Thomas, with music direction and accompaniment by David Fiorello. The 25-minute program debuts on Sunday, April 23 at chicagoshakes.com/tobe.Chicago Shakespeare’s current production of The Comedy of Errors, Gaines’ final show as artistic director, recently announced added performances through April 23. Gaines transports Shakespeare’s high-spirited farce to the Golden Age of film when an eccentric group of stage and screen actors gather on a London soundstage in 1940 filming some much-needed comic relief for the troops. Gaines reunites with longtime collaborator and writer Ron West of Second City fame and an ensemble cast of beloved Chicago Shakespeare collaborators to imprint her legacy with this bright comedy. Tickets are available at chicagoshakes.com/comedy.