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Steppenwolf Theatre

Steppenwolf Theatre

In its rise from a humble hometown start to international fame, Steppenwolf became a Chicago cultural icon, symbolic of the heights of high-profile achievement to which a locally based theater could climb.

Founded in 1975 and originally housed in the 88-seat basement auditorium of a Roman Catholic church and school in north suburban Highland Park, the scrappy, ambitious ensemble of young actors, including several alumni of Illinois State University, made their first, sensational impression with intense, highly physical interpretations of gritty contemporary drama.

Moving into Chicago in 1980, the company achieved major breakthroughs when several of its hit Chicago productions— True West, And a Nightingale Sang, Balm in Gilead, and Orphans —transferred to much-applauded engagements in New York's off-Broadway theaters, effectively launching the big-time stage, screen, and television careers of ensemble members Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, Kevin Anderson, and Joan Allen. This success was followed by a 1985 Tony Award as outstanding regional theater and a 1990 Tony for best play of the 1989–90 Broadway season for director Frank Galati's adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

In 1991, Steppenwolf moved into a new $8 million, 500-seat theater at 1650 N. Halsted Street, and in 1998, in a first for a theater organization, it received a National Medal of Arts, which cited its outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States.

The company, grown to more than 30 members, concentrated on larger-scale dramas in its new theater complex. Significantly, though its star members no longer lived in Chicago, they regularly returned to the home base for theater engagements.