We are our history, are we not?
On December 9, the Auditorium Theatre celebrates its 125th Anniversary with a gala dinner and star-studded performance, hosted by actor, John Mahoney. Looking back, what kind of city would Chicago be if it didn't have the Auditorium Theatre?
Built in 1889, the Auditorium Theatre was, in its day, the largest building in the United States. The Adler and Sullivan masterpiece paved the way for an architectural claim that our city would go on to make time and time again - not only having the largest building in the U.S., but the tallest! - for the decades to come with modern architecture. In addition to being an architectural wonder - air conditioning requiring 15 tons of ice daily, hydraulic lifts and 3,500 bare carbon filament light bulbs, the Auditorium Theatre made the rest of the world see Chicago for its potential.
At the time, Chicago was barely recovering from the Great Fire of 1871 and was known more or less as a troubled town. The Auditorium Theatre -- its scale, its diverse artistic programming of dance, music and colorful performance (something it has been true to throughout its tenure), and its glamour -- made it possible for the world to see Chicago as having the vision, financial wherewithal and work ethic to pull off producing a world's fair. And in 1893, we did.
Just think what kind of city Chicago would have been if we never had the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
It is best summed up by Executive Director, Brett Batterson:
The Auditorium Theatre demonstrated to the world that the city of Chicago could become a culturally rich, vibrant city. The success of the theatre in its early years along with the philanthropic support it generated, led the way for artists to look at Chicago as a place to locate their artistic endeavors. This led to the founding of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. One success built upon another until it reached the point that theatres like Steppenwolf could not happen anywhere else. Chicago was the city that would encourage young actors and artists to get together and create a company, whereas other cities would shrug their shoulders and say, 'Who cares?' All of this started with the Auditorium Theatre in 1889 when Chicago was reinventing itself after the fire.
Sure, the Auditorium Theatre had its rough time... and as Chicagoans we are no strangers to having to pull ourselves out of difficulty. In 1941 the theater went bankrupt and was used to house servicemen during the war, including entertaining them with a bowling alley, constructed on what is now the Auditorium's stage.
However, the Auditorium was saved from the wrecking ball on more than a few occasions and eventually rose from the ashes, like many Chicago artists. It re-opened in 1967 with New York City Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream and then went on to showcase some major Rock 'N' Rollers and pop stars: Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.
The tour de force of the Auditorium's varied and rich programing gave way to other arts organizations taking hold in Chicago, producing original artistic content, proving viable in our Midwestern epicenter and noted around the world.
In The Dinner Party To Go podcast above, I speak with famed actor John Mahoney, this year's host of the Auditorium Theatre's 125th year anniversary Gala on December 9. A member of the Chicago Theater community since 1977, Mahoney acknowledges how the Auditorium Theatre impacted him as a young, struggling actor and what the Auditorium meant for him in his early career. The Auditorium Theatre is the foundation and initial building block for so many artists and arts organization that came after. We are our history, are we not?
The December 9 Gala will include a glorious program of diverse entertainment typical of the programming throughout the Auditorium's unique history. The performance will be followed by a dinner celebration. For tickets to the Auditorium Theatre's December 9th Anniversary Gala with actor John Mahoney as host, click here.