Cover artwork of the Season in review 2020/21: A group of friends open a time capsule labelled 2020.
Chicago Season in Review 2020/21: A Season in Transition
Chicago Banner for Season in Review 2020/21
Artwork by Bekka Lindstrom, Drawings by Ian Sklarsky

Reflecting on the past year in the Chicago region, our theatre community moved through uncertain circumstances. The pandemic, a polarized political environment, and issues of equity, public health, and diversity set the context for a season in transition. Throughout it all, regional membership endured with signature resilience. Members honed their craft, developed work, created their own opportunities, or simply took the time to care for themselves and the community. In this season in review, we acknowledge various phases of transition, highlighting process over product and the enduring spirit of members.

In an initial phase of change, playwrights slated for winter or spring production faced postponement, abbreviated runs, or outright cancellation while others scrambled to provide theatres with adaptations to digital media. Theatres with the resources to record live productions made valiant, if haphazard, efforts to maintain their season by inviting audiences to view recorded productions. This gave way to livestreaming shows and Zoom adaptations in a transition from live to digital forums. “Is my play still going to get done?” was a frequent refrain as membership found ways to gather (and commiserate) digitally. Over the community hung a new question, “What value do we place on digital production?”

In the next phase, dramatists of Chicago and surrounding regions got inventive. The initial period of shock gave way to, “What can we do that’s totally different and forward?” Playwrights seized the moment to reconnect with outside collaborators that were suddenly available and just as accessible as those in their vicinity. Some wrote in groups, others workshopped material virtually, while others invested in new forms like microplays on social media, audio plays, or hybrid forms that combined live interaction with recorded media. A representative fraction of this work is reflected in the self-reported Dramatists Diary below.

Playwrights also took this time of transition to take stock of the current state of the theatre as an industry and its operations in the Chicago region. Members took the temperature on ways theatres conducted business and interacted with their peers regarding everything from administration to production. A number of playwrights and theatre artists called for changes they felt would make the theatre a more equitable space.

Some theatres made efforts to respond, with mixed results. In May 2020, Victory Gardens announced an artistic and executive leadership transition that coincided with heightened protest and advocacy within the theatre’s own artistic ranks and the community at large. Almost exactly a year later, Steppenwolf Theatre Company announced a leadership transition, reflecting further changes in the field. And this season saw so many storefronts announcing closings, restructuring, and revisiting of direction. 

As we anticipate a return to live theatre events, the ground is still shifting. Theatres have outdoor events, pre-recorded performances, live streaming shows, and indoor productions planned for the upcoming season. Whatever the next year brings, the community can count on the grit and generosity of Chicago membership to make it a success.


View this Region's latest additions to the Dramatists Diary

Dolores Diaz
Dolores Diaz

is a Chicana playwright, composer, lyricist, and librettist, originally from the border city of Laredo, Texas. She serves as the DG Regional Rep for Chicago.

Derek McPhatter
Derek McPhatter

is a composer, lyricist, playwright, and librettist. He is committed to new work that engages diverse communities, emphasizing narratives at the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, and technology.