Mission & History

A Red Orchid Theatre's Mission

A Red Orchid Theatre is an ensemble of artists dedicated to the proliferation of live theatre in the modern world. We believe that theatre is the greatest sustenance for the human spirit, and we approach our work with a palpable sense of social compassion, aesthetic rigor, and honesty. By presenting new plays from all over the world and by reviving insightful works from the past that bear new relevance today, we aim to seek out and build new audiences for the modern stage.

A Red Orchid Theatre's Founding Ensemble Members Guy Van Swearingen, Lawrence Grimm, & Michael Shannon at the 2018 Gala.
A Red Orchid Theatre's Founding Ensemble Members Guy Van Swearingen, Lawrence Grimm, & Michael Shannon at the 2018 Gala.

A Red Orchid Theatre History

Founded in 1993 by Ensemble Members Guy Van Swearingen, Michael Shannon, and Lawrence Grimm, A Red Orchid Theatre has become one of the leading theatres in the dynamic Chicago theatre scene. We are now celebrating our 31st season with our 29-member ensemble, a tightly knit group of accomplished actors, directors, designers, playwrights, and teaching artists in the Chicago arts community. It is the ensemble’s dedication and talent that has enabled us to thrive. Recognizing the need to take active responsibility for our role in the burgeoning city of Chicago and its internationally recognized theatre community, A Red Orchid, as an organization, seeks to give back to them through workshops and the support and development of talented new artists who share our passion for thought-provoking work. Our commitment to the idea of producing innovative work that allows artists (both ensemble and non-ensemble members) to grow has made A Red Orchid Theatre one of the most respected small theatre companies in Chicago.

A Red Orchid Theatre mounts three to four productions a year in a 70-seat theatre space in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. These productions are a combination of contemporary, new plays and classic, lesser-known works. Since 1993, A Red Orchid has produced a total of 87 plays. Of those produced, 23 have been world premieres, 6 US premieres, and 39 Midwest/Chicago premieres. The ensemble members’ pursuit of new works and past classics in need of a fresh approach has earned A Red Orchid Theatre a reputation for producing insightful productions with exquisite acting and design.

Members of the "Traitor" cast & production team at the 2018 Equity Jeff Awards.
Members of the "Traitor" cast & production team at the 2018 Equity Jeff Awards.

In the past 30 years, A Red Orchid Theatre has made numerous contributions to the Chicago theatre scene. Our mission of building an audience for the modern world results in the frequent production of plays that are infrequently produced, such as new works or Midwest and US premieres, and classic plays that bear relevance to modern times but are rarely produced. We are always pleased and proud to have our productions and performers recognized for their merit, and over the years we have seen many award nominations as well as praise for our work. The theatre has received over 49 Joseph Jefferson Equity nominations and 14 Awards. We were also thrilled to be named one of fourteen Chicago arts organizations to receive the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2016.

Chicago is a theatre city. While there are many storefront theatres in Chicago, one of the things that set us apart is the intimate space. A Red Orchid Theatre provides an experience like no other. Our audience and actors come together, breathing the same air, to create art. It is in this coming together where we forge something truly unique. Emily Mann, Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ, described how thrilled she was to work with A Red Orchid and called us “the best ensemble in the entire country.” It is the ensemble’s dedication to their craft and their application of that craft in the space that makes A Red Orchid Theatre so special.

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Land Acknowledgement

A Red Orchid Theatre sits upon the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: The Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations. Many other Tribes like the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, and Fox also called this area home. Located at the intersection of several great waterways, the land naturally became a site of travel and healing for many Tribes. American Indians continue to call this area home, and now Chicago is home to the sixth largest Urban American Indian community that still practices their heritage, traditions, and care for the land and waterways. Today, Chicago continues to be a place that calls many people from diverse backgrounds to live and gather here. Despite the many changes the city has experienced, both American Indians and A Red Orchid see the importance of the land and this place that has always been home to many diverse backgrounds and perspectives.