Chicago Dramatists Helping Playwrights Go from Script to Stage

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Helbig

Twenty-five years ago a small group of playwrights in Chicago banded together for weekly Saturday afternoon staged readings. After each reading, they commented on each other's work.

The Chicago Dramatists Workshop started out with only three members, but they invited others to join them and slowly the group grew.

Today, the organization has 23 resident playwrights (including the Daily Herald's music critic Mark Guarino), a professional staff, a board of directors, and a year-round schedule of classes in such topics as playwriting, stage adaptation and screenwriting.

The group has moved to its own space at Chicago and Milwaukee avenues, dropped "Workshop" from its name and continued the tradition of Saturday afternoon staged readings followed by an audience discussion.

"We have been doing the Saturday series for 25 years," managing director Ann Filmer says, "and hopefully we'll do it for another 25 years, and for 25 years after that."

Longevity is one thing, but has Chicago Dramatists had an impact? A quick glance at the list of writers associated with Chicago Dramatists provides the answer. Rebecca Gilman, currently the second most famous playwright to come out of Chicago (behind David Mamet), honed her skills at the theater on Chicago's Near North side, before moving on to success at the Goodman, off- Broadway and in London.

So did David Rush, who is now teaching theater and writing at Southern Illinois University. His accomplishments may be more than Gilman's - he is more of a regional success than a national one - but are no less impressive.

The list of resident playwrights at Chicago Dramatists reads like a Who's Who of Chicago's young, rising writers: Lydia R. …