Organic Theater Company
Organic Theater Company, a Chicago theatre, was founded in 1969 in Madison, Wisconsin by artistic director Stuart Gordon and his wife Carolyn Purdy Gordon. Its first play was a production of "Richard III" but harassment from the local officials of Madison caused the production to be moved to three different venues before closing. In 1970 at the invitation of Paul Sills Organic moved to Chicago where Sills helped the theater find a home in the Holy Covenant Church where they produced original adaptations of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Homer's "Odyssey". When Sills took his production of Story Theater to Los Angeles that summer he invited Organic to produce at his Body Politic Theater on Lincoln Avenue. The company ended up staying there over three years where it produced "Candide" which was invited by Joseph Papp to the Public Theater in New York. They also produced "Poe" by playwright Stephen Most and "Warp!" by Stuart Gordon and Bury St. Edmund aka Lenny Kleinfeld, an original science-fiction epic adventure in three parts. "Warp!" was produced on Broadway at the Ambassador Theater in 1973.
Returning to Chicago the company set up shop in the Uptown Center Hull House on Beacon Street. The new company included Joe Mantegna, Dennis Franz and Meshach Taylor. Their first production there was "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit" by Ray Bradbury. This was followed by 'Bloody Bess - A Tale of Piracy and Revenge" by John Ostrander and William J. Norris. In 1974 they presented the world premiere of "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet. That same year they embarked on their first European tour playing in Amsterdam, Brussells, and Hamburg.
Returning to Chicago they produced a two part adaptation of Mark Twain's 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". This production toured the United States and Europe. In the next few years Organic worked with Roald Dahl to present "Switch Bitch" and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "The Sirens of Titan" In 1976 they created "Bleacher Bums" and toured the show throughout the United States and presented the show at The American Place Theater. It was adapted for television and aired nationally on PBS in 1979.
In 1981 Organic renovated the Buckingham Theater on Clark Street where it worked with author Mary Renault to adapt her book "The King Must Die" to the stage. This was followed by a musical adaptation of William Kotzwinkle's book "Dr. Rat" by June Shellene and Richard Fire and the company's longest running show "E/R" conceived by Dr. Ronald Berman.
Notable productions during founding artistic director Stuart Gordon's leadership included:
- “E/R Emergency Room” conceived and written by the Organics under the supervision of Dr. Ronald Berman. (It later became a television series E/R in 1984, with Bruce A. Young and Shuko Akune reprising their roles from the play)
After “E/R Emergency Room,” Stuart Gordon went to the west coast to make his cult classic sci-fi film "Re-Animator".
Artistic directors after Stuart Gordon included Thomas Riccio and Richard Fire. In 1996 Organic Theater Company and Touchstone Theatre merged under the leadership of Touchstone’s artistic director Ina Marlowe. (For two years the organization did business as Organic Touchstone but is now known again as Organic Theater Company.)
Notable productions during artistic director Ina Marlowe’s leadership included:
- “The Steward of Christendom” by Sebastian Barry, director Ina Marlowe worked closely with Irish playwright Sebastian Barry on this Midwest premiere
- “The Lady from Dubuque” by Edward Albee, director Ina Marlowe worked closely with Edward Albee on this Chicago premiere
Ina Marlowe passed the torch to artistic director Alexander Gelman at the beginning of 2006. Gelman’s Organic Theater Company is now a company of actors touring with a rotating repertory. Since then the company has produced The $30,000 Bequest by Mark Twain, Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville, and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. He also directed Eugene Ionesco's Man with Bags, Friedrich Durrenmatt's Play Strindberg, and Shimizu Kunio's The Dressing Room.
Over the years, Organic Theater Company venues have included: The Holy Covenant United Methodist Church 925 W. Diversey Parkway, Chicago, The Body Politic Theater (later Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater) 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, The Uptown Center Hull House 4520 N. Beacon Street, Chicago, The Buckingham Theater 3319 N. Clark Street, Chicago.