HISTORY OF THE GETZ THEATER CENTER
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO

  Photo courtesy of Gensler

Photo courtesy of Gensler

an historic space

The historic Getz Theater Center of Columbia College Chicago, a six-story, limestone-clad Art Deco building at 72 E. 11th St. in Chicago's South Loop, was built in 1929 by Holabird & Root, architects of outstanding Chicago skyscrapers such as the Chicago Board of Trade, the Palmolive Building, and the 333 N. Michigan Avenue Building as well as Columbia College Chicago's Alexandroff Campus Center.

The building was originally owned by the Chicago Woman’s Club and housed the progressive organization’s meeting rooms, offices, and an auditorium. Rich in history, it was the site for rallies in support of women’s voting rights, efforts on behalf of compulsory education laws, and fundraising for scholarships at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a women’s dormitory at the University of Chicago.

During World War II, the building was occupied by the Women's Army Corps and served as a USO Center. From 1946 until 1974, the building was home to Spertus College (now the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership) before Spertus moved to Michigan Avenue. The building was acquired by Columbia in 1980 from the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago as the home of the then-combined Columbia College Chicago Theatre/Music Department, chaired by Sheldon Patinkin, who recruited a faculty of professional artists from Chicago's nationally lauded theatre scene, including members of Steppenwolf Theatre and The Second City.

 Sheldon Patinkin

Sheldon Patinkin

In 1985, the college restored the main auditorium, previously known as the 11th Street Theatre, with a gift from philanthropist Emma Getz in memory of her late husband, businessman Oscar Getz. The Getzes were distinguished patrons of the arts who helped raise funds for the founding of the Lyric Opera in the 1950s and the restoration of the Auditorium Theatre in the 1960s. The restored Getz Theatre formally opened on October 27, 1985, with a gala headlined by famed Broadway director Joshua Logan and his wife, Nedda Harrigan Logan. The Theatre and Music departments separated in 1996, but the two departments continue to collaborate on an interdisciplinary Musical Theatre program.

CREATING A CENTER FOR 21st-Century THEATRE AT COLUMBIA

In 2017, the Getz Theater Center underwent a two-year renovation project led by the architectural firm Gensler. While the building's Art Deco facade was diligently preserved, the main auditorium was transformed into the 181-seat Courtyard Theater. The center's other three performance spaces are the Sheldon Patinkin Theater (formerly known as the New Studio); the Classic Theater, a black-box studio used primarily for student directing projects; and Studio 404, a flexible space well suited to immersive multimedia productions. The Getz Theater Center finally brought all theatre facilities under one roof. It houses a costume shop, a design lab, a makeup lab, a dance studio, a library/resource center, classrooms, offices, and a fully-equipped scene shop adjacent to the Courtyard.

CONTINUING EXCELLENCE IN THEATRE EDUCATION

The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department offers degrees in Acting, Comedy Writing and Performance (in partnership with The Second City), Musical Theatre, Theatre Design and Technology, and Theatre with concentrations in directing, playwriting, and stage management. In 2017, the department introduced its first graduate degree program, the European Devised Performance Practice MFA, in partnership with the London International School of Performing Arts.

In addition to Columbia College Chicago's generous college-wide scholarship programs, there are five dedicated scholarships for Theatre majors: the Carol Cohen Award for Theatre Design and Technical Theatre students, the Chicago Drama League Endowed Retention Scholarship for Acting students, the David Talbott Cox Scholarship for Theatre Directing students, the Jim Jacobs Musical Theatre Scholarship for Musical Theatre students, and the Sheldon Patinkin Award for graduating students.

Over more than 35 years, the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department has trained thousands of young creatives who have gone on to distinguished careers as performers, writers, designers, directors, producers, and teachers in theatre, film, TV, and academia.

For more on the history of the Theatre program at Columbia College Chicago, please visit the Digital Commons.

 
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