American Theater Company
About American Theater Company
American Theater Company was founded in July 1985 as American Blues Theater, a company dedicated to exploring, nurturing, and developing theatre that addressed and affected real working-class people of Chicago. In August 1993, the company leased a warehouse in the North Center neighborhood and transformed it into an intimate 100-seat theater. From the beginning, the theater was a community center, playing host to Chamber of Commerce meetings and neighborhood events.
Brian Russell became the company's first full-time paid artistic director in March 1997. Russell ushered in a new era of growth and professionalism. The theater changed its name to American Theater Company, began producing four-play subscription seasons, expanded the budget for productions and operations, and cultivated the growth of a full-time staff.
Russell stepped down in 2002 and the Board of Directors hired Damon Kiely as the company’s second full-time artistic director. His vision returned the company to its roots of producing only American stories and revised the mission statement to asking the community the question: "What does it mean to be an American?" His tenure included his re-imagining of Oklahoma! which broke box office records and also played at Theater on the Lake. Kiely resigned at the end of the 2007 season.
In November 2007, PJ Paparelli was named as the company’s third professional artistic director and in August of 2008, ATC hired its first Executive Director, Michael Thomas Newberry. Newberry and Paparelli helmed the company’s most significant era of growth and transformation. During this period ATC served its mission by producing diverse, progressive plays including Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Speech & Debate, The People’s Temple and an unprecedented repertory of productions of True West and Topdog/Underdog in collaboration with Congo Square Theatre Company. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “An exciting new era. Demonstrably, ATC is now on a whole new track… comparable to what you’d see at America’s leading progressive theaters.”
In the last five years, ATC has developed a reputation for producing newly restored or revised musicals by collaborating with the authors of America’s most beloved rock shows in order to premiere new versions, including Jim Jacobs on The Original Grease, which received the 2011 Jeff Award for Best Musical; James Rado on restored book and lyrics for Hair based on the 1967 Off-Broadway production; and a re-imagined version of Rent directed by David Cromer.
During this time, ATC has also premiered new work that continued on to some of the country’s leading stages. Highlights include the world premieres of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the most produced play in the US in the 2015-2016 season; The Humans by Stephen Karam, which was selected as production of the year (2014) by The Chicago Tribune and won the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway where it is currently running, Welcome to Arroyo’s by 2010 Pulitzer Prize-nominee Kristoffer Diaz which went to The Old Globe; and The Big Meal by Dan LeFranc (2011 Jeff Award for Best Ensemble) which went to Playwrights Horizons.