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Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Events
Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Events


Back of the Yards

Saturday, February 23, 2019
10-11:30 a.m.

The Newberry Library
Ruggles Hall
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60610

The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, The Phantom Collective, Snickersnee Press, and the Newberry Library’s program in Chicago Studies, in collaboration with the Shakespeare Project of Chicago, present a morning devoted to playwright Kenneth Goodman (1883-1918) and his legacy.

Florice Whyte Kovan will introduce Goodman and his importance to the Chicago literary scene of the early twentieth century. The Shakespeare Project of Chicago, directed by Peter Garino, and featuring actors Deborah Clifton, John Kishline, Daniel Millhouse, Grace Smith, and Randy Steinmeyer, will stage a theatrical reading of his play Back of the Yards. Finally, there will be a talkback discussion with the audience about the play and Goodman’s contributions to Chicago literature with dramaturg June Skinner Sawyers and the director and cast.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Goodman, the son of wealthy lumber barons, was, in those early years of the 20th century, one of the leaders of the Chicago Renaissance. His plays, which he wrote alone and with collaborators such as Ben Hecht, ranged from realism to farce, and frequently opened in Chicago’s “little theaters.”

Goodman’s passion for the theater led him to establish the Chicago Theatre Society in 1911 and an “art university” combing a theatre and training program for drama students at the Art Institute in the summer of 1915. Goodman also headed the Prints Department at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his idea was to build upon (with greater resources) the “little theater” scene’s aesthetics, including a determination to include new and often controversial voices.

But Goodman died young, just 35 years old when he passed at his family home on North Astor Street during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Four years later, Goodman’s parents proposed to the Art Institute’s Board of Trustees the creation of a memorial theatre in their son’s memory. The Goodman Memorial Theatre, designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, opened on Oct. 20, 1925. That night, the theatre’s professional company, the Reparatory Company, presented three Goodman plays at the dedication performance: Back of the Yards, The Green Scarf, and The Game of Chess.

Back of the Yards was published in 1914, and opens at a kitchen table in the title neighborhood: a mother, a priest, and a cop. The conversation skirts around a recent shooting and avoids the real subject, the suspicion that the mother’s adolescent son was involved. Goodman uses a dialogue-heavy scene to capture the essence of the characters; in the process, he provides insight into the neighborhood at large. Each character has his or her own responsibilities, each his or her own fears, each his or her own sense of loyalty. Together, though, the characters in Back of the Yards comprise a portrait of a neighborhood, and how it acts and reacts in support of a higher purpose.

Please reserve your seat for the event. Doors open at 9:30 a.m.; donuts and coffee will be available.

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