Event—Public Programming

Little Theatre in the Second City

Join us for discussion with Dorothy Chansky and Rachel Shteir about the origins and growth of the Little Theatre Movement in early twentieth-century Chicago.


This program will be held virtually on Zoom. Please register for free in advance here.

NOTE: You can also watch a live stream of the program on the Newberry Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Join us for discussion with Dorothy Chansky and Rachel Shteir about the origins and growth of the Little Theatre Movement in early twentieth-century Chicago.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, a new vehicle for public entertainment--the cinema--began to erode the popularity of large theatrical performances. At the same time, playwrights and artists started to experiment with new forms of live theater, adopting more realistic styles, developing innovative staging methods, and choosing topics that often reflected social issues of the Progressive Era. Known as the “Little Theatre Movement,” this new style was especially popular in cities like Chicago, where it brought together companies like the Hull House settlement theater group and the Chicago Little Theatre, founded in 1912 by Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Brown.

In a talk moderated by the Newberry’s Liesl Olson, Chansky and Shteir will discuss the development of the movement, focusing on the contradictions between its ideals and its disparities related to gender, class, and race, as well as Little Theatre's ongoing influence on American culture--including its formative effect on second-wave feminist icon Betty Friedan.

About the Speakers

Dorothy Chansky is President's Excellence in Research Professor of Theatre at Texas Tech University and the author of works including Composing Ourselves: The Little Theatre Movement and the American Audience and Kitchen Sink Realisms: Domestic Labor, Dining, and Drama on the American State. She is currently working on a book about representations of dementia on the American stage over the past hundred years. Chansky is former editor of Theatre Annual: A Journal of Theatre and Performance of the Americas and has been inducted as a member of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.

Rachel Shteir is an associate professor and Head of Dramaturgy at DePaul University's Theatre School. Her works include The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting; Gypsy: The Art of the Tease; and Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. Her writing has also appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and blogs, including American Theatre, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. Shteir has lectured widely on popular culture and theater and currently is working on a book about Betty Friedan.

Liesl Olson is Director of Chicago Studies at the Newberry Library. Olson has written widely on twentieth-century literature and art, including her first book, Modernism and the Ordinary and her most recent book, Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis, which won the 2018 Pegasus Award from the Poetry Foundation for best book of poetry criticism and the 2019 Mid-America Award from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She earned her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, and for four years she taught at the University of Chicago as a Harper-Schmidt Fellow.

The history of theater in Chicago and the vibrant world of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Chicago theater are well represented in several modern manuscript collections at the Newberry.

This program is generously sponsored by the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.

Your generosity is vital in keeping the library’s programs, exhibitions, and reading rooms free and accessible to everyone. Make a donation today.