In 1969, the Community Arts Foundation purchased a dumpy Lincoln Avenue building, a former meatpacking plant with a bowling alley on the second floor, and turned it into the Body Politic, a hub of political and cultural activity with a decidedly countercultural bent. (Rumor has it director Mike Nichols anonymously donated the down payment out of proceeds from The Graduate.) This is where the professional off-Loop theater movement was born: soon the space was drawing crowds with productions by Second City cofounder Paul Sills (whose Story Theater put a hip twist on classic tales by Ovid), composer William Russo (whose Free Theater presented original “rock cantatas”), and Stuart Gordon’s freewheeling Organic Theater (whose science-fantasy trilogy Warp! anticipated the Star Wars phenom by several years). Later the Body Politic evolved into a resident ensemble specializing in classic and contemporary Anglo-Irish drama. They shared the building with Victory Gardens Theater, which took over the space following the Body Politic’s 1996 dissolution.
Today this historic venue—the oldest continually operating theater space in Chicago—boasts four auditoriums (two 199-seat main stages and two 60-seat studios) that host several Equity and non-Equity troupes, including Remy Bumppo, Eclipse, Shattered Globe, and the Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre (MPAACT), as well as shows by Victory Gardens. 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000, victorygardens.org. —Albert Williams
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