Writers Theatre was founded in 1992 to create an environment where the written word and the nurturing of artists were the foundation of all productions. The company was launched in the back room of Books on Vernon, a newly opened bookstore in the village of Glencoe on the North Shore of Chicago, by Co-Founders Michael Halberstam and Marilyn Campbell-Lowe. Halberstam served as Founding Artistic Director through 2021. The limited space available gave way to a new aesthetic that has been a company hallmark ever since: intimacy.
The “theatre in the back of a bookstore” became a welcome addition to the already vibrant Chicago arts community and quickly established a reputation as a home for world-class art and artists. A second performance space opened in the Woman’s Library Club building in 2003 and continued the company’s trademark level of intimacy while allowing for new programming and educational opportunities. In 2016, Writers Theatre opened a new, state-of-the-art facility in downtown Glencoe, designed by the award-winning, internationally renowned Studio Gang Architects, led by Founder and Design Principal Jeanne Gang, FAIA, in collaboration with Theatre Consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander. The new facility established the company's first permanent home and has allowed the Theatre to continue to grow to accommodate its audience, while maintaining its trademark intimacy.
Acclaimed by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top half-dozen regional theatres in the country, Writers has offered more than 120 productions and garnered numerous awards and accolades, including 118 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 26 Awards. Among the many notable productions in WT history are the world premiere of Trevor the Musical by Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis, which opens Off-Broadway in late 2021; David Cromer’s stagings of Picnic by William Inge, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and Next to Normal by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt; Ron OJ Parson’s stagings of East Texas Hot Links by Eugene Lee, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson and Stick Fly by Lydia Diamond; Kimberly Senior’s stagings of Hedda Gabler, The Diary of Anne Frank and Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison; William Brown’s stagings of A Little Night Music, The Liar by David Ives, and Company; the world premiere of A Minister’s Wife by Austin Pendleton, Jan Levy Tranen and Josh Schmidt, conceived and directed by Michael Halberstam; the American premiere of Conor McPherson’s The Dance of Death; PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and the Old Moon and the world premiere of The Hunter and the Bear; the Chicago premieres of Eleanor Burgess’s The Niceties, Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone and Lydia Diamond’s Smart People; Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, the inaugural production in the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre; and the world premiere of Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf: A Parody, the inaugural production in The Gillian Theatre.
The Literary Development Initiative (LDI) began in 2004 as a new work development program committed to commissioning, developing and producing new plays, musicals and adaptations. Over the years, the LDI has evolved in its mission and now dedicates development resources to the expansion of the American theatre canon beyond the inequitable collection of voices history has deemed “classic.” Each season, the LDI holds readings and workshops of new projects in various stages of development, tailoring the developmental process to meet the needs of each work. Projects that have emerged from the LDI include the world premieres of Crime & Punishment by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus; The Savannah Disputation by Evan Smith; Old Glory and Do the Hustle by Brett Neveu; The Detective’s Wife by Keith Huff; Days Like Today by Laura Eason and Alan Schmuckler; the English version of Quixote: On the Conquest of Self by Claudio Valdes Kuri, Monica Hoth and Georgina Escobar; and Witch by Jen Silverman
In 2005, Writers Theatre expanded its programming to include education initiatives aimed at closing the arts education gap in Chicagoland schools. WT Education’s comprehensive in-school, on-site and community-based initiatives emphasize collaboration, cultivate self-expression, encourage imaginative inquiry and promote civic responsibility. These innovative programs engage nearly 10,000 students and community members each year, approximately 90% of whom live and/or attend school in under-resourced areas. WT Education continues to evolve with its teacher partners, teaching artists and inspiring students.
In 2023 Writers Theatre welcomed Braden Abraham as Artistic Director, joining Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma as co-leaders of WT.