Seven Chicago artists armed with a light board and $6,000 founded Victory Gardens Theater in 1974. Among the group were Dennis Zacek and Marcelle McVay, a young married couple who had met at Northwestern University five years prior. Zacek and McVay committed their lives to the theater, becoming its first artistic director and managing director respectively. From the beginning, the mission of the organization was to support the talents of local actors, directors, designers, and playwrights. The identity of the theater grew out of their personal relationships with artists, staff, and audiences.
After 35 years as Artistic Director, Zacek announced his departure in 2010. McVay, Managing Director of 33 years, had left in 2009, after a series of disagreements with the board of directors. The couple had intended to retire together, but out of concern for the theater’s future after McVay’s departure, the board asked Zacek to stay longer. Despite a loyal subscriber base, newly renovated theater, and 14-member Playwrights’ Ensemble, the organization had been running deficits since the end of the 2004-2005 season. In the spring of 2011, the Victory Gardens board of directors and newly appointed Executive Director Jan Kallish engaged BHK Arts Consultants, Inc., in a nationwide search for a replacement who would take Victory Gardens in a new, financially stable, direction.
The search produced three finalists: Sandy Shinner, Chay Yew, and a Chicago-based director and professor. Zacek was openly campaigning for Shinner, the current Associate Artistic Director and 30-year veteran of the theater. Having begun his career in Singapore and London, Yew, a playwright and freelance director, was currently working in theaters around the United States and serving on national boards. All three were known for their facility with and commitment to developing new work. The decision between the candidates would represent the board’s vision for Victory Gardens in the years to come.
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Publication Date: 2015-05-15
Suggested Citation: Libby Peterson, "Victory Gardens (2011 - Case A)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case Study #14-68A, May 15, 2015
Keywords: Chicago, Leadership Transition, Organizational Direction, Succession
Teaching Notes: Yes (contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
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