In March 2013, Chay Yew had been the Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago for almost two full seasons. Yew assumed the position Dennis Zacek, founding Artistic Director of 35 years, had left in the spring of 2011. Founding Managing Director Marcelle McVay, who was also Zacek’s wife, had departed before him in 2009. Local bias made Yew, born in Singapore and most recently arrived from New York, a media target. Called “an outsider” by the New York Times and regarded similarly by the Chicago Tribune, Yew knew that the loyalty of the Chicago theater community would be a challenge:
It was high school all over again. It’s recess and the cheerleaders are all sitting at their table, but I’m not invited to join them. I’m gonna sit at my own table and see how many people I can get to join me.
During his first two years, there had been additional leadership and staff transitions, organizational restructuring, retirement of the theater’s 14-member Playwrights Ensemble, and selection of four new resident playwrights. Following years of deficits, Yew and Interim Managing Director Chris Mannelli had just announced a reduction in the number of plays from five to three in the hope of achieving financial stability. Simultaneously they announced a plan to invite three or four storefront theater companies into Victory Gardens under their new Resident Theater program.
Change was now a recurring theme for this respected regional theater, which had received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre during Zacek’s tenure. Yew’s selection repositioned the theater on a national level. “If you want to call Victory Gardens a mom and pop shop, then I’m the son of Marcie’s and Dennis’s. I’m part of Dennis’s legacy. His passion for new plays. His fight for diversity,” said Yew. While Yew’s own legacy was yet to be decided, in the eyes of the board of directors, he was well equipped to lead the theater into the future.
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Publication Date: 2015-05-15
Suggested Citation: Libby Person, "Victory Gardens (2013 - Case B)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case Study #14-68B, May 15, 2015
Keywords: Chicago, Financial Management, Leadership, Organizational Direction
Teaching Notes: Yes (contact email@example.com)
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