This is Steppenwolf Theatre's way to honor the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, broadcaster and activist Terkel, a Chicagoan, who died on Oct. 31, 2008, at age 96.
"Studs was a dear friend to Steppenwolf," stated artistic director Martha Lavey. "He appeared twice on our stage in our Traffic series, including, memorably as Dalton Trumbo in the radio drama Trumbo. We produced an adaptation of Studs' Division Street for our young audiences and twice previously produced Will the Circle be Unbroken? — once on the Steppenwolf stage and once in Millennium Park. Studs was a true Chicagoan and an honorable citizen of the world. It's a joy to celebrate his life by giving voice to work."
The book's full title is "Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith." The performance (with music) is at 7:30 PM in Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.
Admission is free; however, reservations are required.
Tickets are available by calling Audience Services at (312) 335-1650 or at 1650 N. Halsted St. There is a limit of four tickets per household. Will the Circle Be Unbroken? is directed by associate artist Jessica Thebus with musical direction by Robert Reddrick. It will feature Steppenwolf ensemble members Robert Breuler, K. Todd Freeman, Tom Irwin, Martha Lavey and Alan Wilder with Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Anthony Fleming III, Rick Kogan, Keith Kupferer, Ernest Perry, Joyce Piven, David Schwimmer, Michael Smith and Dennis Zacek, with vocalists Tina Brown, Rhonda Preston and David Simmons.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? is billed as "an unforgettable evening of song, story and celebration. With a cast that includes both Steppenwolf ensemble members and renowned personalities and performers, the concert-style reading will incorporate music to illuminate Studs' poignant book of interviews on death and dying. Recognizable interviewees portrayed on stage include author Kurt Vonnegut, actress Uta Hagen and Chicago Reader theatre critic and AIDS activist Justin Hayford. There are also everyday Chicagoans — parents, medics and teachers — who share wise words and meaningful memories. The result is a vibrant tapestry of life's full process, sure to stir compassion and inspiration."
Terkel's exhaustive interviews resulted in a series of acclaimed, best-selling books. "Division Street: America," his first success, published in 1966, was about the social conflicts that roiled in urban America in the 1960s. "Hard Times" (1970) explored people's experiences during the Great Depression. "Working" (1974) asked people why they did what they did for a living, whether they enjoyed it, and what role it played in their lives. "The Good War," his oral history of World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1985.
Other books included "Talking to Myself," a memoir (1977); "Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession" (1992) and "Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who've Lived It" (1995).
Working, a musical with music by a wide variety of composers, including Stephen Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, James Taylor and Mary Rodgers, was a collection of vignettes with people singing about their daily labors. It had a short run of 24 performances on Broadway, but has had a long life in regional theatres, and has now been updated by director Gordon Greenberg, Schwartz and Tony Award-winning songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. Its book and score were nominated for Tony Awards. Working was previously updated in 1999 with additional material about new kinds of workers and with two new songs.
In 2004 Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL, presented the world premiere musical, Studs Terkel's "The Good War," based on Terkel's book of the same name. It was written by David H. Bell and Craig Carnelia, and the score was made up of new arrangements of classic 1940s songs.
His daily Chicago-based radio show was first broadcast on WFMT in 1958. Terkel, who radiated a genial blue-collar authenticity that seemed to free his subjects of their natural reticence and inhibitions, frequently sang the praises of the Second City, even though he was not a native son. He was born Louis Terkel in the Bronx on May 16, 1912, the third son of Samuel Terkel, a tailor, and the former Anna Finkel. The family moved to Chicago in 1923. He took the name Studs from "Studs Lonigan," the title character in James T. Farrell's novel.
He had early ambitions to be an actor. He appeared in Waiting for Lefty at the Chicago Repertory Group, and performed in soap operas like "Ma Perkins" and "Road of Life." He also wrote scripts for WGN. After World War II, he was given his own radio show, called "The Wax Museum," on WENR. In 1950, he was the star and host of an early Chicago variety show called "Stud's Place," in which he posed as the owner of a barbeque place who was merely passing the time of day with his guests. He certainly looked the part. Short, with a doughy, smiling faced and wildly awry white hair, he had the bearing and personality of a bartender or garrulous traveling salesman. When telling a story, his eyes would widen with childlike enthusiasm and his soft, husky voice — made for radio — would fill with drama.
"Stud's Place" was canceled in 1952, the victim of McCarthyism; Mr. Terkel was a life-long liberal. Not able to work in radio, he returned to the theatre, acting in a national tour of Detective Story. Other plays followed. Soon after, WFMT hired him; he would stay there for the next 45 years.
In 1980 Mr. Terkel won a Peabody Award for excellence in journalism. In 1997 Mr. Terkel received the National Book Foundation Medal for contributions to American letters.
In 1939 he married Ida Goldberg, a social worker. She died in 1999. The couple had one son, Dan Terkell, who changed the spelling of his surname, and survived his father.