The Tony Award-honored Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago is exploring the possibility of purchasing the nearby historic Biograph Theatre, the movie house where Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger was gunned down.
The non-profit company devoted almost exclusively to staging new works by its in-house stable of playwrights, announced June 28 it was entering into an agreement that gave it the right to purchase the Biograph on Lincoln Avenue if the cinema meets the "artistic, architectural and financial criteria established by Victory Gardens' board and management," the theatre said in a statement.
The troupe already has its own Lincoln Avenue, multi-venue space, which houses mainstage and second-stage works of the company, and invites other companies to present in a rental agreement. It is not immediately clear if the Biograph might become the company's mainstage or if hit plays from by the troupe might transfer to the Biograph.
Victory Gardens' artistic director Dennis Zacek said in a statement, "For 27 years, our designers, directors and playwrights have created magic on a stage that had no wing space, no fly-space and limited backstage space. The time has come for Victory Gardens to offer our writers the chance to expand their vision and offer some of the theatrical advantages associated with any great theatre. Part of the allure of the Biograph is that the movie house is a shell that we could develop from scratch. We are excited to learn whether or not the Biograph can be adapted to meet our requirements."
The advantage to the existing audience of 4,600 subscribers is that the Biograph is three blocks from the current location, so "our audience doesn't have to look for us in a different part of town," said managing director Marcelle McVay. In 1934, gangster and bank robber Dillinger was shot by police in an alley a block from the theatre. He had attended a screening of "Manhattan Melodrama" at the Biograph, in attendance with "the woman in red," who tipped off the cops. For a time, the sidewalk outside the theatre became a tourist spot for the "morbidly curious," according to observers. An "Untouchables" bus tour still pulls by the theatre today.
— By Kenneth Jones