Dennis Začek, Creator of Victory Gardens' "Playwrights Ensemble," Will Retire

News   Dennis Začek, Creator of Victory Gardens' "Playwrights Ensemble," Will Retire
Dennis Začek, the artistic director of the Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago, will retire in 2011, leaving behind a company noted for its unique "playwrights ensemble."

Dennis Začek
Dennis Začek

Začek began working with the company in 1977 and has directed more than 250 productions in his career. As VG's artistic leader, he established a playwrights ensemble of 14 members. Along with Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan, it is considered a major resident theatre devoted to new American playwriting. There was a time in Začek's career when board members questioned the mission, threatening the company's existence. He survived the period, and Victory Gardens went on to win a 2001 Tony Award for excellence in regional theatre.

Major accolades have been earned by ensemble members over the years: the Tony Award, Emmy Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

During Začek's tenure, the company renovated the historic Biograph Theater (where mobster John Dillinger was shot) as its new home. At a cost of $11.8 million, the facility includes the Začek McVay Theater, the Richard Christiansen Theater, a rehearsal room and administrative offices.

Začek will continue his tenure through spring 2011, as the board conducts a national search for his successor. He will remain with the company as artistic director emeritus and plans to remain active as an actor, director and board member.

Victory Gardens broke its box-office record in summer 2009 with the smash hit Blackbird, directed by Začek and starring William Petersen (who received his Equity card at Victory Gardens) and Mattie Hawkinson. This past season, Victory Gardens produced two world premieres — The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz and Year Zero by Michael Golamco; both productions went on to New York, and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. On March 1, the newly completed VG studio theatre was named the Richard Christiansen Theater with a tribute to the beloved and former Chicago Tribune arts critic Richard Christiansen. On Broadway, Red by Victory Gardens Playwright ensemble member John Logan, won six 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Play. Začek recently accepted the Actors' Equity Association's (AEA) Spirit of Diversity Award, which is given to institutions that "have made non-traditional casting a way of life." He also received the 2005 Jeff Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chicago Equity Theatre and the 2004 Artistic Leadership Award from the League of Chicago Theatres. Začek and Marcelle McVay, his wife and former VG managing director, received the 1999 Rosetta Lenoire Award from Actors' Equity and the 1998 Sidney R. Yates Arts Advocacy Award from the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation.

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