Harold Washington Library Center
Actors, Plays & Stages: Early Theater in Chicago
Hooley’s Theatre, 1894
In October 1837, the same year that Chicago was incorporated as a city, a small group of theater-goers witnessed the city’s first professionally staged play, and the beginnings of a great theater city. East Coast producers Harry Isherwood and Alexander McKenzie transformed the dining room of the Sauganash Hotel into a small auditorium and presented a changing program of melodramas, comedies and musical varieties. The success of the shows at the Sauganash helped launch other early Chicago theaters, such as the Rialto, Rice’s and McVicker’s, and spurred the growth of the city’s theater community. In its first 100 years, Chicago’s rapid growth gave rise to scores of theaters, from grand auditoriums to small neighborhood venues. The Library has digitized more than 2,000 historic programs from these early Chicago theaters. Learn more about the Chicago Theater Collection in the Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Programs finding aid.
Chicago Theater Collection online exhibit: