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Piven Theatre Workshop Records

Identifier: spe-ctc-ptw

Scope and Contents

The Piven Theatre Workshop Records document productions with scripts, programs, review, clippings and photographs of shows staged by the Workshop. Subsequent transfers of materials included expanded information on Piven Theatre Workshop productions and promotional material on classes and workshops.


  • 1974 - 2001


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection

Biographical / Historical

Byrne and Joyce Piven founded the Piven Theatre Workshop in 1974, in Evanston, Ill. The Pivens, along with Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Paul Sills, were founding members of the Playwright’s Theatre, the group that spawned The Second City. Playwright’s Theatre disbanded in the early 1960s. The Pivens spent the next 13 years acting and taking drama classes in New York City with the renowned teachers of the Stanislavsky method, Uta Hagen and Mira Rostova.

Upon their return to the Chicago area, Byrne and Joyce Piven joined the Second City Repertory Company. They also began to teach children’s theater classes. Based on Viola Spolin’s theater games, and using Story Theatre, a directorial technique developed by Spolin’s son Paul Sills during his Playwright’s Theatre days, the Pivens’ philosophy was that theatrical performances can be explored in the same way as other art forms, such as music, painting or writing.

In Story Theatre, the notion is that that actor is telling the story to the audience in much the same way that fiction is read aloud. Joyce Piven explains it this way: “When you open a book with a child, you do so with great respect. ‘I’m not the Queen, I’m the player and I’m going to share this story with you.’ You must earn the right for the child’s involvement. How much you can actually become the Queen is something you must play by ear. You get to the heart of the story by mutual agreement (emphasis added).”

The Pivens’ first Young People’s Company included Ann and Joan Cusack. John Cusack and Aidan Quinn, who have gone on to successful careers in motion pictures, are also alumni of the Piven Theatre Workshop, as are Lili Taylor and Lecy Goranson, who found success in television. The Pivens’ children also followed in their parents’ footsteps, and made successful careers in the performing arts. Jeremy Piven is a well-known television actor. Shira Piven is a successful stage director, composer and actor, and has also taught classes at the Workshop.


2.25 Linear Feet (in 4 boxes, plus 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Established in 1974 by Byrne and Joyce Piven, who were also founding members of the Playwrights’ Theatre, the group that spawned Second City. The workshop is located in Evanston, Ill. and boasts such recognizable alums as Joan and John Cusack, Aidan Quinn and Jeremy Piven. The collection includes information on Piven Theatre Workshop productions as well as promotional materials on classes and workshops.


The Piven Theatre Workshop Records are arranged in two series:

  • Series 1: Production History Files, 1976-2001, undated
  • Series 2: Workshop, 1974-1999, undated

Physical Location

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least 24-hours prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Piven Theatre Workshop donated this material in the Chicago Public Library’s Chicago Theater Collection in 1992 and in subsequent years.

Guide to the Piven Theatre Workshop Records
Original author unknown. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Sarah Zimmerman, 2021
circa 2001
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875