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Organic Theater Records

Identifier: spe-ctc-org

Scope and Contents

The Organic Theater Records contain production, administrative, artistic and outreach material including: scripts, scores, programs, reviews, press releases, posters, flyers, photographs, technical and artistic designs, correspondence, budgets, mission statements and minutes from Board of Trustees and staff meetings. The collection documents Organic’s early years under the direction of Stuart Gordon through changes in artistic direction in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


  • Creation: 1969-2000
  • Creation: Majority of material found within dates 1971-1993


Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English. Few materials in Dutch, Italian and Polish.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

The Organic Theater was founded in 1969 in Madison, Wisconsin by Stuart Gordon and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. Gordon had already produced a number of plays as a drama student at the University of Wisconsin, including The Game Show, an original “audience-assault” piece and an updated version of Peter Pan which was banned by the University because of the inclusion of a nude sequence.

On Paul Sills’ invitation, Gordon moved the company to Chicago in 1970. After two shows at the Holy Covenant Church (Animal Farm and an adaptation of The Odyssey), the Organic moved into one of the theaters at the Body Politic on Lincoln Avenue. Their first show The Tarot Cards was an original production consisting of 22 scenes based on the audiences' shuffling and cutting of a Tarot deck. Their next production, a commedia del arte style Candide, went on to a short run at New York’s Public Theater.

In 1971, the Organic opened Warp, an original science-fiction epic adventure written in serial form by Stuart Gordon and Lenny Kleinfeld (pen name, Bury St. Edmund). The three full-length plays played to sold-out houses for a year. In February 1973, the Organic took Warp to the Ambassador Theatre in New York. The show ran for a brief five days, although many of the reviews were positive. Cookie Gluck won the New York Drama Desk Award for Most Promising New Costume Designer.

The Organic moved into the Uptown Center Theatre (Leo Lerner Theatre) on Beacon Street in 1973. There, the company maintained a reputation of producing original scripts and adaptations, each show being completely different from the one before. Productions varied in style and content from the violent pirates of Bloody Bess, to the highly naturalistic Sexual Perversity in Chicago, to an adaptation of Ben Jonson's Volpone. The inspirations for the wildly successful Bleacher Bums, a collaborative project created by the cast, were the Cubs fans who sat in the bleacher seats in Wrigley Field. Organic also adapted the non-stage work of such writers as Raymond Chandler, Mary Renault and Henry Fielding.

Organic hosted some Chicago's foremost actors: Bernard Beck, Roberta Custer, Dennis Franz, Gary Houston, Joe Mantegna, J. Pat Miller, William J. Norris, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Bruce (Meshach) Taylor and Jack Wallace, as well as utilizing the design talents of Rick Paul, Cookie Gluck, John Paoletti and Mary Griswold and Robert Shook.

In 1981, the Organic moved into larger quarters in what had been the Buckingham Theater at 3319 N. Clark Street, where they continued their string of diverse hits with the long-running E/R and A.M. Collins' musical Angry Housewives. Renovation of the increased space made it possible for the Organic to rent out the theater to other companies who did not have a permanent location such as Remains and BDI. In 1983, Thomas Riccio became Artistic Director, a directorship which brought many changes, not all of them successful. Although Riccio held to the ensemble's commitment to produce original plays, many of the Mainstage shows were considered poor selections, suffering from negative reviews and truncated runs. On the more positive side, a Lab Series was created for the smaller theater to provide a forum for collaborative and developing work. The Organic Greenhouse, a collective of small non-Equity theaters such as City Lit, Minasama-No, Fanfire and the Atlantic Theater Company, provided new companies with temporary space as well as giving Chicago performance artists such as Michael Meyer, Sharon Evans and David Mamula a place to show work. Many successful shows made the transition from Greenhouse to Mainstage.

In 1988, original Organic Company member Richard Fire returned to assume the Artistic Directorship. His first project was an updated production of the 1976 hit Bleacher Bums directed by original cast member Joe Mantegna. The Organic Greenhouse continued to develop new scripts through a series of readings and workshops open to the public, while original plays and adaptations were mounted on the mainstage.

In 1996, Organic Theatre Company and Touchstone Theatre merged under the direction of Ina Marlowe. During this time, the company presented a number of Midwest and world premieres.

Alex Gelman became Producing Artistic Director in 2006.


21 Linear Feet (in 40 boxes (including 503 photographs and 4 artifacts), 3 oversize folders and 12 audiocassettes)


Founded in 1969 by Stuart Gordon and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, the Organic Theater staged a number of influential productions, including Warp, a science fiction epic adventure, and Bleacher Bums, which featured Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. The collection consists of artistic, administrative, outreach and production files.


The collection is arranged into four series:

  • Series 1: Production History Files, 1970-2000
  • Series 2: Administrative Files, 1970-1993
  • Series 3: Artistic Files, 1969-1993
  • Series 4: Outreach, 1980-1989

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Access to some audiovisual material may not be possible due to available replay equipment or to state of physical media. Please contact the archives before your visit.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Organic Theater Company in 1990 and 1992. Helga Sinako donated some posters to the collection in 2011

Related Materials

  • Chicago Theater Videotape Collection
  • Mary Griswold Papers
  • Gary Houston Papers
  • Organic/Touchstone Theater Records (donated by Ina Marlowe 2004)

Separated Materials

Videotapes have been removed to the Chicago Theater Videotape Collection

Guide to the Organic Theater Records
Original author unknown. Revised by Sarah Zimmerman, May 2016. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Sarah Zimmerman, 2021.
circa 1990
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

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