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Conceived while students at The University of Iowa in 1997 by Michael Patrick Thornton and William Nedved, the original idea for The Gift was to grow and nurture an Ensemble by training together and to hopefully one day lay roots in an artistically underserved Chicago neighborhood. Heavily influenced by a class called “Alternative Approaches To Acting” taught by Dr. Eric Forsythe, the name of the theatre came from Jerzy Grotowski’s Towards A Poor Theatre:

“Acting is a particularly thankless art. It dies with the actor. Nothing survives him but the reviews, which do not usually do him justice anyway, whether he is good or bad. So the only source of satisfaction left to him is the audience’s reactions. The actor, in this special process of discipline and self-sacrifice, self-penetration and molding, is not afraid to go beyond all normally acceptable limits…The actor makes a total gift of himself.”

Our Ensemble is composed of actors, directors, writers, and improvisers. For twenty years, The Gift has earned and deepened our reputation as an ensemble dedicated to acting of the highest caliber and a nationally-desired home for new plays. Our giftED. and In The Works programs offer, respectively, access to professional theatre training for high school students in traditionally underserved communities of Chicago and a new play reading series for local playwrights staged on the city’s Northwest side.

Jefferson Park History

Some of the first people to call this region home include the Council of the Three Fires: the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi Nations, in addition to the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox tribes who were also native to this area. They traveled through what is now known as Jefferson Park by several trails – one of the most notable being “Sand Ridge” which was formed by Lake Michigan when the shoreline was as far west as Jefferson Park. Today, the local Sand Ridge trail runs south along Milwaukee Avenue, through Jefferson Park, and continues toward Six Corners before it heads south to connect to another Native American trail at Grand Avenue.

Today, Jefferson Park has grown to a population of almost 30,000 residents within a one-mile radius of the Milwaukee and Lawrence intersection. It is home to one of the largest Polish communities in Chicago, and more than 25% of the neighborhood has first or second generation ties to Poland. In 1979, the Copernicus Foundation established Chicago’s Polish Cultural Center in the heart of Jefferson Park – at what was once the Gateway Theatre on Lawrence Avenue (originally designed to show the first “talkies” in Chicago). In 2000, Jefferson Park became the artistic home for The Gift Theatre, where it has continued to thrive ever since.

Courtesy of Frank Seurth