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Ensemble Member Michael Patrick Thornton
Co-Founder, Founding Artistic Director

MICHAEL PATRICK THORNTON is the co-founder and artistic director of The Gift Theatre. He has appeared on stages throughout the country, most recently in The Gift’s sold-out, critically divisive, John Patrick Shanley lauded, non-Jeff Recommended production of Doubt at Steppenwolf. Other select productions: Will Eno’s Title and Deed (Lookingglass Theatre—Time Out “Best Actor” Award) as well as Eno’s Middletown (Steppenwolf) the critically acclaimed, Hayes Award Winning inaugural premiere of Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal (Olney Theatre, Kennedy Center) Othello (The Gift, where he played “Iago”) Our Town (Actors Theatre of Louisville) and the world premieres of Hinderaker’s Dirty and Suicide, Incorporated for which Thornton was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award. During his 2016 performance in the title role of Richard III (The Gift at Steppenwolf) Thornton became the first actor to ever act onstage while wearing a robotic exoskeleton, pairing not only an actor with a disability with a character with a disability (far too often, Richard III is played by non-disabled actors) but furthermore pairing a disabled actor with cutting edge technology in order to theatrically complicate both the character of Richard III and its discussion around disability, ableism, and representation. The production has since been the subject of podcasts and published essays.

Michael won the 2006 Jeff Award for Solo Performance for The Good Thief (The Gift) an hour-plus long monologue that marked Thornton’s return to the stage after two spinal strokes nearly killed him in 2003. Years of physical and speech therapy, thanks to The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab (then R.I.C.) put—in Thornton’s words— “Humpty Dumpty back together again.” Fellow ensemble member John Gawlik directed that production, shepherding Thornton, in many ways, back to life.

On camera, Thornton has acted opposite Oscar Winners Hilary Swank and J.K. Simmons. For two seasons, he played the love interest of six-time Tony Award winning goddess Audra McDonald on Private Practice.

As a writer, Thornton recently scribed The Gift’s radio series Mud City. His plays have been workshopped in New York through Young Playwrights, Inc. and in Chicago through The Second City and American Theatre Company. His play The Princess And The Bear was performed at Western Michigan University and published in excerpt along with his creative non-fiction in Third Coast Press and The Packingtown Review. He was a staff writer for The Paper Machete and has written a novel called A Low Hum. Thornton has directed dozens of productions, including the world premieres of fellow Gift ensemble member David Rabe’s Good For Otto (Jeff Nomination—Director) and Cosmologies; the 75th Anniversary production of War of the Worlds, the Chicago premiere of fellow Gift ensemble member Will Eno’s Oh, The Humanity (and other exclamations) and Rabe’s Hurlyburly all at The Gift; Of Mice and Men (Steppenwolf) the world premieres of Sean Graney’s IS N UR B1UDS7REEM and Mark Harvey’s LA 8AM (Collaboraction) and Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Noble Fool). Thornton also served as assistant director for Steppenwolf’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning production of August: Osage County. In addition, his acclaimed improv show, You & Me premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre and has since played on stages throughout Chicago, in Louisville, and in Dublin, Ireland.

Thornton is one of many co-authors of the cultural plan for the city of Chicago.

“I view being an artist as missionary work; we go out there under the lights, usually terrified, but compelled to share something from our hearts that hopefully connects to someone in the audience who may be hurting, all in the effort to say ‘if I can make it back, so can you—you are not alone.’ 

As an extension of his practice and to give thanks for the influential teachers in his life, Michael has taught at Second City, Acting Studio Chicago, Black Box, Green Shirt Studio, Columbia College, DePaul, and Northwestern University. He was the Improvisation instructor (with mentor Sheldon Patinkin and comedy-partner-for-life Susan Messing) at The School at Steppenwolf for a decade.