jakub | September 8, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | Chicago Companies Partner to Celebrate Pearl Cleage


Pearl Cleage.

Goodman Theatre has announced a month-long, Chicago-wide celebration honoring Pearl Cleage, Atlanta’s first poet laureate, with a career spanning 40 years and over 30 plays, novels, poems, and essays. The festival, which will run Sept. 14-Oct. 15, will include events produced in partnership with six local theatre companies.

“Writing plays is the joy of my life, and being able to invite the people of Chicago to share that joy with a citywide celebration of my work is almost more than a hardworking playwright can stand. Almost,” said Cleage in a statement. “The magic of live theatre brings us together in community like nothing else can. I am grateful to Goodman Theatre and to the amazing artists and institutions who have welcomed me over the years, and who now make me know that I will always have a home here.”

The Pearl Cleage Festival will include productions Blues for an Alabama Sky at Remy Bumppo Theatre Company directed by Mikael Burke, and The Nacirema Society at the Goodman directed by Lili-Anne Brown. The festival will also include a number of staged readings, lectures, and workshops with Ma’at Production Association for Afrikan Centered Theater, Black Ensemble TheaterCongo Square Theatre Company, Definition Theatre, and more cultural centers around the city. More information about the festival’s offerings can be found here.

Curated by BOLD artistic producer Malkia Stampley, this marks the start of the first season fully programmed by Susan V. Booth. Booth and Cleage go back 20 years, their first collaboration being The Nacirema Society world premiere, a co-production between Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Stampley recently directed In My Granny’s Garden in Chicago Parks this summer.

Playwright Pearl Cleage and director Susan Booth in rehearsals for “Blues for an Alabama Sky” at the Alliance Theatre.

“As an actor, I was enamored by the depth of Pearl Cleage’s characters—one of the few playwrights to offer a cornucopia of roles for Black women of all ages and plays spanning decades, from drama and slapstick comedy,” said Stampley in a statement. “Ms. Cleage’s work speaks to the curious soul in all of us, and reminds us of our capacity to love, to fight, and to dream. The Goodman is excited to amplify Cleage’s work, an honor long overdue. We celebrate the tremendous legacy Ms. Pearl has built and continues to expand.”

Cleage is currently the distinguished artist in residence at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. As part of the theatre’s 50th anniversary season in 2019, Cleage premiered Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous, directed by Booth. Other Alliance premieres for Cleage include What I Learned in ParisBlues for an Alabama Sky, and Flyin’ West. Cleage is set to premiere her newest play, Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard, at Ford’s Theatre as part of their Legacy Commissions this fall.

“In starting my first season in a theatre and a town that I treasure, it seemed fitting to choose The Nacirema Society, the play that began a relationship that I deeply treasure,” said Booth in a statement. “I’m absolutely thrilled for Chicago to embrace Pearl, a world-class multi-hyphenate artist who is also the warmest, most welcoming of beings, and so lucky to partner with these extraordinary organizations, whose contributions will make this an artful experience our audiences will long remember.”

A nonprofit arts and community organization operating since 1925 on the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Goodman Theatre produces both classic and contemporary works and operates with a budget just over $24 million.

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