jakub | January 24, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | Goodman CEO Roche Schulfer to Retire, John Collins Will Succeed

Roche Schulfer and John Collins. (Photos by Hugo Hentoff)

CHICAGO: Goodman Theatre has announced that executive director/CEO Roche Edward Schulfer will retire at the end of the 2023-24 season. Schulfer’s work at the Goodman spans 50 years, beginning in 1973 in the box office, with him serving in his current position since 1980. The Goodman board has named longtime managing director/COO John Collins as the company’s new executive director, effective Sept. 1. Schulfer will continue on with the company as a senior advisor through the organization’s centennial season launch in September 2025.

“In my earlier days with the Goodman, Roche provided me deeply meaningful support for my artistic aspirations, and subsequently became my model for what an entrepreneurial and risk-welcoming partner ought to look like in a leadership duo,” said artistic director Susan V. Booth in a statement. “When I returned here last fall, I discovered a healthy, engaged, ever-evolving organization that had never rested on its considerable laurels. I credit Roche’s astute leadership for that, and I am ever grateful for his friendship and collaboration as I have reacquainted myself with this astonishing theatre.”

Roche Schulfer at the 2017 TCG Fall Forum on Governance. (Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum)

Since becoming executive director/CEO of the Goodman in 1980, Schulfer has overseen more than 400 productions, initiated the theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, and led the establishment of quality, diversity, and community engagement as core company values alongside then-artistic director Robert Falls. In addition to negotiating the presentation of numerous Goodman productions nationally and internationally, Schulfer coordinated the theatre’s 12-year process of relocating to Chicago’s Theatre District in 2000.

Schulfer’s other achievements include being a founder of the League of Chicago Theaters and serving in leadership roles with Arts Alliance Illinois, TCG, the Performing Arts Alliance, the League of Resident Theatres, Lifeline Theatre, the Arts & Business Council, and Theater Wit. He has been recognized with the League of Chicago Theaters Lifetime Achievement Award and TCG’s Visionary Leadership Award, while also being commended by Actors’ Equity for promoting diversity and equal opportunity in Chicago theatre, the American Arts Alliance and Arts Alliance Illinois for arts advocacy, and the Arts & Business Council for distinguished contributions to Chicago’s artistic vitality, among numerous other awards and accolades.

“My goal has always been to help make Goodman Theatre a place where artists could do their best work, where artists and staff could have careers, and where the theatre could have the greatest positive impact on our society,” Schulfer said in a statement that included thanking staff, board members, and Goodman leaders present and past individually. “I am thrilled that Goodman Theatre has selected John Collins as executive director. He is an outstanding producer and a terrific person as I have had the opportunity to experience over more than two decades. The Goodman is in good hands with Susan and John at the helm; together, they will take the Goodman to new levels of achievement.”

Goodman Theatre executive director Roche Schulfer looks on at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company versus Goodman football game.

Collins has served as a senior leader for the theatre for the last 17 years, first in general management from 2008 to 2019 and currently as managing director/COO.

“At the heart of this appointment is the board’s belief that John is exactly the right person at the right time,” said board of trustees chair Julie Danis and board president Linda Coberly in a joint statement. “John enters the role with tremendous leadership and management skills, having trained under the best in the industry—including our own Roche Schulfer. And over the past year, he has developed a highly productive and collaborative relationship with artistic director Susan Booth. We are excited to see where Susan’s vision and John’s expertise will take the Goodman as it enters its second century.”

In his current role, Collins provides daily direction and guidance to the senior leadership team and manages the theatre’s annual budget of approximately $23 million, working closely with the CFO and Goodman department heads. His new role will include working closely with artistic director Booth and overseeing the fiscal and producorial responsibilities that support her creative vision for the 98-year-old organization.

John Collins. (Photo by Hugo Hentoff)

“It’s an enormous honor to step into this role to realize Susan Booth’s distinguished creative vision; to support our world-class artists; to foster meaningful collaboration with our three dedicated boards and extraordinary staff; and, most importantly, to deliver the best possible productions and programs for our community,” said Collins in a statement. “We’re at a moment of possibility in our industry—a time of new ideas and unprecedented opportunity. The Goodman will meet this moment and forge our success as we always have—by letting our values and artistry lead the way.”

Collins is a past chairman and current board member of the League of Chicago Theaters and a board member for the Chicago Loop Alliance and the League of Resident Theatres. During his time at the Goodman, he oversaw numerous Goodman production transfers to Broadway, regional, and international venues and tours, including The Who’s Tommy, War Paint, and Chinglish. He also helped open the Alice Rappaport Center for Education & Engagement at Goodman Theatre, including the successful completion of a $15 million campaign to build out a 10,000-square-foot center for expanded programming and activities. In his capacity as chairman of the board of the League of Chicago Theatres, Collins worked with cross-sector stakeholders to establish a $100,000 emergency relief fund for out-of-work artists and technicians. He was also key to the launch of an extensive strategic planning process specific to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Antiracism including artists, staff, board and other key stakeholders, resulting in the creation of Goodman’s IDEAA Plan, and ensuring alignment on values and priorities among board, staff and artists.

“I could not be happier about the promotion of John Collins to executive director for Goodman Theatre,” said resident artistic associate Henry Godinez in a statement. “For 20 years, John has always demonstrated genuine love and commitment to supporting artists and their creative visions. For me, personally, John was instrumental in the success of the Goodman’s Latino Theatre Festival, making even the most challenging international collaborations a joyous creative venture. The future of the Goodman could not be in better hands.”

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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