Press Release

Remarks by IHC Board Chair Arthur M. Sussman at Public Humanities Award Benefit Luncheon Honoring Barbara Gaines April 26, 2007

Good afternoon. I am Art Sussman, Chair of the Council’s Board of Directors. I want to welcome all of you and thank Christoph and Ted for bringing Shakespeare’s words to life.

You may not know it, but you use Shakespeare’s words every day. Bernard Levin reminds us in The Story of English that we all frequently benefit from the Bard …

  • If you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy;
  • If you have played fast and loose;
  • If you have been a tower of strength;
  • If you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing.

Well, you get the picture.

So, it’s not too much of a stretch for me to say that despite the “knitted brows” that may appear when someone says the word “humanities,” you may have been benefiting from the humanities, too. When you read Good Night Moon to your grandchild, discuss a book with your book club, or have an “informed” discussion with your best friend about the last time the Cubs won the World Series, you are practicing the humanities. And, the Illinois Humanities Council has been helping people all over the state to have greater access to the wisdom and wonder of the humanities – through our grants and through the programs that we provide.

Some examples…

Through IHC programs:

  • People are gathering in coffee shops in Chicago, Oak Park, and Carbondale, to discuss issues that are important to them.
  • Health care workers are gathering in hospitals and hospices to read and discuss literature about issues raised by their work.
  • Americorp volunteers are meeting to discuss texts that help them reflect on the meaning of their public service.
  • Low income adults in Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, and Chicago are finding a stronger voice and place in society through reading and discussing classic texts.

These activities benefit us as individuals and as citizens.

On September 16, 2001, five very short days after 9-11, a group gathered at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier for the scheduled Opening Night performance of Barbara Gaines’ production of Richard II.

We each wondered:

  • Was it right to be there?
  • Would the show go on?
  • Should it?
  • Were we able or ready to watch a play?
  • Would the endlessly repeated images of the falling towers overwhelm the events onstage?

Barbara Gaines – a tower of strength – understood these unspoken concerns and directly addressed them. She told us why the show should go on. As she explained, it had less to do with theater tradition than it did with giving us all the chance to better understand the events that had taken place in New York City, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Richard II, Barbara explained, speaks to many of the issues on people’s minds that evening – power, leadership, patriotism. We needed the distance and the closeness that theater and Shakespeare provided. In Barbara’s view, each of us would benefit from the opportunity to come together to talk with each other and with Shakespeare.

As I listened to Barbara, I understood the care, sensitivity, and intelligence with which she approaches serious questions. It is these traits, leavened by humor and self-deprecation and propelled by enormous energy, that have allowed Barbara Gaines to found and inspire the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

She has given Chicago, Illinois, and far beyond, a place for the serious and the ribald to meet – she has reached out beyond the Red Lion Pub and Navy Pier to the neighborhoods to bring Shakespeare to nearly 500 school groups each year. Barbara Gaines, as the Artistic Director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, has directed more than 30 plays. She has won Jeff Awards for production and direction. In 2006, Barbara was awarded an OBE – Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. If she were not a citizen of Chicago, she would be a Dame – and, “quite a dame.”

Barbara’s most recent direction effort, a stunning production of Troilus and Cressida, opened on Monday. In the Director’s Notes, she states:

In every generation it is the artist’s fate to shout out: Stop this bloodshed in the name of our civilization so that our children can live. So we take flights into the darkness, living with the belief that what we do on stage will have some effect on altering perspectives.

On that opening night, September 16, 2001, it did!

It is my honor, on behalf of the Board and the staff of the Illinois Humanities Council, to present the 2007 Public Humanities Award to Barbara Gaines, Artistic Director and Founder of Chicago Shakespeare Theater for:

  • Bringing Shakespeare’s plays to life for people of all ages;
  • Helping us to see that Shakespeare’s themes continue to affect us as individuals and as citizens;
  • And, working to ensure that the humanities continue to be at the core of education.