Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry met as sophomores at Highland Park High School north of Chicago and fell in love with acting under the tutelage of an inspiring drama teacher, Barbara Patterson. In 1973, Gary and fellow classmates from HPHS started a community theatre in Highland Park. Jeff then met the rest of the first generation of Steppenwolf's ensemble of actors and directors in the Theater Department at Illinois State University.
Their training at school was defined by gifted, wildly opinionated teachers steeped in various versions of Stanislavski's acting technique. After graduation, Jeff and 9 others continued working together in this way. They wanted to expand the freedom they had tasted at school while working on plays they loved in an environment that they controlled. Some would grow into directors and some would become writers as well, but in the beginning they were above all else actors who shared a conviction that the best way to create great theater and to grow as individual artists was through ensemble work.
About 17 years ago Jeff was bitten by an idea for a Steppenwolf school. He wanted to share this actor-driven ensemble work and share something personal, authentic and pragmatic about its values and methods. He began brainstorming with some of Steppenwolf's most trusted mentors; Artistic Consultant Sheldon Patinkin, Artistic Director Martha Lavey and ensemble member and Associate Artist Anna Shapiro. Before long, they had fashioned the first draft of a 10 week 'ensemble studies' curriculum. It is a curriculum designed for actors to intensively practice their craft with and through each other, inspired by values that Steppenwolf believes informs not only great ensemble work but great acting: the ability to act spontaneously, instinctively and with joyful abandon, while maintaining the specificity and discipline required of great dramatic writing.
As we approach our 17th summer we continue to evolve the shape of the school's offerings. Amy Morton has recently worked to identify our core curriculum- Meisner, Viewpoints, Improv and Text Analysis - and we are working to ensure that everything we teach is in support of these classes. Steppenwolf's teachers are experienced, passionate, and talented. For all of the ensemble who receive continuing inspiration from teaching, the School at Steppenwolf epitomizes the best of our theatre's many joys. Not only is it a place where trust and risk lead to growth, it is a beautiful reminder of why we fell in love with acting in the first place.