A Chicago Theatre Company is Born
In January of 1974, in Highland Park, Illinois, Rick Argosh and Leslie Wilson approached their former high school classmate Gary Sinise about staging a production of Paul Zindel's And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little. Sinise had recently graduated from high school, and Rick and Leslie had one semester remaining. Steppenwolf co-founders Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise had met and become friends at Highland Park High School. Jeff was then attending college at Illinois State University where he had met co-founder Terry Kinney.
Gary agreed to be in the production of Miss Reardon and sought out a space where he, Rick and Leslie could produce the play. Through a family friend, Gary secured the rights to perform in a Unitarian church on Half Day Road in Deerfield, Illinois, and the trio staged the inaugural production of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The name Steppenwolf came from the book by Herman Hesse, which Argosh was reading at the time.
Three more plays were produced that year under this first incarnation of Steppenwolf. Grease, which Sinise would produce, direct and act in; The Glass Menagerie, which Argosh directed with Sinise appearing as Tom; and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, also directed by Argosh, which was the first teaming of Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise, Steppenwolf’s three founders. During this production, in June of 1974, Kinney, Perry, and Sinise decided that when Kinney and Perry finished college they would find a permanent space and start a professional resident ensemble theatre company.
In 1975, Steppenwolf incorporated as a non-profit and produced one play that summer, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds. In the summer of 1976, with a newly formed ensemble that included founders Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry, Gary Sinise and H.E. Baccus, Nancy Evans, Moira Harris, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Alan Wilder, the company took up residence in a vacant basement space of the Immaculate Conception Catholic school in Highland Park and produced its first season of plays. In 1980, the company moved from Highland Park to the city of Chicago into a 134-seat theater at the Jane Adams Center and expanded the ensemble.