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Merle Reskin Theatre

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Title: Merle Reskin Theatre  
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Subject: DePaul University, Broadway In Chicago, Harris and Selwyn Theaters, Petrillo Music Shell, Timothy Blackstone
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Merle Reskin Theatre

Merle Reskin Theatre
Blackstone Theatre
The theatre in 2007
Merle Reskin Theatre is located in Chicago Loop
Merle Reskin Theatre
Location within the Chicago Loop community area.
Address 60 East Balbo Drive
Chicago, Illinois
United States
Owner DePaul University
Capacity 1325
Current use Stage performance
Production Goodman School of Drama
Opened December 31, 1910
Closed 1986–1988
Years active 1910–present
Architect Marshall and Fox
(developed by Tracy C. Drake and John Drake)

The Merle Reskin Theatre is a performing arts venue located in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. Originally named the Blackstone Theatre, it was founded in 1910. The Merle Reskin Theatre is now part of DePaul University, although it is still used for events not affiliated with the university. It serves as the home of The Theatre School at DePaul University.

The building was designed by Marshall and Fox and developed by Tracy C. Drake and John Drake of Drake Hotel fame on the former site of Timothy Blackstone's mansion. The theatre has a rich history of live performances that have traditionally been touring productions of hit and prize-winning shows.


The architects who designed the new theatre in 1910 were Benjamin Marshall and Charles Fox of the firm Marshall and Fox, who also designed the adjacent Blackstone Hotel in 1909. As with the hotel, the theatre took its name from Timothy Blackstone, whose mansion had previously occupied the site.[1] The original address was on Hubbard Court,[1][2] which was later renamed Seventh Street, and renamed once again to East Balbo Drive, the current name. The building is six stories tall and built in a French Renaissance style. Constructed only seven years after the Iroquois Theater Fire, the theater was required to be fireproof and the management claimed the auditorium could be cleared in three minutes.[2] Seating capacity was 1,400 people until 1988, when renovations to reinstate the orchestra pit and to create seating for handicapped persons reduced the seat count to 1,325.[3]

The developers of both the Blackstone Hotel and Blackstone Theatre were Tracy C. Drake and John Drake, better known as developers and proprietors of the Drake Hotel.[4] Their father, John Drake (1826-1895) had been a business partner of Blackstone's.[1] The building of the Blackstone Theatre directly resulted in the shuttering of an older, nearby theatre, the Olympia.[2]

Blackstone Theatre Company

In an era when most entertainment was performed live on stage, the opening of a new theatre was considered so newsworthy that major newspapers reported on it. The proposed opening of the Blackstone was even noted by the U.S. Minister Bedloe."[3] It was a comedy that starred William H. Crane, and the critics were impressed by the play and by the beauty of the venue.[7]

The Blackstone was managed by Harry J. Powers,[8] a Chicago businessman with extensive experience in the theatre: he had worked his way up from his early days as an usher to ultimately become one of Mr. Erlanger's most trusted associated; Powers remained as the Blackstone's manager throughout its first two decades.[9] The Blackstone's first productions featured some of that era's best known performers and playwrights—for example, after "U.S. Minister Bedloe" came a David Belasco production, "The Return of Peter Grimm", starring David Warfield.[10] Many of the productions had already been well received in New York before coming to the Blackstone, such as another play that featured comic actor William H. Crane, "The Senator Keeps House."[11] But while some of these productions were the equal of the version that played in New York, Tribune theatre critic Hammond observed on several occasions that the Chicago companies lacked the biggest stars. Despite this, the touring companies that performed at the Blackstone tended to do a good job and Hammond praised them for their "effective" productions.[12] This trend of presenting touring company versions would continue in later years, when most of the performances at the Blackstone were plays which had already won the Pulitzer Prize or the Tony Award, and were presented by touring companies from New York.[3]

During the first decade of operation, the Blackstone Theatre featured a number of unique productions. Among them were the performances of the [14] The Blackstone was also the home to a large women's suffrage rally and conference in 1916; in attendance were 1,200 suffragists from all over the United States.[15] And keeping up with the times, some of the performances from the stage of the Blackstone were heard on Chicago-area radio station WTAS, thanks to station owner Charles Erbstein, who thought it was a good idea to use the theatre for live broadcasts, and began doing so in early 1925.[16]

Because the Blackstone Theatre was a touring theatre, many actors appeared there who would not have otherwise had that opportunity if the venue had specialized in new productions. Some of the actors who graced the stage of the Blackstone include [3]

Post Blackstone Theatre Company


At the end of 1930, it was announced that the Blackstone Theatre Company was terminating its lease.[17] Mr. Erlanger had died in March, the country was in the midst of the Depression, and newspaper reports remarked on how many businesses were suffering. Building owners John and Tracy Drake managed the theatre for a year before foreclosure loomed in 1932. In 1934, they leased the theatre to Playgoer's Incorporated, although this group only lasted a year.[3]

The Blackstone was saved in the 1930s by the Federal Theatre Project, which leased the theatre in 1936 and continued to use it for rehearsals and productions until the program was abolished by Congress in 1939. During this period, the Blackstone played host to original plays.[3]

In 1940, the theater was rented by Oscar Sertin, who staged "Life with Father" starring Lillian Gish, which opened in February and ran for more than a year. The following year, Buddy Ebsen starred in "Good Night Ladies!", which ran for 100 weeks. From 1942 through 1945, the theatre was run by Slavin Amusement Company.

Shubert Brothers

In 1945, a reconstituted Blackstone Theatre Company managed the hall until 1948 when the [3]

1959 saw the premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." Although the play was successful, after four weeks it left Chicago for New York. Around the same time, a renaissance in Chicago theatre was taking place on the city's north side.[3]

The Blackstone was dark from 1986 until August 1988, when it reopened to Shubert Theatre on Monroe Street.

Theatre School

The marquee of the theatre in 2007

The Goodman School of Drama, renamed The Theatre School in 1985,[18] was founded in 1925. It joined DePaul University in 1978.[19] Alumni include Gillian Anderson, John C. Reilly, Scott Ellis, Joe Mantegna, Theoni V. Aldredge, Karl Malden, Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Perkins, Judy Greer and Eugene Lee.[20]

When the Shubert Organization decided to divest the majority of its Chicago theatres, the Blackstone Theatre building was offered to DePaul University. Although DePaul's Theatre School began officially performing in the Blackstone on March 21, 1989, with a production of The Misanthrope by Molière, it had an earlier production of "The Phantom Tollbooth". The Theatre School's main performance space is the Merle Reskin Theatre. Each year The Theatre School presents the Chicago Playworks series as well as The Theatre School Showcase, which both run throughout the academic year at the Merle Reskin Theatre. Chicago Playworks presents works intended for families and young audiences, while the Showcase series offers contemporary plays and classics.[19]

In 1992, Harold and Merle Reskin made a sizable donation to the Theatre School and on November 20, the theatre was renamed the Merle Reskin Theatre. Merle Reskin (née Muskal) had spent five years as a professional actress, portraying Ensign Janet MacGregor in "[3]


  1. ^ a b c Berger, Miles L., They Built Chicago, Bonus Books, Inc., 1992, p. 155, ISBN 0-929387-76-7
  2. ^ a b c d "Hotel to Embrace New Theater Site", Chicago Daily Tribune, July 15, 1909.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "The History of the Merle Reskin Theatre". The Theatre School at DePaul University. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  4. ^ Berger, Miles L., They Built Chicago, Bonus Books, Inc., 1992, p. 152, p. 163, ISBN 0-929387-76-7
  5. ^ "Klaw and Erlanger Join with Frohman".  
  6. ^ "Give City Theatre Palace".  
  7. ^ Hammond, Percy (1910-12-25). "Preparing a Theatrical Feast for the Last Day of the Year".  
  8. ^ "Hooley's Theater". Unrivaled Chicago. 1897. pp. 85–86.  Before managing the Blackstone, Harry J. Powers had managed Hooley's Theatre in Chicago.
  9. ^ "Harry J. Powers, 81, Ex-Theatre Owner".  
  10. ^ "Belasco Play Like a Novel?".  
  11. ^ Hammond, Percy (1912-04-12). "Crane Again a Senator at Blackstone Theatre".  
  12. ^ Hammond, Percy (1912-09-23). "Milestones a Benign Story of Three Generations".  
  13. ^ Hammond, Percy (1913-11-14). "Benson Reappears in Taming of the Shrew".  
  14. ^ Hammond, Percy (1918-01-24). "The Big Sisters: Benefit at Blackstone Theatre".  
  15. ^ "Women Will Go to Chicago".  
  16. ^ "The Boss Tells How He Took Up Broadcasting".  
  17. ^ "Give Up the Blackstone".  
  18. ^ "The Theatre School DePaul University - History". The Theatre School at DePaul University. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  19. ^ a b "The Theatre School DePaul University - About Us". The Theatre School at DePaul University. 2006. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  20. ^ "The Theatre School DePaul University - Alumni". The Theatre School at DePaul University. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 

External links

  • Production history since 1979

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