Skip to main content

Children's Theatre of Evanston



  • Existence: 1925 - 1965


A pioneer institution in children's drama, the Children's Theatre of Evanston (IL) was founded in 1925 by Winifred Ward, Assistant Professor of Oratory at Northwestern University and Supervisor of Drama Education at Evanston's elementary schools; Ralph Dennis, Dean of Northwestern's School of Speech; and Alexander Dean, head of the University Theatre Department. The purpose of the Children's Theatre was to train University, secondary, and junior-high students in the production and performance of drama while providing the children of Evanston with rich theatre experiences.

To these ends, Ward and succeeding directors Rita Criste (1950-1967) and Jane Triplett (1967-1976) developed supplementary Children's Theatre conferences, workshops, and classroom activities which integrated pre-existing “creative dramatics” programs at the public schools with academic scholarship in drama and the practical experience of producing, performing, and viewing children's plays.

Conceived and initially financed as a Speech program, the Theatre held its first two seasons at the University's Annie May Swift Hall, with staff support from the School of Speech's Thalian Dramatic Club. In 1927 Ward and Dennis reorganized the Theatre as a collaboration among the Evanston Public School districts and Northwestern University. Performances moved from Swift Hall to the auditorium of Haven Middle School (District 75), 2417 Prairie Avenue, and in 1929 to Nichols Middle School (District 76), 800 Greenleaf Road. Over the next forty years the Theatre's financial sponsorship shifted gradually from the University to Public School District 65, so that by 1966 the Children's Theatre—by this time officially renamed “Theatre 65”—received only staff and administrative guidance from the School of Speech. In 1966 the Theatre also acquired its own building at 1316 Oakton Avenue.

However, in 1971 School District 65 cut the Theatre from its operating budget, forcing the Theatre to seek financial support from the government and individual donors. Educators from both the University and the public schools established the Association for Children's Theatre (ACT) in 1972 to raise funds for Theatre 65; their aggressive membership campaign failed to cover the Theatre's increasing production costs. The Theatre closed in 1976 after its fiftieth season. In 1980 Northwestern revived the Children's Theatre as a University arts program, presenting Mainstage, Tour, Summer, and Participatory productions to the Evanston community. Northwestern Theatre Professor Anne Hardy Thurman directed the Children's Theatre until her retirement in 1985.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Records of the Children's Theatre of Evanston

Identifier: 55/19

The records of the Children's Theatre of Evanston (Illinois) date from 1925 to 1986, with the bulk of the records falling between 1957 and 1986. The records are concerned with administration, education, fundraising, and production. They document the Theatre's changing relationships with Northwestern University and School District 65; the practice of Winifred Ward's drama education theory at public schools in Evanston; and Theatre performances between 1925 and 1986.

Dates: 1925-1986

Winifred Ward (1884-1975) Papers

Identifier: 20/8
Abstract Winifred Louise Ward began her studies as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University's Cumnock School of Oratory. After two years of directing plays and declamation contests, and teaching grade school she attended the University of Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in education in 1918. Soon after, Ward was asked to teach at Northwestern University's School of Oratory and that year began as an instructor and assistant professor, a career which was to last until her retirement in 1950....
Dates: 1917-1978