The Tony award-winning Falls, who announced in 2021 that he would step down last year, reflects on his career at Goodman Theatre and the legacy he leaves for Chicago theatre.
2-May-23 – The highly acclaimed, Tony award-winning Artistic Director of Goodman Theatre, since 1986, is giving up the reins soon. Robert Falls announced in September 2021 that he would step down at the conclusion of the Goodman’s 2021/2022 season. He is now directing his fourth Chekhov play at the Goodman.
During his three-decade tenure in Chicago theatre, the 69-year-old Falls has directed more than 30 major productions and produced or co-produced more than 200 plays and 100 premiers on Goodman, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and other local stages.
Most recently, he directed Rebecca Gilman’s Swing State; William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time, a musical by David Cale; Pamplona, a play about Ernest Hemingway that starred Stacy Keach; Arthur Miller’s An Enemy of the People; 2666, a stage adaptation of Roberto Bolano’s internationally-acclaimed novel; and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, which featured Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane.
And that’s just Chicago. His Broadway production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, a musical based on the opera, continues to be produced around the world.
His last production at the Goodman is The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, which Falls adapted and directed. He chose this play, he says, because next to Shakespeare, Chekhov is his favorite playwright.
“Chekhov wrote four major plays, and this was his last play before he died in 1904,” said Falls. “I had already directed The Seagull, Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya, Chekhov’s other major plays. I wanted to share The Cherry Orchard with the city of Chicago. This masterpiece still ranks as a human comedy with tragic overtones. It just seemed like an appropriate choice.”
Favorite actor to work with?
Falls has worked with hundreds of actors over the years. His favorite, he says, is Brian Dennehy, who passed away in 2020. In 1999, both Falls and Dennehy won Tony Awards for Death of a Salesman. They collaborated on several theatre productions during Falls’ tenure, including The Iceman Cometh in 2012.
Though his contributions to Chicago theatre have been extensive, Falls considers moving the Goodman from The Art Institute of Chicago to 170 North Dearborn Street in 2000 to be his greatest accomplishment.
“This new, state-of-the-art theatre and education complex created an institution with our artistic associates, where they can grow and thrive,” said Falls. “We built a space for performers while creating a transformative theatre experience for our multi-generational audiences.”
Advice to actors?
Mentoring young actors who are starting their careers in Chicago is important to Falls.
“Chicago is a city committed to theatre with more than 150 companies,” he says. “Many actors have begun their careers in Chicago, and it has taken them well beyond this city.”
He says actors must take every opportunity that comes their way.
What Falls considers his legacy are the long-term relationships he formed with the community, as well as supporters of the arts and political leaders such as Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“Being a part of the team with my producing partner, Roche Edward Schulfer, Executive Director and CEO of the Goodman, is what I consider my greatest contribution to this imposing institution,” he said.
Falls says his successor at the Goodman, Susan Booth, will take the theatre in exciting new directions. As for Falls, he’s hoping to continue directing and is looking forward to new collaborations with his friends and colleagues.
“Theatre is my life,” said Falls.
The Cherry Orchard has received rave reviews and has been extended through May 7.
• Tickets: The Cherry Orchard