Erica Daniels Credit: Joe Mazza

Victory Gardens Theater announced this week that when artistic director Chay Yew departs at the end of June, executive director Erica Daniels will step into the newly created position of executive artistic director—a change that folds artistic and executive leadership at the venerable regional theater into a single job.

Roxanna Conner, who joined Victory Gardens two years ago as director of education, will add personnel to her existing duties, taking on the new title of director of education and human resources (a position supported by the Ralla Klepak Trust for the Performing Arts). 

According to the announcement, a national search to fill two other new positions—associate artistic director and general manager—will commence “at a later date.”  

Like every other theater in Chicago, Victory Gardens is currently shut down and facing an uncertain future. Although there’s no reference to the shutdown in the announcement, consolidation of tasks may be a strategy we’ll be seeing a lot more of, and not only in the theater business. Board president Steven N. Miller says in the announcement that “We evaluated various scenarios to position the theater for continued long-term success, and we have come up with a new model that will accomplish this goal.”

Daniels, a stalwart of the Chicago theater scene, has been at Victory Gardens for three years, and previously was president of Second City Theatricals. Prior to that, she was associate artistic director at Steppenwolf (which she joined in 2001 as casting director), working closely with then-artistic director Martha Lavey. She cut her teeth in the business as a casting assistant with Jane Brody, and went on as a casting agent with multiple agencies.   

Conner has worked in arts education for 22 years. She was audience education director at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and spent a total of nine years, in two stints, in the education department at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (as the education programs coordinator and Team Shakespeare manager). 

Victory Gardens was headed for 34 of its 46 years by the locally legendary team of Dennis Začek and Marcelle McVay. They developed it as a playwright-centered producer of new work, establishing an ensemble of a dozen resident writers, including the likes of Jeffrey Sweet and John Logan. Under the leadership of Začek and McVay, Victory Gardens won a 2001 regional Tony award. Subsequently the board took on debt to purchase the landmark Biograph Theater, which has been the company’s home since 2006. Yew, a nationally-known playwright and director, was brought in as artistic director in 2011; he announced that he’d be moving on last December.  v