Chicago: The Goodman Theatre, A Haunted Alley, and a Female Prison Pageant-Turned-Play

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My friend Hex and I visited the Goodman Theatre this weekend to cover an Artist Discussion about #AnotherWordForBeauty, a music-filled performance created by José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) with sounds by Colombian music legend Héctor Buitrago (Aterciopelados). The discussion was moderated by Jim DeRogatis of Sound Opinions and director Steve Cosson. It was held in the theatre’s Polk Rehearsal Room, which allowed us a little behind-the-scenes snippet of the theatre’s inner core.

goodmantheatre_signAs the discussion got under way, I noticed a large column of exposed brick which had been painted over. It reminded me of Old Chicago. You know, the one you see in vintage photos right after the great fire? Black and white, industrial, stark but hopeful, giving it that defining style as the “city of big shoulders”.

I asked Hex about the possibility of bones and alcohol still lying right beneath us and he casually mentioned the haunted alley across the street.


ArtistDiscussion_AnotherWordForBeautyThat was all it took for me to get lost in an Alice-In-Wonderland-down-the-rabbit-hole search for more info.

Apparently, in 1903, there was a fire so horrible just across that street that it’s actually considered one of the deadliest single-building fires in history. Ugh!  At least 602 people died. 602! At least! Supposedly some bodies were removed from the scene so the count may actually be higher.

Holy cripes. Sadness galore.

This happened at the Iroquois Theatre which was located North on 24-28 West Randolph Street, between Dearborn and State (ie. across the street from where we’d been sitting). I found these images of the catastrophe. You can read the full account from the Chicago Tribune here.

ArtistDiscussion_AnotherWordForBeauty_ByHexHernandezWhich brings us back to the Goodman, situated on Dearborn but previously located behind the Art Institute. The move began to take shape in the 90s, when the revitalization of the North Loop was about to take place and it opened in 2000 with a performance of King Hedley II by August Wilson.

The institution was established in 1922 through a gift from William and Erna Goodman to the Art Institute of Chicago for the building of a theater to memorialize their son, Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, who had passed away in the influenza epidemic. Apparently Kenneth had created a number of plays and had hoped to see them performed in a professional theater.

Kenneth’s plays were presented on October 20, 1925, as a celebration of the theater’s opening.

The institution has gone on to flourish as one of the city’s leading theaters, and is this year putting on an array of productions, including Another Word For Beauty, which is why we’re here to begin with. Hey, learning a little history about your surroundings is a wonderful blessing. So, if you’re up for the full story on this great institution, read more about them here.

“To think in pictures is the key to screenwriting.” – Jose Rivera

Another Word For Beauty brings us a story based in a prison in Bogota, Colombia. There, female inmates compete in a AWFB_Stagebeauty pageant in an effort “by their jailers to motivate and rehabilitate them. While the pageant’s parade of glamorous gowns, exotic headdresses and rhythmic dances provides a distraction from daily suffering, its real impact on each woman is more than skin deep. Inspired by true events, Another Word for Beauty is a haunting and soulful examination of women trapped within a prison’s walls and the events and circumstances that led to their arrests.”

The discussion touched on the evolution of the story as it was developed into a performance and a short follow-up with questions from the audience.

AWFB_PageantWhen asked about the current state of affairs when it comes to certain controversies in the industry and expectations versus opportunities, Rivera said, “It’s a time to be proactive in the arts and make work happen for yourself. Keep doing it. Eventually, talent will emerge, it will be seen and respected. Keep doing it.”

In relation to the story and its importance beyond Colombia, Buitrago said, “The fact that it’s in Chicago has brought a universality to the performance.” Another Word For Beauty runs January 16 through February 21. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit


Artist Discussion photos by Hex Hernandez​​​​

About Sandra Trevino

Sandra Trevino is a Chicago journalist and the founder of Enchufate, a website dedicated to all things Latin alternative. You can listen to her radio broadcasts every Friday morning on 91.1FM and the 2nd/4th Monday of the month via Lumpen Radio on 105.5FM. When she’s not writing or on the radio, you can find her playing music at different venues across the city as part of DJ duo The Ponderers.