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50 Years of Steppenwolf

March 6th, 2024

50 Years of Steppenwolf Photo

Gary Sinise discovered his love of acting in high school. When he graduated as part of the "class of 1973 and a half," all he wanted to do was keep doing plays with his pals. That simple dream would become the internationally recognized Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

In his book, Grateful American, Gary talks about how it all began. "We were simply an impassioned group of teenage actors doing plays under our own steam. How could we possibly see that our actions would eventually result in the creation of one of the most prominent theater companies not just in America, but in the world?"

Through grit and optimism, on March 6th, 1974 Gary and his friends put on the first of many productions of Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Steppenwolf Playbills

In 1981, Gary was on the hunt for a very specific type of show. Inspired by his brothers-in-law, all three of whom had served in Vietnam, Gary looked to direct a play about the war. He stumbled across a play called Tracers, written and performed by Vietnam veterans about their experiences before, during, and after the war.

"I flew to Los Angeles and saw the play at the Odyssey Theatre. The play was foulmouthed and blunt, darkly hilarious and grip, but powerful. Much of the play consisted of oral history, with characters pouring their hears out, describing and reenacting the things they went through overseas...The play brimmed with passion and tragedy, and I was deeply moved by it."

Tracers Promo Shot

Tracers opened at Steppenwolf in 1984. Every Tuesday night, Steppenwolf provided a free performance to any veteran who wanted to attend. Though skeptical, the veterans quickly realized their experiences were being treated with honesty and respect.

Tracers Plaque

Since that very first Tuesday night performance, "Vet's Night" at Steppenwolf has been a long standing tradition. When Gary started the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, he saw an opportunity to "do a little more" and created the Arts & Entertainment Outreach initiative.

Through this initiative, anyone who has served our nation is welcome to join us for a “Vets Night” dinner and dress rehearsal performance free of charge at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, The Geffen Theatre in L.A., Catholic University in D.C., and more.

We are thrilled to say that since 2011, over 8,500 veterans have joined us for an evening of art and community.

Thank you, Gary and Steppenwolf Theatre Company, for bringing joy to so many of our nation's defenders.

Steppenwolf Company

Click here to learn more about Arts & Entertainment Outreach.

Written by Gary Sinise Foundation