A Brief History of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago

Hermann Hesses novel Steppenwolf inspired the theatre companys name.
Hermann Hesse's novel "Steppenwolf" inspired the theatre company's name. | © CherryX / WikiCommons
Sarah Ashley

The Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, is a prime example of the great heights artists reach when they go for it. Currently running its 42nd season, this regional theater is revered around the world for its spectacular acting, playwriting, design and direction. If the verdant actors who got together in January of 1974 to stage a play in a Unitarian church basement in the suburbs knew what the next 40 years had in store for them, they may not have believed it.

Loved by over 40s

Highland Park High School students Rick Argosh and Leslie Wilson wanted to put up playwright Paul Zindel’s dark comedy, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little. They invited classmate Gary Sinise to join them. At the time, Argosh was reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, a novel named for grey wolves native to Kazakhstan. It seemed a good title for the group’s budding theater company.

Hermann Hesse’s novel “Steppenwolf” inspired the theatre company’s name.

In June of 1974, Sinise’s former high school classmate, Jeff Perry, and Perry’s new cohort from Illinois State University, Terry Kinney, combined forces. They incorporated Steppenwolf Theatre as a non-profit organization in 1975, devoting themselves to an ensemble-based approach to production. By the following summer, the company was nine members strong (including notable actors John Malkovich and Laurie Metcalf) with a permanent home in the basement of Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Highland Park, Illinois. This intimate, 88-seat theater hosted Steppenwolf’s first official season in 1976.

Gary Sinise, one of three co-founders of The Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

The company’s move to downtown Chicago happened in 1980. A 134-seat theater in the Jane Addams Center on the North Side became home base. Just five years later, and less than a decade after its first official season, Steppenwolf Theatre won the 1985 Tony Award for Regional Theatre Excellence.

In 1991, the theater moved into its current space in Old Town. Today, the company consists of 49 members—actors, directors, playwrights, designers—and produces up to 16 unique plays each season. Audiences watch live performances in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, Downstairs Theatre and the 1700 Theatre, a smaller space intended to showcase up-and-coming companies in and around Chicago, along with new works by ensemble members.

Steppenwolf Theatre is home to four stages and 49 ensemble members.

Since its first Tony Award, Steppenwolf went on to receive an additional 11 Tonys over the next 30 years. It also earned the highest recognition an arts organization can hope to receive, the National Medal of Arts, in 1998. The Illinois Arts Alliance then recognized Steppenwolf with the Illinois Arts Legend Award in 2000, in honor of the company’s positive influence on the arts and culture scene for the people of Illinois.

Steppenwolf’s current mission statement is to “engage audiences in an exchange of ideas that make us think harder, laugh longer and feel more.” It’s safe to say that after 42 seasons, they have certainly stuck to this goal and have no plans to slow down.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.