Bernard Sahlins died peacefully at his home after a short illness. In 1959, Sahlins founded The Second City with Howard Alk and Paul Sills and served as the theatre’s longtime producer and director until 1984. He produced multiple television productions in the UK and the USA, as well as SCTV in Canada. For the past eight years, he worked with the Poetry Foundation directing staged readings – the most recent of which was Comic Poetry. Honors include the Sergel Prize for playwright, several Jeff Awards for directing and the Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Chicago for his contributions to the theatre.
“Bernie Sahlins made no small plans and his legacy will be felt for generations to come” states Andrew Alexander, CEO/Managing Partner of The Second City. “As producer and co-Founder of The Playwrights Theatre Club, The Second City, The University of Chicago’s Off-Off Campus, the International Theatre Festival of Chicago and the Lithuanian International Theatre, Bernie was a true theatrical impresario. His passion for the theatre was only equaled by his tremendous capacity for laughter. No one was quicker with a joke than Bernie and he remained an indefatigable figure in the Chicago theatre scene as a writer, director and lecturer. Although we mourn the loss of Bernie Sahlins, he will forever be remembered as a giant in the industry and a true friend and colleague to generations of Chicago theatre artists.”
Sahlins was born in Chicago and studied at the University of Chicago before he turned to theatre. In 1953, he became a producer of Playwrights Theatre Club which is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. In 1956, he took over the empty downtown Studebaker Theatre which presented, among other things, the Chicago premiere of “Waiting for Godot.”
He remained a prolific presence in the Chicago arts community and when he was presented with an honorary doctorate from Columbia College in 2006, Sheldon Patinkin wrote “his legacy to theater and, in particular, to comedy in America, is secure and clearly permanent.”
Funeral services will be private. A Memorial Service will follow at a later date.
Biography for Bernard Sahlins:
Director, author and producer Bernard Sahlins is the founder of the world-renowned The Second City, where he also served as a longtime director and producer. Sahlins also co-founded The International Theatre Festival of Chicago and The Lithuanian International Theater Festival, and has directed and/or produced various shows in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Toronto. He is also the co-creator and producer of “SCTV.” Sahlins’ directing credits include his own adaptation of “The Mysteries” for the Court Theatre, “The Wasteland” for the Chicago Humanities Festival & The Arts Club, “The Cure at Troy” at Steppenwolf Theater, “The Shoemakers Holiday,” “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” and “The Burial at Thebes” at Chicago Shakespeare and multiple readings for the Poetry Foundation, among myriad other productions. He has written and directed several works, including “See the Light” for the Museum of Science & Industry, “The History of Comedy, Part 2” for the University of Chicago and “A Woman for All Seasons,” “Jane Addams,” and “Dylan Thomas” for the Chicago Humanities Festival. He has been a consultant for the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture and the Lithuanian National Theatre, The Disney Company, The Market Theatre: Johannesburg, The Museum Campus, USIS: Rumania, Lithuania, The University of Chicago arts programs, and The British Council. He is the author of “Days and Nights at The Second City: A Memoir.” Sahlins is the recipient of The Sergel prize for playwriting, The University of Chicago Professional Achievement Award, The Chicago Drama League’s Professional Achievement Award, Joseph Jefferson Awards for directing and professional achievement, The Illinois Arts Alliance “Legend” award, and the Chicago Improv Festival gave him a CIF Lifetime Achievement Award. He served on the Advisory Board of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Board of Directors for The Arts Club of Chicago, and the Board of Directors for the DePaul School of Drama.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:
The Second City Alumni Fund
1616 N. Wells St
Chicago, IL 60614
The Poetry Foundation
61 W. Superior St.
Chicago, IL 60654
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
800 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611