Leading Ladies: The Women’s Board of Goodman Theatre

Women’s Board, 2019. Photo by John Reilly Photography

As we reflect on Women’s History Month, which is celebrated each March, we spotlight the incredible work of the Women’s Board—an essential part of the Goodman Theatre family.

By Daryn Robinson

Back in October of 1978, just two years after the Goodman split off from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Goodman Theatre Women’s Board was formed, under the leadership of Founding Chairman Stanley M. Freehling. With the Goodman now able to pursue independent fundraising, this was a way to expand the newly independent theater’s community and financial base. This was brand new territory, and the theater needed all the support it could get.

Carol Prins, a founding member of the Women’s Board, remembers how Goodman Theatre prevailed through this transition. Over the years, Carol has worn many hats, including serving as Women’s Board President, Chair of the Board of Trustee, and now, as a Life Trustee. 

“In the early years,” Ms. Prins recalls, “it was thrilling for all of us on the Women’s Board to connect with the actors, directors and technicians.” Even as they raised $12,000 at their first fundraiser, she also remembers Women’s Board members making a personal connection to the art, providing “Sunday night dinners at the theater and a welcoming coffee reception during the first day of rehearsal for each production.”

The board’s reach quickly grew beyond social gatherings and potluck meals. The Women’s Board always pushed itself to take on a greater role within the organization. Ms. Prins adds that she was, “excited to be a part of this new group of dedicated individuals whose mission was to expand support for the Goodman’s productions and community programs.”

True to those aspirations, the Women’s Board has, to date, raised more than $50 million to make the Goodman’s many community engagement programs, and 38 of the Goodman’s productions, possible. The dedication and commitment of the membership has played an integral role in the execution and success of the multiple benefit events each season. From February’s Education and Engagement virtual benefit event, Reimagining Tomorrow, to the upcoming Goodman Virtual Gala on May 22, Women’s Board members always serve as co-chairs and take a leading role in building support for these events.

One of the Goodman’s engagement programs, the School Matinee Series, was what compelled current Women’s Board President Fran Del Boca to join the board. “I watched students discuss a play they had just experienced at the Goodman,” she says. “The thoughtfulness of their comments and the insights that they shared blew me away. This had clearly been very impactful for them. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of the organization that made this program possible.”

As the current Women’s Board President, Ms. Del Boca proudly leads this group she calls “extraordinary, vital women who contribute significantly to the intellectual and social vibrancy of the Goodman Theatre community.”

Joan Clifford, a past Women’s Board President—as well as past Chair of the Board of Trustees and current Life Trustee—feels empowered by the strong women in this special group, saying that “it has always been composed of women who are very dedicated to the mission and very supportive of all of its fundraising efforts and events.” Especially after serving as its president, she feels honored to work alongside these “energetic, creative women that you can always count on.”

If you happen to look down while walking underneath the Goodman marquee on Dearborn Street, you might spot the star dedicated to the Women’s Board to honor their efforts in raising $2 million to help construct the building and $2.5 million for the theater’s Campaign for Excellence. Ms. Clifford was there on the day they gathered in front of the Goodman to receive their star on the sidewalk, which she recalls was “especially gratifying to be recognized in this special way.”

Ms. Prins, who has co-chaired three Goodman Galas, points to the Inaugural Ball that celebrated the opening of the new Goodman on Dearborn Street back in 2000 as one of her most cherished Goodman memories. Bernadette Peters sang that night and Ms. Prins remembers the stream of emotions that accompanied that important event. 

“The theater has been a part of my life [since] childhood when I yearned to be an actor, to years of professional training, to the behind-the-scenes [role] as a board member and leader, and as an advocate,” she says. “Live theater is the artistic mirror that reflects our world and allows us to look at ourselves—often in a new light. The theater has the power to enlighten and we marvel at its immense force.”

Even though it has become more difficult during COVID-19 for the Women’s Board to meet in-person, its 49 members keep in touch through virtual meetings, book clubs and other remote activities. “We are still connecting and also always advocating for our wonderful theater,” says Ms. Prins. “It has become family!”

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