You can’t miss it. Nestled in the center of Ravinia and gazing upon the festival’s grand entrance is the Martin Theatre, the immaculate Arts and Crafts–style concert hall that has stood since the park first opened in 1904. But over Ravinia’s 113-year history, it hasn’t always been a stage for the premier chamber musicians—and even small orchestras—of the world. During the first decade of the park’s existence, it was largely used for motion pictures. (For historical perspective: This was a time before sound-on-film and “talkies” had become commercially viable.) These were typically shown before and after concerts, though by 1911 they had essentially become part of the program, shown during the intermission. But as the popularity and scale of Ravinia’s opera presentations grew, the theater was shuttered in 1915 and relegated to being a storage space for scenery and props.
Of course, those halcyon days found their own end after 1931 with the Great Depression, but when Ravinia reopened in 1936, the theater did not follow suit. Two decades later, the Ravinia Trustees came to the rescue, fully rejuvenating the space to again host not only short films, but also performances of spoken word and, of course, chamber music (which until then had been presented on the Pavilion stage). Its reinaugural event was a dramatization of Irish nationalist playwright Sean O’Casey’s Pictures in the Hallway on June 17, 1957, also opening the season, soon followed by such figures as North Shore–native poet Archibald MacLeish.