John Szostek

Founder and Artistic Director


John's professional theatre career began in 1966 when, at the age of nineteen, he left university and went to work for Bob Sickinger at Hull House's Jane Addams Center. After developing its successful Teen Theatre Program, he returned to school to finish his degree at Valparaiso University's Christ College.

The origins of Piccolo Theatre's unique brand of comedy are found in John's early theatre work. Beginning in 1969, in Coventry, England, John began performing in Public Houses and art colleges.

John's love for commedia dell'Arte was born while performing in Geoffrey Buckley's Commedia dell'Arte Gelosi Troupe in Stratford-upon-Avon. Buckley has long been known as a master of movement and mask theatre.

John began to envision a theatre that embodied the vitality and spirit of the commedia dell’Arte; one of comic prototypes, masks and physical discipline. By 1970, John returned to Chicago, bringing along his collaborator Ken Raabe.

Their vision was first expressed in his The Solar Mime Company. It was the first theatre group to perform in music clubs like The Bulls, John Barleycorn, Kingston Mines and Otto’s.

Later, again under the direction of Geoffrey Buckley, they formed The Gelosi Commedia dell’Arte Company which performed for two summers in Chicago. The company's work was featured on NBC, which produced two full scenarios for broadcast.

The influential dancer and teacher, Ann Rudolph, saw one of the Gelosi live performances and she and John began a lifelong friendship.

Beginning in 1974, John began an intense period of interaction with Marcel Marceau, Jacques LeCoq, Oscar Ichazo, Mummenschantz
and Carlo Mazzoni-Clementi. Later while working as an actor in New York, John met up with the principal artists of the then-defunct Judson Poets Theatre and performed in Day Old Bread and Lines of Vision.

When John's dear friend and partner, Arlene Rothlein, died suddenly, he returned to Chicago. As he underwent a period of reevaluation, John made the decision to perform nothing but comedy for the rest of his career.

He then founded the award winning Secret Circuz, which toured nationally and led to the award-winning Cablevision series, The Secret Circus with The Lump Bros., which ran for two seasons.

In 1999 John founded the Piccolo Theatre with a group of dedicated actors and theatre artists.


John has performed thousands of times as an actor or dancer. Some highlights include:


John is a member of Actor’s Equity.


His directing credits include

  • Halcyon Theater - Scenarios of the Old Commedia
  • Lifeline Theatre - Chaos, a production nominated for four Joseph Jefferson nominations, Truffaldino, and A Servant of Two Masters


Since founding Piccolo Theatre he has directed the company in

Szostek cartoonMore!

In 1997 he led the restoration of Evanston's Main Street Metra Station. Renamed The Evanston Arts Depot, the renovated space holds the Piccolo Theatre company's performance space and Piccolatté Caffé.

In 2008 was honored with the Artist of the Year Award by the Mayor of Evanston. Since 1982, he has been the Executive Director of Evanston Festival Theatre which produces the annual Custer Street Fair.


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