Steppenwolf Theatre Company is pretty busy these days. Currently it’s staging the Chicago premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” (through June 9), featuring Ora Jones and Janet Ulrich Brooks, as well as the world premiere of “Ms. Blakk For President” (through July 21).
Conceived and directed by Tina Landau (“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical”), the latter piece showcases Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”) as America’s first black drag queen presidential candidate.
But that’s not all. Come 2021, the esteemed ensemble will open the doors to a new 50,000 sq. ft building with five times more wheelchair accessible seats than the current theater, a dedicated education floor, costume shop, two-story lobby, wine bar, sidewalk lounge and more. Even its parking garage will get a facelift.
The $73 million state-of-the-art building will also include a 400-seat, in-the-round theater that, according to Executive Director David Schmitz, “will highlight what makes our company unique—visceral, human and intimate experiences of incredible acting.” Indeed, ensemble member Tracy Letts admits, “I want the audience to see me sweat.”
Ensemble member Amy Morton is equally excited. “I think this theater will also be a great place for students to see our work in an up-close and personal way—a chance for them to feel a part of the whole experience,” says she of Steppenwolf’s upcoming venue.
“The new theater is a bold, modern in-the-round space offering unparallel levels of focus for the actors and audience. Chicago doesn’t have another space like it—in fact Steppenwolf is leading a renewed charge in defining rooms where dialogue and the immediacy of the performers is paramount,” explains Gavin Green, Senior Partner at Charcoalblue, the London-based theater design team working on the new facility designed by architect Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.
“Steppenwolf is first and foremost a Chicago theater and that understanding has guided the design of every inch of the building,” notes Steppenwolf’s Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro.
“What powers this project is an ambition to bring artists and audience together into a single space exemplifying the highest level of intimacy, density, flexibility and excitement. Our shared focus and enthusiasm for the project is matched by Steppenwolf’s relentless energy to get this right—to fine-tune the theater for the company, their loyal audience and open themselves up to newcomers,” adds Green.
“Our company’s role is to create experiences that are in conversation with the diverse life of our hometown and that motivate youth and adults toward participating in a future that is aware, connected and inclusive,” concludes Shapiro.
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Top rendering courtesy of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Middle image of “You’re Being Ridiculous” courtesy of Steppenwolf Theatre Company