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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Steppenwolf Breaks Ground Today on New Campus Expansion
2019-03-05

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CHICAGO ( March 5, 2019 ) — Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the nation's premier ensemble theatre, proudly breaks ground today on the next phase of its multi-year campus expansion on Halsted Street in Chicago's Lincoln Park. The company unveiled plans for its new state-of-the-art theater building, which will embody the distinct vision of Steppenwolf as a Chicago theatre that is home to America's ensemble.

"This is a monumental moment for us that is more than two decades in the making—built on the shoulders of the former leaders, the ensemble, the board, and the staff who have touched this project and together have made this vision a reality. The heart of Steppenwolf is that while the work may soar, our foundation is decidedly human scale, an ongoing celebration of discovering the extraordinary in the every day. The promise of this is what has kept people invested in this company for so long and what inspires our next steps," shares Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro.

"Steppenwolf is first and foremost a Chicago theatre and that understanding has guided the design of every inch of the building. 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. As the home for an ensemble of theatre artists who are widely talented and working throughout the world, we must be a place that cultivates the range of their voices and makes it exciting for them to come back to do their best, most important work. We must be able to provide that through not just the art that we make but the spaces we create: brave, beautiful, compassionate, inclusive," adds Shapiro.

Designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, and London-based theater design team Charcoalblue ( led by John Owens with theatre designer Ben Hanson and acoustic designer Byron Harrison ), and built by Chicago-based Norcon Construction ( led by Jeff Jozwiak ), Steppenwolf's new facility will change the way Chicagoans experience the company's cutting-edge theatre.

Slated to open in the summer of 2021, the new 50,000 sq. ft building will feature an intimate 400-seat In-the-Round Theatre only six rows deep—the only one of its kind in Chicago—that puts the actor at the center and brings the audience closer than ever before; a dedicated education floor, tripling the reach and impact of Steppenwolf's nationally recognized education work; a bright and open two-story atrium lobby, and a wine bar and a sidewalk lounge, increasing the social gathering spaces where artists and audiences converge. The new building will house Steppenwolf's costume shop and other updated production amenities.

"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," shares Gavin Green, Senior Partner at Charcoalblue.

"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 theatre for the company, their loyal audience and open themselves up to newcomers," adds Green.

Designed with the highest accessibility standards, the new theater building will be located at 1646 N Halsted between the existing parking garage ( which will remain ) and the main theater building, seamlessly connecting the campus across the west side of Halsted Street. As part of this expansion phase, the lobbies of the Downstairs Theatre will also undergo major renovations to better serve audiences.

"The new building will be an open invitation to all—with performance, rehearsal and social places intentionally built to place artists, audiences and students in constant engagement with each other. The In-the-Round theatre design will highlight what makes our company unique—visceral, human and intimate experiences of incredible acting. Our first-ever purpose-built learning space, which is the crowning jewel of the building, will allow us to place education at the heart of our mission and increase the number of teens impacted by our programming from 15,000 to 40,000," shares Executive Director David Schmitz. "In collaboration with the ensemble, the architects and designers and a community of supporters, today it is a true honor to break ground on our next phase, which will reshape the Steppenwolf experience and enable us to become the theater we aspire to be."

The parking garage at 1624 N. Halsted will remain and undergo cosmetic changes to its facade to create symmetry across the campus. Increased valet service will be offered to continue to make parking easy, and accessible parking will be available next to Front Bar at 1700 N Halsted. During construction, the parking garage will continue to be available to patrons.

"The expansion of Steppenwolf will introduce new relationships with its patrons, neighborhood and Chicago as a whole. Architecturally the design fits within the character of the neighborhood, recognizing the significance of its presence along Halsted Street while respecting our neighbors," shares lead architect Gordon Gill.

"Working with Steppenwolf on this project has been a special experience—their clear intention of accessibility for all has transformed the space. It's rare to find a group of people who are so deeply involved in not just the program and function of the building, but the emotional life and equity of a building. One of my proudest moments in the design is that arguably, the most primary space of the project is given to the students, which speaks volumes to this company, its ideals and its future," adds Gill.

Phases of the Expansion

The expansion project began in 2016 with Phase One: the completion of the 1700 Theatre and Front Bar: Coffee & Drinks. Following the completion of Phase Two—the new theater building and renovation of the existing Downstairs Theatre lobbies—Steppenwolf enters Phase Three of the expansion with accessibility-minded renovations to the current Downstairs Theatre that will greatly enhance the audience experience for the entire community.

The total cost of Steppenwolf's multi-year expansion which consists of three phases is $73 million. The new building at 1646 N Halsted makes up $54 million of the total $73. To date, the company has raised $46 million from the board and ensemble towards this goal including $8 million from the sale of an asset. Campaign Co-Chairs are Nora Daley and Eric Lefkofsky.

"Steppenwolf is a Chicago story, unfolding over four decades. The next chapter promises to be the most exciting. This new theatre is a celebration of all Steppenwolf has meant to our city and our commitment to sustaining a thriving theater community in the years to come," shares Eric Lefkofsky, Board Chairman & Campaign Co-Chair.

"This exciting expansion is sure to attract new visitors to Chicago, introduce new audiences to the arts and inspire countless young fans to expand their horizons and reach for new artistic heights," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "In the Year of Chicago Theatre, Steppenwolf is one of many proud examples of the talented actors, actresses, producers and directors throughout the city and downtown that together strengthen Chicago's global reputation as worldwide leader in innovative, impactful and groundbreaking artistic performances."


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