LINCOLN PARK — The Steppenwolf Theatre Company debuted its expanded campus Tuesday with the opening of a theater and education building.
The $54 million Liz & Eric Lefkofsky Arts & Education Center features a round, 400-seat theater surrounding the stage on all sides. The complex also includes classrooms, art gallery walls and two new bars.
Glenn Davis, Steppenwolf’s co-artistic director, said the 50,000-square-foot building was the company’s “love letter to Chicago.”
“This building will allow us to expand our reach across this great city as we operationalize our theater’s commitments to inclusion, diversity, equity and access,” Davis said during a grand opening Tuesday.
The new building — designed by architect Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture — is part of Steppenwolf’s multi-phase $73 million Building on Excellence expansion campaign.
“What an extraordinary day this is for our company and Chicago,” said Brooke Flanagan, executive director of Steppenwolf. “We are investing in this expansion of our artistic home in Chicago to serve our extraordinary city and support the work of generative and diverse theater artists for generations to come.”
The Ensemble Theater In Honor Of Helen Zell is an intimate space only six rows deep. Audience members are never more than 20 feet from the stage. The space was designed by Charcoalblue, a company that’s worked with Steppenwolf for more than a decade to optimize and design its theaters.
The Ensemble Theater is the company’s third. Steppenwolf also stages productions at the 1700 Theater, where Davis said the company can partner with local, emerging artists; and the Downstairs Theater, which has been a launching pad for many new plays.
“And now, our Ensemble Theater gives us the means to establish a more intimate connection with our audiences by created a new aperture through which they can experience our work,” Davis said.
The Ensemble Theater will open in Feburary with Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ adaptation of Eve Ewing’s “1919.”
The fourth floor of the new building is home to The Loft, which aims to grow the company’s education program from 20,000 to 30,000 students annually.
The Loft features three classrooms, as well as gallery walls displaying artwork by young artists from across Chicago.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and first lady Amy Eshleman also attended Tuesday’s grand opening. Eshleman, a Steppenwolf trustee, said the Loft will be a “mixing chamber of bold ideas and collaboration.”
“These authentic youth experiences are so important in this moment,” Eshleman said. “Our resilient young people from neighborhoods all over the city are yearning to be together again in safe spaces to heal, find voice and engage with each other.”
The new building also features two full-service bars, designed by fc Studio, inc. where people can socialize before and after shows.
The bars will open at 6 p.m. before evening performances and close 30 minutes after curtain. On two-show days with a matinee and evening performance, the bars will be open from pre-matinee through the evening show.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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