EDGEWATER — Steep Theatre returns this week to Edgewater after two years away, having settled into a new location the theater company bought and renovated with community support.
Steep Theatre’s first production since 2020 is Eboni Booth’s “Paris,” which opens Friday as the inaugural show at 1044 W. Berwyn Ave., a former Christian Science Reading tucked into a leafy Edgewater block.
The theater lost its previous home two blocks west at 1115 W. Berwyn Ave. in September 2020 because the building, which is next to the Berwyn “L” stop, was sold for a development. Steep had called that theater home since it moved from its first location in Wrigleyville in 2008. The move also meant the loss of it other space, The Boxcar, a bar just next door.
Steep’s relocation to the east represents the culmination of a months-long search, as well as a rezoning of the property. The property was zoned for residential use, so city approval was needed to operate a theater. The theater teamed up with the community to stay in Edgewater.
“The community really came through for us,” said Peter Moore, Steep’s artistic director and an ensemble member, who noted the approval process was stressful at times, but “oddly sort of uplifting.”
Executive Director Kate Piatt-Eckert agreed.
“On some of these Zoom meetings, just unbidden, folks would unmute and give these incredible testimonials about the role that Steep has had in their lives and the role that it has in making their neighborhood feel like a home,” she said. “And just these humbling things people were saying were really, really lovely.”
The search for a home sent Steep’s leaders across the city, but the company ultimately achieved its goal of staying in Edgewater.
“The Edgewater community is incredibly supportive of art and artists. And I see theater being integrated into just the fabric of civic life in this neighborhood in a way that is really inspiring,” Piatt-Eckert said. “And so many artists live here, and so many people who don’t necessarily see themselves as theatergoers come to their neighborhood theater, and it is a really exciting place to be making art.”
Armand Cerbone, a neighbor who participated in the online meetings set up by Steep to discuss the move, said he’s excited for the theater’s return.
“I was very concerned about what they would do for the neighborhood, especially since we have people who don’t have access to theater. What were they going to do to provide access? And they said, ‘You’re speaking exactly to what we intend to do,’” Cerbone said. “So, I’m very, very excited to see what they’re going to bring and how it will enrich our community.”
The building at the corner of Berwyn and Kenmore avenues was built in 1998 and used for years as a Christian Science Reading Room. Steep converted a congregating area inside into a black box theater and plans to make additions in the future. Making use of an existing building represented an important part of Steep’s community orientation from an environmental and preservation standpoint.
“Our work is rooted in engagement; in really working with a client, with stakeholders, with neighbors about what a place needs to be,” said architect Monica Chadha, of Chicago-based practice Civic Projects Architecture. “So the choice of adding to the existing building, the choice of the kinds of spaces that are going to get added, all really came from Steep directly.”
While the timeline for the building’s physical changes remains “up in the air,” the theater company looks forward to its first show in the space after two years off the stage. “Paris” takes place in the predominantly white town of Paris, Vermont, in 1996, following a young Black woman as she tries to find community.
“We’ve got a bit of a reputation for doing some heavy, challenging work. And this is heavy and challenging,” Moore said. “So it’s engaging, it’s warm and digs into some of the deeper societal issues.”
Steep is in the midst a $3 million fundraising campaign called Lights Up Edgewater focused on buying and renovating Steep’s new home; making a more robust, equitable and sustainable artist compensation plan; and building onto the theater’s commitment to fiscal and organizational sustainability.
“Folks in our community stepped up in a big and enthusiastic way and made that possible, which was really inspiring. And now as we begin the more public phase of the campaign over the next several months, we’re excited to talk with even more people about how they can be involved,” Piatt-Eckert said.
The opening of the first show in the new location represents just one facet of the role Steep understands itself to play in the local community.
“While we do certainly produce plays, and that is our core function, we really see our role as a community organization, that we are part of our neighborhood, and we try to be as much of a service to our community as audiences are when they make their way to the theater,” Piatt-Eckert said. “And having those long term relationships has been really meaningful to us.”
“Paris” is sold out, but those interested can sign up for the waitlist. The show’s Midwest premiere runs Friday to July 23. The theater’s second show, the U.S. premiere of “Light Falls,” will be performed July 8-Aug. 14 at Theater Wit in Lakeview.
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