Steppenwolf Theatre broke ground Tuesday on a $54 million development that will include a new 400-seat, in-the-round theater.
The project will be the latest in a multi-year expansion of Steppenwolf’s space on Halsted Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The new theater is scheduled to open in the summer of 2021.
The 50,000-square-foot building also will include an education center, a two-story atrium lobby, and a wine bar and sidewalk lounge intended to offer gathering spaces where artists and audiences can mingle.
“This building has taken shape through thousands of practical and profound conversations about what Steppenwolf should be for Chicagoans, and how we could bring our ensemble closer to them,” Steppenwolf Executive Director David Schmitz said.
Schmitz said the theater-in-the-round design will mean “audiences will always be sitting within twenty feet of the stage, focused on the architecture of the actor.”
He also emphasized the project’s goal of creating a floor built specifically for Steppenwolf’s teen programs. Schmitz said it will allow Steppenwolf to triple the programming, inviting up to 40,000 youth to participate in mentorship programs.
Brandon Rivera, an alumnus from Steppenwolf’s Young Adult Council, joined Schmitz and others on stage to share his experience with the theater. Rivera received applause when he said, “Steppenwolf gave me, a queer, Puerto Rican high school student from Logan Square, a chance.”
Steppenwolf said the new complex will be designed by Chicago-based architecture firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill and London-based theater design firm Charcoalblue.
“There’s flexibility in the architecture that will enable designers and directors really to control that architecture,” Charcoalblue Senior Partner Gavin Green explained.
He added that “entrances to the stage that can be tailored for the productions. We can adjust the capacity and change the stage format itself.”
The latest project is part of Steppenwolf’s $73 million, multi-phased expansion that began in 2016. Steppenwolf Board Chairman Eric Lefkofsky said the theater has raised $46 million of that goal so far.
Carrie Shepherd is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @cshepherd.