6 Nov 2021 | Chicago Now

The Wolf Strikes again with Steppenwolf Theatre Company Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center expansion

By Let's Play

The monster that has attacked the world, Covid, an acute respiratory illness in humans caused by a coronavirus, caused theaters to go dark for nearly two years. It was one of the hardest-hit industries that had to close its doors. The vibrant scene of lights, action, and great storytelling on stage came abruptly, leaving actors, directors, designers, and others in the theater world to find themselves out of a job.

However, amidst this darkness, Steppenwolf, the nation’s premier ensemble theater company, diligently worked on a new addition, creating greatness from ashes, only to rise to the top in 2021, with the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center expansion. The $54 million new building is part of Steppenwolf’s multi-phase $73 million Building on Excellence expansion campaign.

The Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center was designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill FAIA of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture with the acoustics by Charcoalblue and construction by Norcon. The extension is an enriching relationship for Chicago and its surrounding communities.

Founded in 1974 by Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry, and Gary Sinise, who recorded messages played during the beginning of the ceremony, Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Ensemble Theater in Honor of Helen Zell provided us with a glimpse of theater future.

This multi-phase campus development was over two decades in the making and is an indicator of Steppenwolf’s core values of ensemble, innovation, and cultural citizenship. The 500,000 square foot trail blazed to the forefront on Tuesday, November 2nd, with a dedication ceremony and ribbon-cutting that included Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, Chicago critics, and the press. 

We had the pleasure of being included in the Grand Opening festivities. The beautiful and bold designs inspire vast opportunities for creative expression, arts-driven learning, the interchange of numerous discussions, collective sharing, and incomparable user-friendliness for Chicago youth in The Loft, and is Steppenwolf’s first-ever dedicated education space.

In addition, this stunning building offers an eclectic eye candy of features, including two new bars for socializing, designed by fc Studio, Loft Teen Arts Project, and a beautiful mural from Tony Fitzpatrick. Students will walk in with dreams that they can finally create into their realities. And this started from the lower level of a parking lot.

Kudos to Steppenwolf for the remarkable addition to its theater. The equity of space and function provides a ton of opportunity for students as they walk the halls of concrete walls and mirror windows, encouraging them to believe they can be more than conquerors. Steppenwolf is committed to introducing the hidden gems of Chicagoland theaters to the youth through diversity programs, helping low-income students who would not have a prospect to gain this knowledge without the educational program featured at this new facility.

As to the liking of an individual personality, buildings hold a lot of character, so the students that will embrace the primary space of Liz and Eric Leftkofsky will be able to explore their creative juices to the highest level while developing their acting personas. This rare state-of-the-art enterprise was explicitly designed to help them to discover their raw talent. 

The investment to the community in a great city like Chicago serves extraordinarily well to support the generative future for the next chapter of the finest and brightest students at Steppenwolf.

The list of people who donated is nothing less than spectacular, with more than 15 gifts of more than one million dollars and significant contributions from the Lefkofskys and Zell Family foundation.

The event ended with a ribbon-cutting that included ensemble members. Then, the audience could mingle and see all of the fantastic opportunities students will have to make theater a bright and wonderful future.

Steppenwolf’s mission is to strive to create thrilling, courageous, and provocative art in a thoughtful and inclusive environment. And, the future of that mission is indeed bright, and future generations can thank the love, commitment, and generosity of those who believed in them.

Thanks, Steppenwolf, for opening your heart!