26 aug 2017 | Crain's Chicago Business
The Yard at Navy Pier: Theater game-changer
By Catey Sullivan
The name is unassuming. But the space? The Yard is a brand of newfangled theater the likes of which you'll find nowhere else. For Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the new venue means virtually endless programming possibilities on the company's Navy Pier campus.
More than a decade in the making, the Yard—which opens Sept. 19 with the nouvelle-circus/fairytale spectacle "The Toad Knew"—all but does away with the physical parameters dictated by most theater spaces. "We wanted something that would be responsive to artists' imagination rather than limit it," says Shakespeare Theater Executive Director Criss Henderson.
Built in the footprint of Navy Pier's egregiously underused Skyline Stage, the Yard features nine movable towers that can seat 300 to 850. With the push of a button, these 35,000-pound edifices glide into varying configurations with the ease of an air hockey puck in play. The high-tech mobility means the Yard can take on whatever shape a show demands.
The venue is gorgeous as well as functional. A massive, curved bank of windows will give the lobby one of the best lake views in the city. The Yard's impact on audiences will be immense because it obliterates the two long-standing restrictions to Chicago Shakes' programming. "There have been so many works we've wanted to present here over the years that we just couldn't because our stages were programmed with our subscription series. That changes now," says Henderson. "We never could have done 'The Toad Knew' before, either, because we simply didn't have the kind of flexible space it demanded."
The Yard will also breathe new life into existing shows: When the Q Brothers' rap-'n'-roll "Christmas Carol" takes to the Yard in December, "we'll turn the entire place into a multilevel party room" says Henderson. "There's a flexibility and a virtuosity to the space that allows us to keep doing what we're doing—only better."
"When I started researching new venues for us a decade ago, I wanted something that—20 years from now—would still be cutting-edge and adaptive to whatever artists want to do. I think we've found that," he says.