19 sep 17 | Daily Herald

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Yard emerges on Navy Pier

by Barbara Vitello

The Yard, Chicago Shakespeare Theater's impressive new performance space, reflects Chicago literally and figuratively.

Located beneath the billowy white roof that topped Navy Pier's former Skyline Stage, The Yard embodies the city's architectural spirit: innovative, ambitious, robust. The modular design -- a collaboration between CST, the Chicago firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and United Kingdom-based theater design consultants Charcoalblue -- consists of nine audience seating towers.

Each weighing 35,000 pounds and standing 37 feet high, the wood and steel towers can be configured 12 different ways. Along with seating on the main floor, the space holds up to 900 people.
The Yard can expand and contract to meet the needs of the artists, said executive director Criss Henderson. He recognized in 2004, five years after CST relocated to Navy Pier, that the company needed a third space.

French theater artist James Thierrée's production "The Toad Knew" inaugurates The Yard, which opened Tuesday.

"The Yard is an empty canvas for us to approach inside and out," Henderson said, referring to the tent-like roof that at some point will feature commissioned works by projections artists.

The new, 33,000-square-foot space connects to CST's existing spaces -- the 500-seat Courtyard Theater and the Upstairs Theater, a black box space that seats 200 -- via a two-story lobby outfitted with a "curtain wall" made from electrochromic glass that adjusts to the level of sunlight. At its most opaque and viewed from the outdoor courtyard adjacent to The Yard's lobby, the curtain wall reflects the magnificent city skyline.

The view "reminds us we're in service to our city," said Henderson, who, together with artistic director Barbara Gaines, insisted the new space be flexible, sustainable and quickly built.

They seem to have succeeded. Air skids beneath the towers enable them to "float" into position, allowing The Yard to smoothly morph from a grand proscenium stage to an intimate cabaret. According to Henderson, refurbishing the former Skyline Stage space saved tens of millions on the project, which cost $35 million. Construction began in March 2016.

As for the name, it refers to the Globe Theatre pit where William Shakespeare's audiences stood to watch his plays, says Henderson, who also suggests The Yard refers to a play space or a shipyard.
"We wanted a name that was surprising and would invite interpretation," he said.