15 Nov 2021 | The Chicago Crusader

Expanded Steppenwolf campus a cultural nexus for Chicago New state-of-the-art theater and dedicated education center

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ

Earlier this month, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the nation’s premier ensemble theater company, opened its trailblazing new 50,000-square-foot Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education Center. Designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill FAIA of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, with theater design and acoustics by Charcoalblue and construction by Norcon, the expanded Steppenwolf campus is a cultural nexus for Chicago—offering bold and ambitious opportunities for creative expression, social exchange, unparalleled accessibility, and arts-driven learning for Chicago youth in The Loft, Steppenwolf’s first-ever dedicated education space.

Completed in three phases, Steppenwolf Theatre Company now has an intimate, highly experimental cultural campus that doubles down on education, enhances audience engagement, and invites all of Chicago to experience its cutting-edge theater.

“This new building is a love letter to Chicago that will allow us to expand our reach across this great city as we operationalize our theater’s commitments to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access,” share Artistic Directors Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis.

Steppenwolf was founded more than 45 years ago by a circle of students who craved a space to call their own. The $54 million Arts and Education Center is the largest new permanent cultural asset to open in Chicago in 2021 and will increase Steppenwolf’s education programming.

At the heart of the Center is an intimate, state-of-the-art, 400-seat theater in the round, which will open to audiences in 2022 with a Steppenwolf for Young Adults world premiere and grand public opening of the theatre.

Co-Artistic Director Davis talked with the Crusader about the importance of this new expansion. “This new Arts & Education Center allows us to serve 10,000 more students each year. It also houses our new in-the-round Ensemble Theater that enables us to establish a more intimate connection with our audiences,” he said.

Arts education is so important and has been proven to enrich the lives of youth throughout Chicago, and Steppenwolf is right in line with adding to those experiences. “The best part of the new building is knowing that it will be an entry point for many of the marginalized and historically underrepresented communities in the city of Chicago,” Davis added.

“This multi-phase campus expansion is a manifestation of Steppenwolf’s core values of ensemble, innovation and cultural citizenship. We are investing in this expansion of our artistic home in Chicago to serve our extraordinary city and support the work of generative and diverse theater artists for generations to come,” shares Executive Director E. Brooke Flanagan.

Gill has been deeply involved in the project since 2007 and talked about the commitment of the entire team. “It’s rare to find a group of people who are so invested in not just the function of the building, but the emotional life and equity of the space,” he said.

“To the young people of Chicago, we want to give an especially big welcome back to Steppenwolf. To the teens of our city, we know the toll this forced closure has taken on you and we want you to feel, now more than ever, that this new theater is yours with an entire education floor created for you. When you come to Steppenwolf, you don’t need to bring anything other than yourself. We can’t wait to see you,” shares Director of Education Megan Shuchman.

In the meantime, the theatre was thrilled to invite the community back for in-person performances for the first time in 20 months with its acclaimed and extraordinary revival production of “Bug” earlier this month.