13 sep 17 | Crain's Chicago Business

First look: The Yard, Navy Pier's new mind-blowing theater

By Catey Sullivan

The public won't get in to Chicago Shakespeare's $35 million, 33,000-square-foot one-of-a-kind new space until Sept. 19, when James Thierree's "The Toad Knew" opens. But you don't have to wait to see the Yard—a theater where the seats can literally float in midair and the stage can morph into just about any shape imaginable. Crain's has obtained exclusive images of the Yard's interior, designed by Chicago's Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and the UK's Charcoalblue.

Here are shots of the groundbreaking Navy Pier theater built inside the underused Skyline Stage and initially dreamed up by Chicago Shakes Executive Director Criss Henderson. And here's the gobsmacking context for those images.

•The audience will sit within nine 37-foot-tall towers (roughly the height of a double decker bus). With the press of a button, each of these 35,000-pound behemoths can rise up three-eighths of an inch off the ground and float into shapes that create all manner of stage configurations: In-the-round, proscenium or thrust among them. This pneumatic technology is common in the aircraft industry (and air hockey tables), but Chicago Shakes says the Yard marks the first time it's been used in a theater.

  • At its largest, the Yard will seat 850. At its smallest, 150.
  • The old Skyline Stage—often referred to as the Armadillo because of the shape of the white tent covering it—is literally embedded in the Yard. Materials repurposed from the Skyline were used in creating the interior of the Yard, particularly in the backstage area. Construction of the Yard took 18 months, 375 tons of steel, 15 miles of electrical conduit and 2,500 tons of concrete.
  • The lobby wall is basically a 3,200-square-foot pair of sunglasses. The curving glass wall connecting the Yard with Chicago Shakes' existing theaters is built from "electrochromatic" glass. Like a pair of fancy sunglasses lenses, the lobby's glass wall automatically dims and lightens depending on the level of sunlight.
  • At its highest point, the Yard's interior structure soars within 6 inches of the Skyline tent canopy. Below, it rests on 18 "micropiles" drilled some 95 feet deep into the bedrock below Navy Pier.

Want to see it up close and personal? Check out a show: Teatro Linda de Sombra's "Amarillo," "Q Brothers Christmas Carol," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or "MacBeth," all coming in the next year.

"The Skyline Stage was the most underused part of Navy Pier," Henderson said. "We wanted to take that structure and reimagine it. Now that we've done that, the possibilities for using it are unlimited."