13 sep 17 | DNA Info

Chicago Shakespeare's New Theater At Navy Pier Comes As You Like It

By David Matthews

There's now 10 different ways to see a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The Navy Pier mainstay will debut The Yard, its new $35 million theater, next week with a Wednesday production of James Thierrée's "The Toad Knew."

Designed by British theater consultant Charcoalblue and star skyscraper architect Gordon Gill, The Yard is composed of nine seating "towers" that can be moved around for different shows and different audiences. Arrangements range from two parallel seating stacks to theater-in-the-round reminiscent of the Bard's Globe in London. The Yard's capacities range from 150 to 850 people.

"We wanted to be flexible in terms of capacity but responsive to the artists," said Criss Henderson, the theater's executive director.

The new 33,000-square-foot theater replaces the former Skyline Stage at the pier, 600 E. Grand Ave. Chicago Shakespeare's 500-seat Courtyard Theater will remain, while its 200-seat upstairs black box theater will be used both as a theater and a workshopping area.

Chicago Shakespeare announced plans for the new theater last year as Navy Pier undergoes extensive renovations including a new food court, outdoor park and Ferris wheel.

Those who visit The Yard can also step out with a drink onto the theater's new terrace offering skyline views. The Yard's curvy, two-story lobby has reflective glass with tint that can be controlled by the theater, playing with who's viewing and being viewed.

The architects faced challenges building the theater in a confined footprint without ripping up the pier. The Yard is built on top of a parking garage, and its seating towers were prefabricated in Montreal and hauled in through a loading dock.

Each seating tower weighs more than 17 tons, and shifting them takes about two weeks. Three-man crews use air skids to move them around.

"Each tower is like its own little building," Gill said. "That's a show in itself."

Chicago Shakespeare privately raised $20 million of the theater's $35 million cost, with the pier throwing in the other $15 million.