Construction Begins on 50,000 square foot Steppenwolf Theatre

steppenwolf theatre

Steppenwolf Theatre Company has unveiled plans for a new state-of-the-art theater building and broke ground today. The 50,000 square foot building is located in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood and is expected to open in the summer of 2021 per RE Journals.


"Steppenwolf is first and foremost a Chicago theatre and that understanding has guided the design of every inch of the building. Our company's role is to create experiences that are in conversation with the diverse life of our hometown and that motivate youth and adults toward participating in a future that is aware, connected and inclusive. As the home for an ensemble of theatre artists who are widely talented and working throughout the world, we must be a place that cultivates the range of their voices and makes it exciting for them to come back to do their best, most important work."

Steppenwolf Artistic Director | Anna D. Shapiro


Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith+ Gordon Gill Architecture and London based theater design team Charcoalblue are the designers of this expansion. Norcon Construction is the developer handling the build-out. The building will be located at 1646 N. Halsted Street, between the existing parking garage and the main theater building, and will seamlessly connect the campus across the west side of Halsted Street.


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The parking garage will undergo cosmetic changes to its facade to create symmetry across the campus. There will be valet service and accessible parking for the patrons. 


"The expansion of Steppenwolf will introduce new relationships with its patrons, neighborhood and Chicago as a whole. Architecturally, the design fits within the character of the neighborhood, recognizing the significance of its presence along Halsted Street while respecting our neighbors."

Lead Architect of Gordon Gill Architecture | Gordon Gill


The expansion will include a 400 seat theater-in-the-round. It will be six rows deep so that the actors can be at the center and no audience member will be more than 20 feet from the stage. Other features include the following:

 - Dedicated education floor

 - Two-story atrium lobby

 - Space to house Steppenwolf's costume shop and other production amenities

 - Wine bar

 - Sidewalk lounge where artists and audiences can converge

A modular staging system will be built that allows for designers and directors to control the architecture, adjust the capacity and explore different stage footprints. Accessibility was a very important factor in the design and includes 20 fully-integrated wheelchair accessible locations and well as an induction hearing loop and improved sight lines for performances featuring ASL Interpretation and Open Captioning. The new theater will be the only in-the-round theater in Chicago.

This is the second phase of a years long process to expand and update the theater that began in 2016 with the completion of the 1700 Theatre and Front Bar: Coffee and Drinks. Phase two is comprised of the new theater building and renovation of the existing Downstairs Theatre lobbies. Phase three of the expansion will be for accessibility-minded renovations.

The new building at 1646 N. Halsted will cost $54 million and the total cost of the multi-year expansion is estimated at $73 million. The company has so far raised $46 million from the board and ensemble and $8 million from the sale of an asset. This will all go towards the total cost involved.

The theatre company is the nation's premier ensemble theater and was formed by actors in 1976. The theater is comprised of three spaces - the 515 seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299 seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80 seat 1700 theatre. 

Per Stanford Social Innovation ReviewCo-founder Jeff Perry stated that when he, Gary Sinise and Terry Kinney started the theater more than four decades ago, they were just a bunch of kids with a dream. They formed a company which consisted of unpaid artists, armed with little more than borrowed props and greasepaint, funded mainly by box office receipts and a few small grants, and transformed itself into a multi-million dollar a year enterprise with real estate and other assets.


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Posted by Judy Lamelza

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