BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention, / A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
—William Shakespeare, Henry V
The 500 guests at the recent Chicago Shakespeare Theater GALA 2017 were wide-eyed at their first look at the Yard at Navy Pier, a soaring tribute to the inventive minds who created the radically new performance space set to open September 19.
Nine movable towers that can be configured into a variety of shapes and sizes with audience capacities ranging from 150-850 surrounded the guests in the new theater space adjacent to the current two theaters where the Skyline Stage once stood.
Although movable towers exist in a few theaters around the world, no theater has yet to place so many towers in one venue. Andy Hayes, Managing Partner for the UK-based theater and acoustics consultancy firm Charcoalblue, who worked with Bulley & Andrews on the project, said:
“I haven’t encountered any other theater in which every single part of the balcony and seating can be reconfigured. In that regard, it is definitely a world’s first.”
Criss Henderson, CST Executive Director, explained to Gala guests:
“Each seating tower, which weighs 35,000 pounds and is the size of a double-decker bus stood upright, contains three levels of seating. Each seating tower has a varied number of seats, but most towers seat around 50 audience members.
“Previously only seen in aircraft productions and other industrial settings, a compressed air skid technology—imagine a mini hovercraft—lifts the tower millimeters from the ground, allowing two stagehands to reconfigure the towers between productions.
“Each tower houses extensive theatrical technology and is connected to a network of HVAC components and sprinkler systems for patron comfort and safety.”
Along with Henderson, Artistic Director, Barbara Gaines and Board Chair, Steve Solomon, welcomed those in attendance and described the opportunities the new theater brings, especially for the 40,000 students Shakespeare serves yearly.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the evening’s Honorary Chair along with Amy Rule, delivered a rousing endorsement of what a third Shakespeare Theater will mean for Chicago. Also on stage were Gala Chairs, Carole and Gordon Segal, who announced an astounding $1.74 million was raised that evening for Chicago Shakespeare in Classrooms and Communities.
In thanking the many generous donors for their contributions, Barbara shared a brief history of the theater and the work they do:
“We began 30 years ago with a now-legendary performance of Henry V on the rooftop of the Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park. What has followed in three decades of extraordinary artistry—world-class performances of Shakespeare, and new plays that reflect his genius, educational programs that have impacted millions of students’ lives and supported thousands of teachers—has made us a leading partner in literacy in our city. We are celebrating, as well, our free Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks tour.”
Tony and Grammy Award winners Heather Headley and Jessie Mueller, who both got their start in Chicago, were introduced by Shakespeare’s Creative Producer, Rick Boynton. They electrified the audience with songs from Broadway hits in which they starred.
The 30th Anniversary Host Committee included Amanda and Jess Merten, Sarah Harding and Mark Ouweleen, Karla Scherer and Harve Ferrill, Maurice Smith, Nazneen Razi, Sonja and Conrad Fischer, Virginia and Gary Gerst, Jan and Bill Jentes, Char and Bill Tomazin, Lydia Marti and Richard Porter, and Yasmina and Brian Duwe. The Northern Trust was Headline Sponsor of the Gala.
The first performance in The Yard will be James Thierree’s The Toad Knew, running September 19-23 and presented by La Comaagnie du Hanneton from France as part of CST’s World’s Stage Series. Thierree is the grandson of Charlie Chaplin.
Other scheduled performances include a newly-abridged Midsummer Night’s Dream, with additional performances for children and families, and a supernatural new Macbeth staged by Raymond Teller, of the famous magic duo Penn & Teller, and Aaron Posner.
While the remainder of The Yard’s 2017-18 season has yet to be announced, keep your eye on their website for performance information—you don’t want to miss a thing at this one-of-a-kind space!
To learn about the exciting 2017-18 Chicago Shakespeare Theater season on all three stages—the Courtyard Theater, the theater Upstairs, and now, The Yard—visit chicagoshakes.com.
Johnny Knight Photo