Steppenwolf Theatre Company Announces New Co-Artistic Directors

Jul 22, 2021
Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis

Today Steppenwolf Theatre announced a new model of leadership, naming two ensemble members Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis as the incoming Artistic Directors of the storied Chicago company. The new appointment continues Steppenwolf's tradition of its artistic leadership being placed in the hands of ensemble members, but this is the first time co-artistic leaders have been appointed by the 49-member ensemble in its nearly five-decade history, and the first time the company has elected an Artistic Director of color.

Both deeply rooted in the Chicago community, Davis and Francis have built the foundation of their artistic careers in the City's vibrant arts community. They each got their start at the School at Steppenwolf and, in 2017, became ensemble members under Anna D. Shapiro's leadership as Artistic Director.

"Steppenwolf was founded by extraordinary actors who had a vision of building an ensemble of artists who would support each other while producing honest, bold, and thought-provoking theatre," said Shapiro, Steppenwolf ensemble member who will step down as artistic director when her second three-year contract ends in August. "This approach changed American theater. Now with a nearly 50-member ensemble, we are on the verge of our next great act-the opening of a remarkable new theater-in-the-round and an education wing, two decades in the making, that promises to be a cultural nexus for our City. Glenn and Audrey, together, are the right mix to build on our company's legacy and open our doors wider than ever before."

The co-leaders will shepherd the evolution of the acclaimed company in this historic moment. This includes creating equitable space for individuals who have been historically under-represented and marginalized in the American theater, and welcoming audiences from across Chicago and around the world to Steppenwolf's new 50,000 square foot Arts and Education Center this fall. They will oversee the company's celebrated history of productions that provide intimate exposure to the human condition. They plan to continue to center the ensemble in programming; operationalize the theatre's commitments to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access; and advance the overall artistic vision for the institution.

"Audrey is a brilliant actor, director and exceptional mentor to young artists," said new Artistic Director Davis. "The ensemble has always been the heart and soul of Steppenwolf. As the company has grown so, too, has the ensemble, now reflecting a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and passions. Our goal is to center the artists through ensemble leadership and strengthen that ensemble ethos so that it permeates every aspect of the institution."

"I am deeply excited to partner with Glenn, who is an extremely talented actor, producer, and entrepreneur," said new Artistic Director Francis. "Steppenwolf has always been an innovator and, as the American theater community reimagines itself, we're going to dream big and push Steppenwolf and the industry to reexamine how we support artists on and off stage. We are inspired by the changes we see in our industry and aim to redefine how artists are valued in America."

Both Davis and Francis cited the immediate past artistic directors - Martha Lavey and Shapiro - for planting the seeds for this next chapter. "Martha focused Steppenwolf with three principles: ensemble, innovation, and civic duty. She created great infrastructure in that regard. She connected Steppenwolf to our sister institutions in Chicago and around the country, expanded our ensemble to include multi-hyphenate theater artists, and brought education to the forefront of our programming. And Anna has left a footprint large enough to make actionable those principles by rerouting the building of our space to reflect not only the intimacy craved by audience and ensemble but also prioritizing learning, practice, and exploration for Chicago youth in our education center. Now with our unique backgrounds, and connection with the school and the industry, we are poised to grow these seeds both deeper into their roots and higher into the Chicago skyline."

Steppenwolf is one of just a small number of theatres in the country to have co-leadership of artistic vision and responsibilities.

"As an actor-centered theatre company, moving to a new, co-artistic leadership model is aligned with the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders, ensemble members and leadership team who have all shaped Steppenwolf. The different life experiences Glenn and Audrey bring to the role will provide a more comprehensive world-view in decision making that will benefit Steppenwolf actors, staff, the company, and our audiences," said Eric Lefkofsky, chair, Steppenwolf Board of Trustees.

The Theatre recently completed the final phase of its ambitious three-phase campus expansion plan that includes a 400-seat, highly accessible theatre-in-the-round, a dedicated education center and new spaces for community and socializing that will open this fall. The building will be the largest permanent cultural asset in Chicago to open this year.

"The Arts and Education Center was conceived as a public square to spark conversations catalyzed by the work on our stages. As Chicago-based artists themselves, Glenn and Audrey are rooted in that work. Steppenwolf is an ensemble theater, a provocative launching pad for new stories and groundbreaking productions, a cultural citizen of Chicago for nearly 50 years and a leading partner in education. Together, we are committed to opening our doors to artists from across all 77 neighborhoods of the City we call home, and to audiences from around the world," said E. Brooke Flanagan, executive director.

The 2021/2022 mainstage season will begin live performances with the return of Bug in November; followed by King James in February 2022 featuring Glenn Davis; Seagull in April 2022 and Choir Boy in June 2022. Steppenwolf for Young Adults brings a virtual production of The Red Folder Project to more than 30,000 students worldwide this fall; and in February 2022 presents the world premiere of Eve Ewing's 1919 in the new Round Theater.

Steppenwolf's production of The Minutes returns to Broadway in March 2022; and Pass Over, which received its world premiere production at Steppenwolf, will be among the first shows to open on Broadway this fall starring ensemble members Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood.