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Theatre News Wire

Steppenwolf Theatre Announces Opening of New Cafe and Black Box Theater
Jan 22, 2016


Steppenwolf Theatre in ChicagoSteppenwolf Theatre announced the opening of a new cafe & bar and 80-seat theater in the building at 1700 N Halsted St., which connects to our existing main lobby. Collaborating on the new cafe & bar space are Steppenwolf's friends and neighbors, Boka Restaurant Group (BRG), along with interior designer Karen Herold of Studio K and the design agency Grip, representing the best in restaurateurs, interior design and marketing. Slated to open in Spring 2016, the cafe & bar space will be a warm, neighborhood hub serving artisanal coffee, espresso and tea by La Colombe by day while gradually moving to traditional bar service for the evening hours. A special bonus will be the menu curated by Chef Chris Pandel of Swift & Sons and Balena. The name, opening date and menu for the cafe & bar will be announced at a later date.

Situated behind the cafe & bar will be a new 80-seat black box theater presenting a diverse array of programming, including Steppenwolf ensemble-based projects, comedy, music, solo performance, dance, visiting theater companies and more beginning in Spring 2016. The name and programming will be announced at a later date.

"We wanted to create a space that elevates the notion of what a full theatre experience can be," shares Anna D. Shapiro, Steppenwolf Artistic Director. "Steppenwolf is a familial environment, and for a long time we have craved a comfortable setting where our audiences, artists, staff and friends can interact-the cafe & bar is the perfect solution. With the addition of a flexible black box theater we'll be able to re-connect with our roots as a company, allowing more opportunities for our ensemble to experiment as well as welcoming new artists and genres, which is all very exciting. This building promises to be a cultural destination that everyone can enjoy. We have the best team in Chicago assembled, and can't wait to open our doors to the community."

About the cafe & bar

Steppenwolf Theatre will operate the new 2,500 square ft. cafe & bar, a creative space where guests can grab a drink, have a bite, or meet up with friends and collaborators, day or night. Boka Restaurant Group (BRG) has been contracted to lend their expertise and guidance in designing and opening the venue. Boka Restaurant Group, founded by restaurateurs Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, is one of the premier chef-driven restaurant groups in the country and has opened some of Chicago's most popular dining destinations, including Girl & the Goat, Balena, Boka, GT Fish & Oyster and Momotaro, among others.

"We have been friends with BRG since BOKA opened across the street, and for the past 13 years witnessed the transformation of the entire Chicago culinary scene as a result of their talent. Their consultation on this project has been invaluable," shares David Schmitz, Steppenwolf Managing Director. "The cafe & bar will be a place that staff, artists, friends and neighbors can call home. Whether you're looking to attend a show, or just have a drink and conversation, our cafe & bar will be an exciting addition to the Halsted Corridor dining and social scene."

"There has always been a great symmetry between the independent spirit of Steppenwolf and Boka Group-us helping with this project is a natural fit," shares Kevin Boehm of BRG. "The goal is to create something with two identities: an artisanal coffee shop with a menu created by Chef Chris Pandel, and a bar that evokes the spirit of O'Rourkes. Not only is this an added benefit for theater patrons of Steppenwolf, but it provides an element that the neighborhood sorely needs," adds Rob Katz of BRG.

The interior designer for the cafe & bar is Karen Herold of Studio K. She has designed some of Chicago's most popular restaurants, including Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, The Betty, Maple & Ash and many more. Herold has fostered longstanding relationships with high profile clients, including the Boka Restaurant Group, who brought her onto this project.

"Our concept for Steppenwolf's cafe & bar is based on the atmosphere of an artist loft-a curated, open space with lots of light, filled with an eclectic mix of handpicked items that have personal meaning and a mix of vintage and modern furniture. A centrally located square bar made with reclaimed steel will invite conversation. It will be a lovely space that seamlessly transitions from a relaxed cafe by day to a creative, hangout space at night. I have always been a fan of Steppenwolf's work and it is an honor to collaborate on this project," shares Karen Herold, Founder of Studio K.

Grip, one of the city's top marketing and design firms, is developing the brand and messaging for the new space. "Developing an emotionally resonant brand means staying true to the people behind the experience. With the nature of a space taking on two separate identities, a natural theme is emerging: wherever the hands of the clock may be, find yourself here. Combined with high standards of the Boka Restaurant Group and Studio K, our job is to show-and say-how the very best part of your day or night will be spent," shares Kevin McConkey, Grip partner.

About the new theater

The brand new 80-seat theater will be a casual, intimate and flexible space presenting a wide variety of genres and shows, from dance to live music to spoken word and beyond. The diverse programming will provide current and new audience members with a variety of multidisciplinary cultural experiences with the added Steppenwolf stamp of approval.

"Steppenwolf started as a group of friends performing risk-taking work in a small basement space in Highland Park. This new theater space echoes those beginnings, providing opportunities for our ensemble members to experiment in a black box setting without the pressure and restrictions of a mainstage run. It also opens the door to new, diverse artists, companies and a variety of performance styles, in turn welcoming new audiences into our home," shares Shapiro.

Steppenwolf has established itself as the nation's premier ensemble theater since moving into its current campus on Halsted Street 24 years ago. Currently, the theater operates three stages-the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, 299-seat Upstairs Theater and 80-seat Garage Theatre. With the new black box, the Garage Theatre will transition to an event and rehearsal space in Spring 2016 after the run of The Gift Theatre's Richard III. The new theater will allow Steppenwolf to expand on the mission and programming of the Garage Theatre, presenting a wider representation of voices, including visiting companies and a mix of local and national artists.

"This building is going to be a social hub where everything new at Steppenwolf has its beginning-moving us closer to our ambitions of creating a cultural center like none other in Chicago," adds Schmitz.

Steppenwolf's cafe & bar and the new theater are part of Steppenwolf's multi-year campus expansion plan. The phased campus expansion began in 2013 with the second floor renovation of the former Ethan Allen building at 1700 N Halsted into administrative offices. Construction is underway on the first floor of the building for the cafe & bar and the new theater. As previously announced, Steppenwolf continues to plan for additional expansion of its campus, allowing more flexibility by creating upgraded theater facilities, enhanced audience services and expanded producing opportunities. Additional details about the new phases of expansion to be announced at a later date.


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