Chicago is home to one of the most flexible theater venues in the world: The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater opened two theaters on Navy Pier in 1990: a 200-seat black box theater, and a 500-seat Elizabethan thrust stage. But over time, with the evolution of their programming as well as theater practice more broadly, they felt a need for not just more space — but a different kind of space.
In this Innovator Series talk, delivered live at the 2019 Tessitura Learning & Community Conference, Criss Henderson and Chris Plevin describe CST's journey to envisioning, building, and opening The Yard.
The project followed some key mandates: radical artistic flexibility, paired with affordability and sustainability.
“We embraced the idea that the facade of a cultural building does not have to be expensive and 'architecturally significant' to be vital,” said Criss. “In fact, its significance can come from the surprise of the experience found inside.”
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare in various configurations. Photos by James Steinkamp and Vito Palmisano.
The dynamic design of the theater features nine mobile audience “towers,” which can be arranged in a wide variety of ways. Each tower is its own ecosystem: a fully equipped theatrical unit containing light and sound infrastructure, as well as heating, cooling, and fire protection. The Yard can hold anywhere from 150 to 850 audience members, and can be transformed into an endless list of theater geometries — thrust, proscenium, in-the-round, traverse, cabaret, and configurations that they haven't even imagined yet.
“That’s what we do in theater. We take dreams and turn them into reality.”
— Chris Plevin
“Not only does the world onstage transform with every production,” says Criss, “but so does the one that we as an audience inhabit. Because we believe that every element of the theatrical experience can come alive as it is reimagined.”
Furthermore, he adds, “”the robust power of Tessitura makes the constant changing of the seating locations and capacity manageable.”
The biggest thrill of the space, though, “”is that the innovation of the design and build process didn’t end on opening night.”
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare
This talk was recorded live at the 2019 Tessitura Learning & Community Conference. Scroll up and click the play button to watch the video.