The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago, IL, USA

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is one of the premier interpreters of Shakespeare and related works in the US, bringing home-grown and international theatre productions to the centre of one of Chicago’s most-visited tourist attractions, Navy Pier. Their multi-format venue, known as The Yard, sets a new benchmark in flexible theatre.

Nine four-story-tall moveable seating towers enable the creation of twelve different stage formats seating between 150 and 850.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s expansion has added a new multi-format venue, known as The Yard. The relationship between actors and the audience is central to the project, but sustainable and economic values also drive the design. The Yard reuses a portion of the former outdoor venue, Skyline Stage.

Flexibility for the Designers and Directors is at the heart of the project. The auditorium can be reconfigured from a proscenium house, to thrust, traverse and in-the-round configurations. Nine four-story-tall moveable seating towers enable the creation of twelve different stage formats seating between 150 and 850.

“'The greatest new theater in the world.”

The Chicago Tribune

An aerial view of Navy Pier, home to Chicago Shakespeare Theater (photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo).

The auditorium can be reconfigured in a number of ways including thrust, traverse and in-the-round configurations.

Each of the movable towers is similar in size to a London double-decker bus.

Nine four-story-tall moveable seating towers enable the creation of twelve different stage formats seating between 150 and 850.

Each tower is fitted with a full complement of stage lighting and audio-visual outlets that allow for lighting and sound instruments to be placed at each level.

Each of the movable towers is similar in size to a London double-decker bus. They are fitted with a full complement of stage lighting and audio-visual outlets that allow for lighting and sound instruments to be placed at each level of the towers. Key to this was carefully designed containment separation of the sensitive power and data lines which were interwoven through the complex steel frame of the towers.

This radical new space enables the company to stage its own large-scale musicals, spectacles, present more touring work, and transfer its own productions from its two existing venues.

This unique project was led from the outset by Charcoalblue. The team included Chicago’s Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to deliver the building shell and foyer, with Charcoalblue leading the auditorium design and advising on its construction, as well as undertaking the technical theatre systems, acoustic design, and noise control.

The whole project was delivered in 12 months to a tight construction cost of $35m.

“Charcoalblue is unlike any other ‘consulting’ experience - they’re creative, thoughtful and visionary, and are always looking for new ways of meeting challenges.”

Barbara Gaines, Artistic Director, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

A concept section sketch of The Yard.

One of our hand-drawn concept sketches of the theatre in thurst format.

One of our hand-drawn concept sketches of the theatre in in-the-round format.

Nine four-story-tall moveable seating towers enable the creation of twelve different stage formats seating between 150 and 850.

An exploded render of the bespoke balcony fronts.

The final balcony fronts.

Emergency and general power are provided to the towers via a flexible connector and locking plug at the base of each tower. Each have an integrated fire sprinkler system connected by a pressurised flexible hose at the top ensuring that the auditorium is fully compliant with the stringent building code in Chicago. Audience comfort is maintained through an integrated HVAC system that complements the primary air system within the theatre, this is controlled through a Building Management System designed to accommodate the varying configuration and varying audience capacities.

Watch the team behind The Yard discuss the project

“The towers are an extension of the theatrical toolbox allowing productions to develop beyond the boundaries of the traditional stage setting”

Gary Wright, Turnkey Design Principal

Each tower can be reconfigured by just three people, using compressed-air skid technology, and are slid into position under each corner of the tower. Air pallets were preferred over an integrated system allowing for ease of replacement and maintenance. The floor specification was critical ensuring a very flat surface was allowed for within the design for maximum effect. The ground flatness and level criteria for the floor was specified at FF45/FL35 with a self-levelling epoxy resin topping to meet this stringent requirement allowing for a smooth and low friction movement of the seating towers, a critical requirement as some of the configurations have a tolerance of a few inches from the walls of the auditorium.

The former Skyline Stage was re-purposed for the project. A new technical grid was installed that stretches out into the auditorium where a number of high-level catwalks, rolling beams and suspension points give CST the opportunity to be truly flexible in their artistic ambitions and cope with the ever-changing artistic demands this theatre will put upon them.

Project Details

Client

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Project cost

$35m

Completed

2017

Awards

AIA Innovation Awards, Stellar Architecture, Honorable Mention, 2017
The American Architecture Prize, Honorable Mention in Architectural Design, Cultural Architecture, 2017
Chicago Innovation Awards, Finalist, 2017

Each tower is fitted with a full complement of stage lighting and audio-visual outlets that allow for lighting and sound instruments to be placed at each level.

Credits

Photography

James Steinkamp Photography

Related

Gary P. Wright

Talk to Gary about The Yard and our Turnkey service.

+44 (0)117 325 9280

Gary P. Wright

Talk to Gary about The Yard and our Turnkey service.

Contact Gary

+44 (0)117 325 9280