The signs going up will read : "Pardon the dust."
That's the word from Steppenwolf Theatre as construction is set to begin next week on the repurposing of the former Ethan Allen furniture store at 1700 N. Halsted that stands immediately adjacent to its home at 1650 N. Halsted.
"We are bursting at the seams in our main building and garage space," said Martha Lavey, Steppenwolf's artistic director. "And this is part of our long-discussed effort to expand our campus. We're tentatively calling the new space 'The Lab' [naming rights are open to offers], and at this point we plan to use it for Steppenwolf Young Adult activities, as well as public events, classroom space and a variety of ancillary programming."
As of now, there are no plans for a formal black-box or studio theater space.
"With about 700 events a year now we really feel landlocked, to the point where we have been renting nearby spaces for the School at Steppenwolf, our 10-week summertime program for professional actors," said Lavey. "About five years ago we opened up some possibility to expand our subscription base by moving one offering to the Upstairs space, and that has been a success, though because it has only 300 seats, actors must commit to very long runs in order for us to play to all our subscribers.
The 18,000-square-foot Ethan Allen building (and its small outdoor parking lot), was purchased last year for a reported $6.4 million. Fundraising is currently underway, but the plan is to alter the facade to create a fully transparent street wall -- quite different from the rather obscuring wall of the Garage space -- and to install the proper ventilation and air-conditioning system. The architect for the project is Gordon Gill of the Chicago-based firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG).
Plans also are being considered to ultimately create a physical connection between the two buildings.
As for any future plans to improve the existing Steppenwolf garage perched above the Garage theater space, Steppenwolf executive director David Hawkanson said: "We are still looking at that with Gordon Gill and [London theater consultant] Charcoalblue."
Meanwhile, Steppenwolf will continue to hold rehearsals in the historic Yondorf Hall at the corner of North Ave. and Halsted -- a building it has owned since 1998, where Fey & Co. jewelers is its ground floor tenant.