By far our largest theatre project to date has been the building of the “Heath Main Stage” at the Den Theatre. This project was not done through our donor advised fund at The Chicago Community Trust because The Den is operated as an LLC rather than a nonprofit. Nevertheless, we provided the financing to turn this previously vacant 6000 sq. ft. street-level space in an 1898 department store building into a 200-seat black box theater with a comprehensive lighting grid, control booth, extensive sound proofing, ample dressing rooms and backstage areas with restroom and laundry facilities, new public restrooms, box office, bar, and lobby/gallery.
Working under the leadership of Den Artistic Director Ryan Martin, we participated in 40+ meetings over an 18-month period of planning and construction, including brainstorming with many Chicago theatre designers, directors, actors, and technicians on “What makes a great theater?” Our goal was to eliminate barriers to innovation and creativity by providing a performance space with sufficient size and flexibility, while remaining affordable. We hoped to enable Chicago storefront theater on a grand scale without sacrificing its trademark intimacy. The result was a new theatre space that the Chicago Tribune called “a game changer for Wicker Park.”
That “grand scale” was stunningly realized in August 2014 with the first production in the new space, The Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic, a twelve-hour play combining all 32 extant Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, featuring 23 actors and hundreds of costumes, shoes, hats, wigs, and props (not to mention gallons of stage blood), carefully cataloged and arrayed in the spacious basement dressing rooms. The astonishing scope of this production would have been difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate anywhere else. To our delight, subsequent productions have continued to exploit the flexibility built into the space in new and exciting ways.
The story of how the collaboration with The Den’s Ryan Martin came about, pictures of the renovation, and a look at the dressing rooms and other backstage areas are documented in Expanding The Den: Storefront Theatre on a Grand Scale. Or for a quick look at some special aspects of the theatre and construction, check out: