The Latest in a Windy City Theatrical Renaissance Last season, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre opened in a new building. This spring, Millennium Park will bring two new performance spaces to the Windy City. Latest on a thriving scene is the new Goodman Theatre, built partly behind the restored terra-cotta facade of two historic theatres on Dearborn Street in Chicago's North Loop.
An atrium with an elliptical skylight and a winding staircase joins two theatres and a retail complex in the 170,000-sq.-ft. space. The Albert, an 850 - seat proscenium house, is slightly larger than the Goodman's previous mainstage, but with mezzanine and box seating, each spectator is closer to the action than before. Jeffrey Muskovin, who managed the building project, says the former mainstage "inhibited intimacy and subtlety. It really forced us into a limited repertoire."
The Albert has improved reflective surfaces for superior acoustics. It has plenty of trappable stage area and grid space. (Proscenium width: 45'; height: 25'-10"; stagehouse width: 101'; depth: 43'; height: 75'-6" to grid.) The house reflects elliptical architectural patterns in wood and stone finishes, with side boxes fronted by curved wood rails and wooden columns. An undulating wood mezzanine is a key acoustic as well as an aesthetic element.
The Owen, a flexible courtyard theatre, will be used for plays with large casts, musicals, and multiset shows. Movable seats and platforms made of thick exposed timber beams allow instage, thrust, and runway arrangements, with seating capacity ranging from 300-450 depending on configuration. (Width: 54'; depth: 71'; height: 31' to grid.) Its timber-framing construction, with exposed fir timber beams, is soundproofed and no rigid connections exist, insuring acoustical isolation from a nearby elevated train.
Resident sound designer Rob Milburn is excited about the two - room recording studio and control room where he's presently working on the inaugural production, August Wilson's King Hedley II. Audio is now automated with Level Control Systems CueStation software running an Intel dual processor, two LCS LD-88Gs with Wild Tracks, and one LCS RIF 108 with CueMixer remote control. For the first time, speakers are incorporated into the playback; designers can load and program all audio. In the old space, most control was manual. "Even with terrific operators, we couldn't go as far. It's almost as if with the Wild Tracks, we have unlimited decks at our disposal," says Milburn.
The mainstage also has a comprehensive Meyer sound system with Meyer UPA-1P and USW-1P powered speakers; it is possible to set specific EQs and delays for each. Meyer technicians came to the studio to sim the space, a process similar to but more sophisticated than real-time analysis. The theatre used the Meyer speakers for its last shows in the old space, but "We were always battling acoustics," Milburn says. The new speakers were better, but it took the new space to improve sound dramatically. "If they had come over and simmed it, it would have sounded better, but not this good," says Milburn, adding that now it will never be necessary to reinforce actors, except for effect.
The production communications system is centered around a Clear-Com Matrix Plus digital intercom system, feeding digital intercom stations for stage managers and four - channel Clear-Com party-line intercoms in each of the two theatres. Unique to this installation, the matrix system also controls all of the cue lights. The system was designed by David Naunton of the Goodman Theatre and Ed Fitzgerald of Clear-Com and installed by RC Communications of Chicago.
The costume shop moved into the building early, before the sidewalk was poured. The staff had to unpack mops before sewing machines when builders saturated the soil to compact it, and the room flooded. Birgit Wise, who designed costumes for several Goodman shows, including Death of a Salesman, says the moving ordeal is over, though some paint fumes remain in the windowless basement space. It's worth the wait. "The old shop was really, really crowded," Wise says, adding they now can do more detailed work for intimate shows and hire more people for large shows. Costumes can finally be stored near the shop, and there are two easily accessible fitting rooms. There's also a better craft room for painting and dyeing fabrics.
Production manager Max Leventhal finds it easier to work in a space that's wired for today's technology, with power circuits everywhere. "We used to load in through an elevator that dropped us down 24'," he recalls. Now, the elevator is right off the street. And, he says, "The sheer beauty of the place gives everyone a lift."
Both theatres have a fully networked and architectural lighting system, each with an ETC Obsession console, hundreds of 2.4K ETC performance lighting dimmers, and fully functional performance lighting ethernet nodes for DMX distribution. A few small things are not in place - some seating had to be adjusted at the last minute, for instance, and four small leaks in the roof have been repaired. "It is pretty much everything that we hoped for, everything we designed, everything we'd intended to have and, it really works," says Muskovin.
In November, the Goodman went into overdrive with a variety of inaugural events, some designed to give the spaces a trial run before productions opened in them. A free public celebration that ran 26 hours featured numerous theatrical and musical events, including a performance by Blue Man Group, a film festival, a theatre slam and house party for younger audiences, a gospel jam, and a stage-fighting workshop, and public tours of the building. This marathon tested both theatres and the lobby, but the company has yet to learn how well the space will work for the drama it wants to do.
Other events included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, an inaugural ball and fundraiser featuring Bernadette Peters in concert, and a day in which subscribers were invited to check out their new seats. A Monday night was set aside for the Chicago theatre community. Builder's Day celebrated those responsible for the building, from architects to construction workers; each participant signed a piece of the structure. "Each event is designed to honor those who have made our new home possible, " said artistic director Robert Falls, "and to showcase this remarkable new facility for our future audiences."