BroadwayWorld is making contact with theaters nationwide as they prepare to reopen this summer. Next in our series, we meet the executive director of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, E. Brooke Flanagan.
Yesterday Steppenwolf Theater Company announced a new leadership model, appointing two ensemble members Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis as new artistic directors of the legendary Chicago company.
E. Brooke Flanagan is Executive Director of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, the premier ensemble theater in the United States. Together with artistic director Anna D. Shapiro, she is responsible for the artistic growth, programmatic service and economic vitality of the company. This includes the ongoing “Build on Excellence” campaign, a $ 74 million capital expansion program that serves to evolve the artistic house of theater to foster bold and ambitious opportunities for creative expression, social exchange, unparalleled accessibility and arts-based learning for Chicago teens. .
Prior to joining Steppenwolf, Brooke was for a decade the Executive Director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, responsible for the theater’s fundraising, long-term strategy and external business programs. Brooke had spent seven seasons previously at Steppenwolf as Director of Major Gifts; was the Associate Director of Development for Ravinia Festival; and has held early career positions with the League of Chicago Theaters and the Santa Fe Opera. She is the past chair of the board of directors of Arts Alliance Illinois, the arts advocacy organization of the State. After the onset of Covid-19, she championed the creation of the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund and was part of the city and state’s âback to workâ task forces for the performing arts. She holds a BFA in Theater from the College of Santa Fe and resides in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago with her husband and three children, who proudly attend a Chicago public school.
What have your theater staff done in the past year?
Although our stages are dark, we have been extremely busy over the past year and a half. The walls of our new 50,000 square foot arts and education center continued to rise throughout the pandemic, which has become almost a talismanic symbol of our resurgence of the forced closure caused by the pandemic. .
We launched the âHalf Hourâ podcast in April 2020, which is now in Season 2 and features candid conversations between our ensemble members and industry leaders. It’s personal, funny, inspiring and I’m always discovering something new. Not to mention that we hosted a virtual gala, aptly titled âPants Optionalâ last spring, followed by an inspiring âWomen in the Artsâ online conversation in honor of Sherry Lansing and Annette Bening this month. . Both virtual events have raised significant funds for theater and our educational work and we are truly grateful for the support.
I have to say that Steppenwolf Education was the first to take on the challenge of the moment and immediately started offering free and engaging workshops for our teens in March 2020. Steppenwolf for Young Adults produced two stunning radio productions last season, paired with interactive learning tools that have reached over 50,000 young people around the world. The programming of our education department is unprecedented and with our new building, they will finally have their own dedicated space, the Loft, which will serve as a home for all the adolescents of Chicagoland.
Did you stream theater / events?
It was essential for us to continue to focus on our mission creation work and engage with audiences and artists despite the interruption of the live performances. Not only to stay connected during a time of isolation, but also to elevate our collective well-being through the power of storytelling.
We launched âSteppenwolf NOWâ our very first virtual programming stream in May 2020 with a play of all sets from Seagull followed by a radio play by Arthur Miller The American clock, which included more than 30 members of the ensemble. The irony is that with nearly 50 ensemble members working across the globe, the virtual platform has brought them closer than ever. We built on the success of these works, which at first were only available to our loyal members, and opened up access by announcing a virtual Steppenwolf NOW season held last fall.
With six original works all designed specifically for the digital platform and released every few months, rather than sharing unique pieces, we’ve created a global community of virtual members who have been on this storytelling journey with us. We are delighted to have members in all 50 states and over 20 countries.
We’ve been successful in breaking down barriers to access and engaging with a whole new audience. Our virtual Steppenwolf NOW season is still available until August 31, 2021! www.steppenwolf.org/now.
What are you most excited to share with the public?
We are opening a brand new, stunning theater and education building! In fact, we’re the biggest new cultural building in Chicago to be unveiled as the pandemic emerges. We’re excited to be able to open those doors wide this fall and bring audiences a transformed theatrical experience at Steppenwolf.
Designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS + GG) with theatrical design and acoustics by London-based company Charcoalblue, the extension includes a unique 400-seat round theater. Chicago genre, an education center, breathtaking views of the city, and expanded halls and bars to encourage gatherings before and after the show.
We are delighted to unveil this enlarged home for the whole and a physical manifestation of our promise to the City of Chicago-Steppenwolf will continue our legacy of creation and service for generations to come.
How did your establishment develop a reopening plan / covid security plan?
Since the early days of the pandemic, Steppenwolf has worked closely with the Department of Health and the State of Illinois and City of Chicago Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunities to develop policies that support the the health and safety of our staff, artists and the communities we serve.
We are also fortunate to operate in a city with amazing universities. Healthcare professionals with infectious disease expertise at Northwestern University, UIC, and the University of Chicago have all been incredibly generous with their time and advice. I know more about epidemiology, HVAC filtration systems, and the effectiveness of cleaning and masking protocols than I ever imagined.
For our industry, the proverbial theater manager’s “tool belt” has grown exponentially over the past year and a half!
When and with what do you reopen?
We will start the fall with a special event that invites all arts community and the city to experience the opening of our new historic building. Stay tuned for more details!
The 2021/22 season kicks off in September building on the global reach and cheers of our virtual stage with new digital works. These plays create the opening landscape of the season and will be available through one-off tickets (or as a discounted package), serving as a bridge before a safe return to the live theater and packed venues.
Then in November 2021, Steppenwolf once again welcomes audiences to the theater as he once again raises the curtain on the stunning and extraordinary revival of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, conducted by David Cromer with ensemble members Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood reprising their roles. Arrested when it aired last year, the return of this production is the company’s bold refusal to let the COVID disaster rewrite its history. We think this is the perfect return for our audience to the Steppenwolf they know and love: brave, cheeky and defiant.
What are you waiting for the most?
For me, the theater has always been a sacred art, similar to what I imagine devotees find in a hall of worship. I can’t wait to be back in one of our three theaters, at this moment of anticipation before the communion between artist and audience begins. Half-house, actors called into places, spectators collectively focusing on the stage. A moment of shared unification – these have been rare these days and we in the theater have a vital role to play in re-establishing our society after this unimaginable period of enforced isolation.
How can audience members learn more and stay up to date?
The best way to experience Steppenwolf is to become a member. Our ensemble, our artists and our staff know who keeps this theater company alive: they are our members. Members are a vital part of our family and the reason we can create revolutionary work. Visit www.steppenwolf.org/adhesions for details or call the Box Office at 312.335-1650 for assistance from one of our wonderful Public Service Associates.