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How This Steampunk-Themed Gala Celebrated the 'Passage of Time'

The annual Steppenwolf Theatre gala took over the Bridgeport Art Center this year, raising $1.6 million for the theater’s education and artistic programming.

This year's Steppenwolf Gala celebrated the ensemble's 'bold, irreverent, and rock ’n’ roll style of work and play,' said artistic directors Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis.
This year's Steppenwolf Gala celebrated the ensemble's "bold, irreverent, and rock ’n’ roll style of work and play," said artistic directors Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis.
Photo: Kyle Flubacker

CHICAGO—On May 11, the iconic Steppenwolf Theatre Company celebrated 48 years of storytelling with its annual gala at the Bridgeport Art Center for the first time. Last year, the event was hosted at the massive Old Post Office, boasting nine floors and 16 million square feet.

“As we ring in Steppenwolf's 49th season, this year's gala will embrace our ensemble's bold, irreverent, and rock â€™n’ roll style of work and play," said Steppenwolf Theatre artistic directors Glenn Davis and Audrey Francis. "It's a special night where we get to be the most motley version of our crew and will undoubtedly be a party to remember... if we can.”

With the historic theater approaching its 50th anniversary, the passage of time felt like a relevant theme. Tables held vintage hats and clock elements to immerse guests in a steampunk feel.With the historic theater approaching its 50th anniversary, the passage of time felt like a relevant theme. Tables held vintage hats and clock elements to immerse guests in a steampunk feel.Photo: Kyle Flubacker

When discussing the event's theme, Courtney M. Anderson, donor engagement director for Steppenwolf Theatre Company, explained, “In conversations with designer Jeffrey Foster from Frost and Steppenwolf’s artistic director, Audrey Francis, the theme of vintage yet new, beautiful yet broken, and fractured light kept emerging. With the historic theater approaching its 50th anniversary, the passage of time is really palpable for our ensemble, board, and staff. This combination of inspiration led to the steampunk feel and the clock elements throughout the event.”

Anderson revealed that one of the biggest challenges during the planning process was convincing the team to hold the gala at the Bridgeport Art Center this year. Some team members were unfamiliar with the venue and expressed concerns about its distance from the theater, which is located on the North Side, while the venue is on the South Side. Those worries were quickly dispelled once they saw the location. Anderson assured the team, “You will know when you walk in,” emphasizing the venue's suitability.

'With the amazing skylines of the city framing the incredible design by Jeffrey Foster and highlighted by Revel Decor, the space really added to the ambiance,' said Courtney M. Anderson, donor engagement director for Steppenwolf Theatre Company."With the amazing skylines of the city framing the incredible design by Jeffrey Foster and highlighted by Revel Decor, the space really added to the ambiance," said Courtney M. Anderson, donor engagement director for Steppenwolf Theatre Company.Photo: Kyle Flubacker

As multiple guests expressed their satisfaction with the venue, Anderson emphasized, “With the amazing skylines of the city framing the incredible design by Jeffrey Foster and highlighted by Revel Decor, the space really added to the ambiance.” Planners embraced the venue's many raw wooden beams and high ceilings, bringing in rich velvet fabrics in shades of blue, accented by vintage chandeliers and steampunk elements like hats with feathers and vintage clocks to set the mood.

Upon entering the venue, guests were greeted by a freight elevator adorned with a large chandelier and dozens of hanging pocket watches suspended by red ribbons, celebrating the theme "passage of time." This transitioned seamlessly to the cocktail hour, where waiters strolled around the room offering appetizers including truffled portobello carpaccio, goat cheese croquettes, and ahi tuna tartare.

Guests posed for photos in front of a video installation designed by VIDEOWASTE.Guests posed for photos in front of a video installation designed by VIDEOWASTE.Photo: Kyle Flubacker

Guests then moved to the bar area that was decorated with massive silver balloons accented with gold, resembling hot air balloons, which hung from the ceiling. Performers in steampunk attire greeted guests and posed for photos, enhancing the "passage of time" theme.

One of the highlights of the night was the vintage television installation created by Garrett of VIDEOWASTE. The wall consisted of vintage TVs from different eras, displaying a combination of Steppenwolf gala logos, assorted live hidden camera feeds, and static shots. It was a fun, interactive display for guests who took videos and photos in front of it. 

Interactive entertainers provided by Stage Factor greeted guests and posed for photos.Interactive entertainers provided by Stage Factor greeted guests and posed for photos.Photo: Kyle Flubacker

“It created a collage of visual stimulation that intrigued guests and heightened curiosity," Anderson said. "The element of surprise—seeing your own face on the screen—is truly priceless and increases engagement, essential in creating lasting memories."

In the dinner space, the "passage of time" theme continued with tables decorated with glamorous accents focusing on time gone by. Paramount Events catered the three-course meal, starting with a salad topped with snap peas, carrots, and artichokes; followed by a braised short rib entree with a sunchoke puree, wild mushrooms, asparagus, and fingerling potatoes; and finished with a dessert of strawberry rhubarb cheesecake mousse.

Ensemble member Celeste M. Cooper cheered on trustee Aimee Graham as she bid on the live auction.Ensemble member Celeste M. Cooper cheered on trustee Aimee Graham as she bid on the live auction.Photo: Kyle Flubacker

A lively auction hosted by Robbie Gordy featured exciting experiences to bid on, such as winning tickets for six to see the world premiere of Steppenwolf’s Little Bear Ridge Road, followed by a behind-the-scenes tour and an intimate dinner in the backyard with Chicago’s James Beard Award-winning chef Rick Bayless, with ensemble member and Emmy and Tony Award winner Laurie Metcalf, and co-star Micah Stock.

After dinner, guests hit the dance floor with tunes by DJ Rae Chardonnay, celebrating Steppenwolf, which raised $1.6 million for the theater’s education and artistic programming.

VENDORS

Audiovisual Production: Frost Chicago
Catering:
Paramount Events
Decor:
Frost Chicago, Revel Decor, VIDEOWASTE
Design: Jeffrey Foster for Frost Chicago
Entertainment: DJ Rae Chardonnay
Lighting: Frost Chicago
Linens: BBJ La Tavola
PR: David Rosenberg for Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Printing: D&B Graphics
Rentals: Hall’s
Security: Andy Frain Services
Staging: Frost Chicago
Valet: Rapid Valet Parking LLC
Venue: Bridgeport Art Center

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