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One of the city's most prominent fund-raisers (and No. 3 on our list of Chicago's top theater, dance & music events), the Steppenwolf gala has traditionally included a performance at the theater and dinner and dancing in a neighboring tent. This year, planners changed up the formula by hosting the after-party on May 8 at a raw space two blocks from the company's home base. Dubbed Blackhawk on Halsted, the venue is a yet-to-be-leased commercial space owned by Structured Development.
According to Brooke Walters, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's director of individual and major gifts, the move resulted in significant savings. In past years, “we loved the fact that by tenting the parking lot between our two theaters, we were able to keep the event on campus,” she said. “But that was a very big expense. 23 percent of our [gala-related] expenditures went toward the construction of that tent.”
The vacant structure suited the gala venue for a few reasons, Walters said. “Not only was it a raw space, which excited [event designer] Bill Heffernan of Heffernan Morgan, but it was a short walk or shuttle ride from the theater. So we could still start the evening grounded at Steppenwolf,” where guests took in scenes from the company's current production of Endgame. “Also, we are really embracing the changing landscape of the neighborhood in which we're situated. The Old Town, Lincoln Park area is really going through an enormous revitalization.”
The menu was also new this year. While Limelight has served three courses in the past, “this year we did a four-course menu with small plates. It was something we haven't seen at a lot of at events, particularly events with more than 600 guests,” Walters said. “It gave almost a European feel to the evening. You were able to sit at the table with your guests and have more of a languid experience." To encourage even more lingering, lounge areas stationed near dinner tables offered plush sofa seating and bottles of Grey Goose vodka.