by Samantha Sartori
Growing up a “theatre kid,” I love getting a behind-the-scenes look at any artistic performance space. So when the MSLCE program and EPICS offered us a site visit to the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity.
Writers Theatre was founded in 1992 with the core foundation that all productions would honor the written word and nurture artists. Over the last 27 years, it has become a vital member of the Chicago theatre community and regarded as one of the top half-dozen regional theatres in the country by The Wall Street Journal.
During our site visit, we had the chance to meet with three Northwestern alumni who are currently dedicating their professional careers to the mission of Writers Theatre. Two of them, Claire Conard, manager of major gifts, and Phillip Leung, advancement coordinator, graduated from the MSLCE program. We got to hear first-hand how their coursework has translated into their professional careers. Both Conard and Leung told us about how the Arts and Entertainment Law and Ethics class prepared them to write and review contracts, which neither of them were familiar with prior to the program. They also said the spring course, Leading Creative Teams is a must-take because it taught them both how to unlock their specific skillset as leaders, so I’m really looking forward to enrolling in that one!
After giving us a brief history of Writers Theatre, managing director Jon Faris shared a little bit about the architecture of the new space, which opened in 2016. The facility, designed by Studio Gang Architects, compliments the architectural styles of the Glencoe community and takes some inspiration from traditional Shakespearean theatres. (Side note: I could probably write an entire blog post on how stunning the architecture is and how it incorporates environmentally sustainable designs, but that’s not what you’re here for, so I encourage you to .)
Our architecture lesson turned into a tour of the building, including the two performance spaces. Faris explained how the main stage, the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre, was designed to allow each show’s creative team the opportunity to fit the space to the show. Without a trap door below the stage or the ability to fly in set pieces from the ceiling, creative challenges come into play when designing the set and staging for different shows. This provides the director, set designer and the rest of the creative team with a great opportunity to collaborate through problem solving to make smart, effective design choices that enhance the storytelling. For example, in the setup for the current production, A Doll’s House, the audience is placed inside a “birdcage” with the actors in order to fit with the themes of the show.
Theatre is truly a collaborative experience, which was present in both the design of the new Writers Theatre space, as well as in their day-to-day operations. A large part of leadership is about working within teams toward a common goal, and the focus Writers Theatre places on this is a reminder for all of us as we develop our own set of leadership skills in the MSLCE program.