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Stage Direction
DePaul Theater School gets its own home in Chicago.
Jeff Goldberg / ESTO

The Theatre School at DePaul University opened the doors of its new home in September, multiplying the number of performance spaces available to students and showing off its work to Lincoln Park through an open design that Dean John Culbert called “a portal” for the area’s creative community.

“Up until now we didn’t have the full range of theaters we’d want to prepare people for the theatrical entertainment professions,” said Culbert. DePaul’s downtown campus has a 1,300-seat proscenium stage theater in the South Loop, but its Lincoln Park campus was lacking. The new building—designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli and Cannon Design, with Schuler Shook on theater planning and acoustics consultants Kirkegaard Associates—features a 250-seat thrust stage theater and a 100-seat flexible theater.


The $72 million, 165,000-square-foot building replaces the school’s “temporary” home, which housed them for 30 years. Windows are staggered rhythmically across its limestone facade, while glazing and frit patterns lend an idiosyncratic asymmetry.

Schuler Shook’s Bob Shook is a Theatre School alumnus. The LEED-targeting theaters are designed to provide clean sightlines and allow students and faculty flexibility to adapt for future technology and style changes. The lobby for the larger 250-seat “Fullerton stage” reaches out to Fullerton Avenue through a giant glass wall. Theater equipment in the lobby means it could host shows, too. Likewise, the machine and paint shops—usually relegated to back of house—are visible from the street.


Audience members enter a first-floor lounge not specific to guests, so they comingle with students and faculty who may be en route to class or rehearsal. A theater on the building’s fourth floor ensures visitors will interact with the school’s space and community before and after a show.

“Think of the role of theater today and you think of the role of a university,” said Culbert. “We can explore difficult issues through the world of theater, and the whole point is that we are engaging in a conversation.”

Chris Bentley