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Auditorium Theatre's landmark stage (photo courtesy of The Chicago Architecture Foundation).
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
On July 14, 2019, the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University received the League of Historic American Theatres’ (LHAT) Outstanding Historic Theatre Award, recognizing the Auditorium for demonstrated excellence through its programs and services, community impact and the quality of its restoration and rehabilitation work. Past recipients of the Outstanding Historic Theatre Award include New York’s City Center, Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater and Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
“We are thrilled to receive the Outstanding Historic Theatre Award as the Auditorium Theatre celebrates its 130th anniversary this December,” said Rachel Freund, Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Auditorium Theatre, who accepted the award. “When the Auditorium first opened, it helped establish Chicago as a world-class city. It continues to significantly contribute to the city’s cultural, historical, and architectural landscape today, thanks to the support of the amazing people of Chicago and the patrons from around the world who come through our doors each year. This support enables our staff and Board to present unparalleled programming and to continue to preserve and restore our National Historic Landmark theatre so it can be enjoyed by generations to come. It is an honor to be recognized for this work."
“The Historic Auditorium stood out among an impressive list of nominations to claim the award this year,” said Ken Stein, LHAT President and CEO. “Considering it is one of the great historic preservation projects in the nation, I am surprised it has taken us this long to bestow this award on the Auditorium.”
The Auditorium Theatre, built by the architectural duo of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, opened on December 9, 1889. The theater’s main patron, real estate tycoon Ferdinand Wythe Peck, envisioned a building that would bring people from all across the city together under one roof to experience the performing arts, a “Theatre for the People." Today, the historic theater’s staff and Board members work to restore it to its original glory while also ensuring the best possible experience for modern-day visitors, ensuring the Auditorium remains a Theatre for the People making the arts accessible to all.
The theater underwent major restoration work in the 1960s, during a period of time when it was temporarily closed to the public. The theater had its grand re-opening in 1967, thanks to the tireless work of Beatrice Spachner, who worked with a team of specialists that included Chicago architect Harry Weese. Additional major restoration work was completed in the early 2000s. More recent work has included the installation of LED lighting adhering to the color temperature of the building as it would have appeared at the time of its unveiling, restoration of original Louis Sullivan stencils in the second floor Dress Circle lobby, and replacement of drapery and carpeting.
The Auditorium Theatre welcomes more than 300,000 people through its doors each year, bringing in one of the most socially diverse and culturally engaged audiences in the city for performances and events including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, David Sedaris, Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, Neil Young, National Geographic Live and more.
The theater also offers extensive community programming, including free masterclasses taught by dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey, and Ballet Nacional de Cuba among others. Every season, thousands of students from across the city come to the theater to experience special Student Matinee performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah and more. Auditorium Theatre Teaching Artists also work with schools across the city to integrate the performing arts into the classroom through music and poetry workshops. Community groups may apply to receive free tickets to any of the Auditorium’s presented shows through the theatre’s ADMIT ONE program, launched in 2016, which also offers free transportation, hospitality, and an artist-led workshop at no cost to participants. Additionally, the Auditorium Theatre hosts a performing arts summer camp, Hearts to Art, for young people who have experienced the death of a parent, now in its 15th summer. Over 1,100 campers have attended this award-winning program since 2005.
The Outstanding Historic Theatre Award was presented to the Auditorium at the start of LHAT’s annual conference, held this year in Philadelphia and attended by more than 330 historic theater operators and industry members across the country.
Founded in 1976, the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT) is a non-profit organization with the main purpose of sustaining historic theaters across North America for the benefit of their communities and future generations. For over 40 years the League has grown to include members from throughout the historic theater industry in both the United States and Canada and has become the professional network for theater owners and operators to connect with others who have faced the unique challenges of historic theater ownership and operation. Since its founding, the League has grown to over 1,100 members representing 380 historic theaters and organizations, large and small, rural and urban, non-profit and for-profit.
Auditorium Theatre Receives Prestigious Outstanding Historic Theatre Award