Martha Lavey
  • Sun-Times Print Collection
  • Martha Lavey

Martha Lavey will be stepping down after nearly 20 years as artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company and will be succeeded by ensemble member (and Tony-winning director) Anna D. Shapiro in the fall of 2015, the company announced in a press conference at the theater this morning. There were no audible gasps from the balcony, where all the members of the ensemble staff were sitting, which suggested that the change was not unexpected.

And indeed, “I have always felt that Anna was the next natural leader,” Lavey said. “I felt now was the time.”

Lavey will continue on as a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble, concentrating on the theater’s upcoming expansion project, which will include the construction of a new 400-seat theater in the space currently occupied by the Steppenwolf parking garage.

That was the second bit of news revealed at the conference. The third was that David Hawkanson, Steppenwolf’s executive director for the past 11 years, will be stepping down too. He will be succeeded by the current managing director, David Schmitz, in January. This change was also not unexpected; Hawkanson said that he’d been preparing Schmitz for the job for several years. Like Lavey, Hawkanson will be staying on at Steppenwolf to work on the expansion. “I’m looking forward to a project with a definite beginning, middle, and end,” he said.

At least one reporter was curious—and maybe hopeful—that there was some behind-the-scenes drama behind the two personnel changes, perhaps even a coup, but both Hawkanson and Lavey assured everyone that this was not the case. Lavey said that she and Shapiro, who has been at Steppenwolf since 1995, her entire adult life, have been discussing the transition for several years now, and Hawkanson said that, since the expansion project will take five or six years after the theater reaches its $50 million fundraising goal (it’s currently up to $20 million), he’d prefer to concentrate on that and fund-raising without having to juggle the daily operations of the theater as well.

  • Steppenwolf Theatre
  • Anna D. Shapiro

The expansion project will replace Steppenwolf Upstairs and Steppenwolf Garage. Both spaces, as noted by Bruce Sagan, the former chair of the board of trustees and press conference emcee, are makeshift and lack certain aspects of a functional stage, including wings and flies. A new black-box theater, which will seat between 80 and 100, is already under construction at 1700 N. Halsted, the building directly north of the main Steppenwolf theater, which was built in 1991 and is currently, as Lavey put it, “bursting at the seams.” The 400-seat theater, which will have a flexible seating arrangements so the ensemble can experiment with different kinds of staging, will go in at 1600 N. Halsted, directly to the south. All three buildings will be connected by a lobby/”public square”/Steppenwolf Hall of Fame. Parking will be shifted to extend under the el tracks. Gordon Gill, the architect, showed off conceptual drawings.

Everyone said they were very excited about the upcoming changes. Shapiro said she would be stepping down as chair of the graduate directing program at Northwestern and curtailing her work on Broadway in order to spend more time at Steppenwolf, but she hasn’t planned any more changes yet. She feels she and the ensemble still need to get used to her in a position of authority, or, as she put it, “me knowing I can ask them to do things without causing repercussions.” The balcony roared.