• Wheeler Kearns Architects
  • Artist rendering of the Alice

The Goodman Theatre has long (and rightfully) prided itself on its educational and community outreach programs that have introduced thousands of Chicagoans to the theater, both as spectators and performers. In recent years, as the number of programs has increased, the space within the theater building has remained the same, leading to classes in cramped quarters and even, on occasion, the lobby.

Since one of the key precepts of theater is the solving of technical issues, the Goodman staff and board have been working on a solution. This morning they summoned some of the theater’s biggest financial supporters to tell them about plans for the brand-new Alice B. Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement. “The Alice” as the center will be called (to go along with the two theaters, the Albert and the Owen) will cost $15 million. So far, $11 million has been raised. So also present was the city’s most prolific fundraiser, Mayor Emanuel.

The new center, named for a devoted and much-beloved Goodman trustee who died last year, will occupy 7,800 square feet in the building adjoining the theater, above Petterino’s restaurant. (It’s currently office space.) It will be connected to the existing theater through the second-floor lobby and will contain classrooms, rehearsal space, and a “stage chemistry” lab for science programs. With the additional space, the Goodman will be able to expand its existing educational and teacher training programs by 30 percent. Wheeler Kearns Architects will do the designing.

Willa Taylor, the Goodman’s director of education and engagement, spoke movingly about the value of the theater in educating young minds. “Theater is a well-focused lens for interpreting the world around us,” she said. “Art for social engagement helps develop a generation of engaged citizens who have learned to be less afraid of each other.”

In addition to teaching the theater arts, she continued, theater education also helps young people develop habits of mind and problem-solving that make them better students and citizens.

After a musical and spoken-word performance by Goodman students that paid tribute to August Wilson’s dedication speech when the theater moved into its current facility on Dearborn 15 years ago, the mayor took the podium. Although he no longer has time to attend the theater, he said, his parents are loyal Goodman subscribers, and, as a former dancer, he has himself experienced the benefits of arts education, benefits more CPS students will be able to enjoy now that they have “a full school day.” (To be fair, this was only one of two self-serving remarks in the entire speech; the second referred to this morning’s announcement about the Obama Library.)

“STEM should be STEAM,” he said. “Arts teach new ways of figuring out something. They’re essential for a complete education. Art teaches you to explore the possible.”

He ended by imploring the donors to reach even more deeply into their pockets to supply the last $4 million so the Alice could become a reality.

Then the mayor, along with some of the most generous donors, including Michael Sachs, husband of Alice Rapoport, pulled down a red velvet curtain for a dramatic unveiling of the artist renderings. It got a standing ovation. And then everyone adjourned to the lobby for champagne and mimosas and doughnuts.