In 2001, Victory Gardens began a feasibility exploration began toward the rehabilitaton of the space.
The not-for-profit company will boast a five-theatre campus when the $9 million Biograph Theater (2433 N. Lincoln Avenue), reopens in all 2005 as the mainstage home for new American plays, which is VG's longtime mission. The project's total price tag is $15 million, and $6.5 million has already been raised.
"Victory Gardens will keep its current location two blocks south at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, thus growing Victory Gardens into a five-theatre creative campus where the emphasis is on the creation of new works for the American stage," VG announced. "The jewel-in-the-crown of Victory Gardens' new location at the Biograph will be a state-of-the-art 299-seat mainstage theatre, designed to deliver the intimacy for which Victory Gardens' performances have become known, while greatly enhancing the theatre's technical production capabilities."
Artistic director Dennis Zacek said in a statement, "After 30 years of theatrical production, we have accomplished a great deal. We have produced over 243 productions. Of these plays, 142 have been world premieres. In fact, we have been home to more world premiere productions since our founding in 1974 than any other Chicago theatre. However, after 30 years, we have also reached a point at which our writers need a facility that offers more flexibility."
The current space is suited for single set plays with five or six cast members, restricting "the scale and scope of our writers," Zacek added. The Biograph "will provide writers, directors, designers and actors with greater height, depth and wing space necessary to transport audiences to the 'realm of the imagination' created by our playwrights." The Biograph will be "a unique combination of new construction and renovation," offering "a modified thrust mainstage, and 299 seats configured with a main floor of approximately 200 seats and a cantilevered balcony of 99 seats."
The balcony, accessible by elevator, "will be terraced down to create a symbiotic relationship between the two floors."
The main floor will have nine rows, with no seat further than 45 feet from center stage.
Victory Gardens at the Biograph will also house a smaller, 128-seat theatre, an open box office design for better communication between ticket services staff and customers, increased seating and amenities for persons with disabilities, a concession stand featuring alcohol sales and boxed sandwiches, a comfortable lobby environment, and larger bathrooms. A balcony-level rehearsal/special events room will be made available to subscribers for pre- or post-theatre group entertaining.
To fund the Biograph project, Victory Gardens has launched a $15 million fundraising and capital campaign called Expanding Horizons: Creating An American Center for New Plays.
The breakdown is $9 million for construction and acquisition, $1 million is an endowment, and $5 million to fund annual operations during the five years of the Campaign.
Due to generous lead gifts from the State of Illinois ($1.5 million), the City of Chicago (an initial grant of $1.5 million, with an additional $1 million in 2005), Victory Gardens Theater's Board of Directors, and other community leaders, corporations and foundations, Expanding Horizons has raised over $6.5 million in gifts and pledges toward its capital goal of $10 million," the theatre announced.
When Victory Gardens at the Biograph opens in the fall of 2005, the theatre's mainstage programming and most box office operations will transfer to its new location.
Denmark, a drama by Victory Gardens Ensemble member Charles Smith, is slated as the first play to be staged in the theatre's new venue, launching Victory Gardens' 2005-2006 season.
Following Victory Gardens' expansion to the Biograph, Victory Gardens' current facility at 2257 N. Lincoln, will continue to be used for the production of plays, rental productions, rehearsals, and classes. "2257" will be modified to house two 195-seat theaters, one 60-seat studio theater, a new Playwrights Lounge, and expanded office space for Victory Gardens' staff.
Architectural services for Victory Gardens at the Biograph are by Chicago architect Daniel P. Coffey, of Daniel P. Coffey and Associates, the award-winning firm responsible for the restorations of the Chicago, Palace and Oriental theatres downtown.
Other members of Victory Gardens' design and construction team include Rodriguez and Associates, project manager; WE O'Neil, general contractor; Schuler and Shook, theatre consultants; and Brian Cline/Artec, acoustical consultants.
Originally built in 1914, the historic Biograph Theater is one of only two remaining examples of early movie theatre design in Chicago, according to VG notes about the space.
"Made of red pressed brick and adorned with terra cotta details, the theatre was designed to give legitimacy to the fledgling film industry. The Biograph Theater was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was named a City Landmark in 1999 by the City of Chicago's Commission of Historic Places. It is perhaps best known as the site where gangster John Dillinger was killed by FBI agents in 1934."
For more information about Victory Gardens Theater, visit www.victorygardens.org.