While Margaret and I were in Chicago last month we saw The Nutcracker as presented by the Joffrey Ballet. It was a lovely show, well produced and well danced. But I was blown away by the theater!
If you could count them, you’d number more than 3,500 light bulbs in that arch. Bulbs were in those sockets upon the Auditorium Theater’s opening in 1889, not ten years after the carbon-filment bulb’s invention. To counteract all the heat those bulbs generated, an ice-based air-conditioning system was installed. This was the state of the theater art!
But let’s back up a little, to the experience of entering the theater. Our seat was on the second balcony, so up the stairs we went.
Each landing had a unique tile pattern.
Low ceilings and dim lighting created a closed-in feeling.
It’s deliberate, so that entering the large and airy auditorium creates a feeling of having emerged into the open. And then there are all those glorious lights. It’s quite a rush the first time, let me tell you!
All of the boxes were on the theater’s sides, as the architects wanted anyone who could afford a ticket, and not just the wealthy, to have great seats.
I had concerns that our stage-left second-balcony seat would be so-so, but it offered a commanding view.
The theater is part of a larger building that originally contained a hotel and offices. It was hoped that this building’s various uses would, together, keep it financially viable. It worked, for a while. But by the end of the 1920s the theater had run into financial trouble. It would have been demolished in the 1930s had the land not been worth less than what demolition was going to cost.
The theater served during World War II to house, feed, and entertain servicemen. Much of the building’s ornate plaster work was covered; a bowling alley was erected on the stage.
After the war the building fell into Roosevelt University’s hands, but lacking funds to restore and reopen it the theater sat empty until 1967. That year a four-year restoration completed, enabled by a committee that sought patrons to fund its reopening.
Ever since, the Auditorium Theater has hosted concerts, plays, dance, and even the 2015 and 2016 NFL Draft.
And there we were, ready to enjoy the Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker. What a wonderful venue in which to see it!