Northlight Theatre may be on the move

Award-winning Northlight Theatre considers returning to its hometown

  • Northlight Theatre's current production -- the world premiere of Bruce Graham's "Funnyman" starring George Wendt, left, and Tim Kazurinsky -- runs through Oct. 25.

    Northlight Theatre's current production -- the world premiere of Bruce Graham's "Funnyman" starring George Wendt, left, and Tim Kazurinsky -- runs through Oct. 25. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

  • Northlight Theatre earlier this year premiered "Shining Lives: A Musical" based on Melanie Marnich's play "These Shining Lives."

    Northlight Theatre earlier this year premiered "Shining Lives: A Musical" based on Melanie Marnich's play "These Shining Lives." Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

 
 
Updated 10/18/2015 11:17 AM

After 18 years in residence at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Northlight Theatre may return to its original Evanston home.

Executive director Tim Evans on Friday confirmed Evanston officials approached the theater and a developer 2 years ago about moving back to the city where actor Mike Nussbaum, director Frank Galati and arts management consultant Greg Kandel founded the company in 1974.

 

The invitation came as the theater was beginning to implement plans to establish a second stage to showcase new works and address the technical limitations of its space, which lacks wings, fly space and concealed openings. Officials from the theater, which draws about one-fourth of its subscribers from the Northwest suburbs and DuPage County, also hopes to grow its audience by way of a downtown Evanston location with easy access to public transportation.

"This is a great opportunity for us," said Evans.

Plans call for a mixed use building at Benson and Clark streets that will include a shell for Northlight to build a 300- to 400-seat theater the company will operate, Evans said. "The hope is there would also be a 200-seat theater and a 99-seat black box theater that other organizations in the community could use," he said. The smaller black box space would be used for producing new or experimental works, which has been part of Northlight's mission from the start. Evans said he expects the main stage would be about the same size as Northlight's current, 320-seat space.

"The kind of work we program is intimate and we want it to remain so," he said.

Construction could take three to four years, with the build-out costing between $4 and $8 million. Evans said.

"My feelings and the feelings of BJ (Jones, Northlight's artistic director) is that we'll put whatever we raise on the stage," he said.

The plans would need the approval of the Evanston city council, he said. If the proposal falls through, the company could remain in Skokie.

"We have a perfectly fine theater where we're able to do some of the work -- but not all of the work we want to -- due to space limitations," Evans said. "We will be looking at all of our options as to where we need to be in the future so we can grow," he added.

Most subscribers are enthusiastic about the plan, Evans said. "There will be some people who won't follow us, but I think most of our folks will come along with us," he said. "There's always something exciting about watching a theater grow."

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