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Anna D. Shapiro (Photo by Joe Mazza/BraveLux)

Anna D. Shapiro to Step Down From Steppenwolf Helm

The artistic director expanded the ensemble and the theatre’s offerings, and spearheaded a campaign for a new space.

CHICAGO: After six years as artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, director Anna D. Shapiro, has announced that she’ll step down from the position when her contract expires in August.

“It has been my honor to serve as artistic director these six years—and to elevate a variety of powerful voices through bold storytelling from our stages,” said Shapiro in a statement, which also took pains to note that this move does not change her status as a member of the 49-member Steppenwolf ensemble. “With our new building at last complete and our ‘Comeback’ 2021/22 season announced, the time is right to share this transition publicly. Now the work is to take this beautiful, mad, and revolutionary experiment to the next level and welcome in the next generation to make their mark.”

In keeping with Steppenwolf tradition and in accordance with its founding documents, the responsibility for finding Shapiro’s replacement falls to its membership.

Said co-founding ensemble member Jeff Perry in a statement, “Anna is a beloved member of our ensemble, and a treasure for our theatre. Her contributions to the legacy of this theatre have been nothing short of remarkable. We have an opportunity in this moment to evaluate what we need to help us keep thrilling existing audiences and grow new theater lovers as we joyfully reopen our doors to live performance.”

Shapiro’s tenure was marked by a multi-million dollar fundraising effort that made possible the realization of Steppenwolf’s new 50,000-square-foot campus on Halsted Street, featuring a new 400-seat Round Theater, an education center, and new bars for community and socializing. The company also expanded its mainstage season and added new programming series. Among the notable plays presented by Steppenwolf in her time were the world premiere of Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu, which filmed at Steppenwolf for a Spike Lee film; Bruce Norris’s Downstate, which transferred to the National Theatre in London; and ensemble member Tracy Letts’s The Minutes, which transferred to Broadway (until COVID shut it down).

Shapiro expanded and diversified the company’s ensemble, inviting 10 new members during her tenure: Cliff Chamberlain, Carrie Coon, Celeste M. Cooper, Glenn Davis, Audrey Francis, Rajiv Joseph, Sandra Marquez, Caroline Neff, Karen Rodriguez, and Namir Smallwood.

The timing of this announcement comes on the heels of a controversy last week, in which Lowell Thomas, a video content producer for the company, announced his plans not only to resign from his post but to “divest” from Steppenwolf, saying the company “has committed itself to inequity” and that it “buries claims of harassment, racism, and sexism to avoid accountability and real change.” In an exit interview with the Chicago Tribune, Shapiro said that her departure was unrelated to this critique, and that she is “not stepping down from this work that needs to be done just because I am leaving as artistic director.”

Steppenwolf Theatre Company, founded in 1974, is an ensemble theatre with the stated mission of striving to create thrilling, courageous, and provocative art in a thoughtful and inclusive environment.

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