Steppenwolf’s Merle Reskin Garage Theatre is dedicated to new plays, new artists, and new audiences for the American theater. The 80-seat flexible black box space currently supports two festivals each year: First Look, established in 2005, and Garage Rep, in 2008.
The company’s commitment to cultivating new work and new talent predates the Garage, with two programs originally housed in the Upstairs Theatre (formerly the Studio Theatre): the New Plays Lab (1995), established by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro, and the Visiting Companies Initiative (1996). Through the Visiting Companies Initiative, Steppenwolf hosts and mentors emerging theatre companies, which have included Redmoon, the House Theater of Chicago, and Lookingglass Theatre Company. Meanwhile, the New Plays Lab premiered 23 plays between 1995 and 2000.
In 1998, Steppenwolf inaugurated the Garage with the American premiere of Hilary Bell’s Wolf Lullaby, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Three years later, the company officially dedicated the performance space to Merle Reskin, former actress and Steppenwolf Trustee, in recognition of her generous support for the inventive work in the Garage Theatre. In the next decade, the Garage proved a successful launching pad for new works: after their Garage premieres, Austin Pendleton’s Orson’s Shadow went on to regional and off-Broadway runs, Cormac McCarthy’s Sunset Limited, directed by Sheldon Patinkin, moved to an off-Broadway run at 59E59, and Adam Rapp’s Jeff- and Obie Award-winning (and Pulitzer finalist) Red Light Winter enjoyed an off-Broadway run at Barrow Street Theatre.
Shapiro’s original New Plays Lab would grow into First Look, one of the Garage’s current programs. From First Look’s initial seven seasons, 12 plays have enjoyed premieres in all corners of the country, from Baltimore to off-Broadway to Chicago’s Profiles Theatre—and our very own subscription series (Laura Eason’s Sex With Strangers). Meanwhile, the Visiting Companies Initiative has continued, supplemented by Garage Rep since 2009. In its first four seasons, Garage Rep has collaborated with 12 companies and has welcomed nearly 20,000 audience members. Ike Holter’s Hit the Wall, originally produced by The Inconvenience, sold out its world-premiere run in Garage Rep 2012, and went on to an off-Broadway debut the following spring.