Northlight Theater returns to Evanston from Skokie

Evanston resident Laurice Bell shared her experience watching the play “Fireflies” at the Northlight Theatre, a not-for-profit theater company currently located in Skokie, with city council during an April 11 meeting.

“It was a great production and the theater was packed,” Bell said. “I was entertained, I was informed – and I thought, why isn’t this in Evanston?”

Later in the meeting, board members responded to Bell’s concern, assign a $2 million grant to fund Northlight’s planned move to downtown Evanston.

Originally opened in Evanston in 1974, the theater moved to its current location at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie in 1997. In 2019 City Council approved Northlight’s plans to move to its new location at 1012-16 Church St., now slated to open in fall 2024.

As the theater continues to raise funds and work toward its goal of bringing the arts back to Evanston, residents, theater officials and business owners eagerly await its return.

BJ Jones, artistic director of Northlight and resident of Evanston since 1984, said he was “gratified and humbled” to see the support the city has shown Northlight.

“It’s a dream come true, and something we’ve been striving for for some time,” Jones said. “It is really vital that we move towards more accessible public transport, which will do great things for the next generation of spectators.

Moving to a location more accessible to Chicago visitors, he said, will broaden Northlight’s audience and reconnect it with its roots in Evanston and Northwestern.

The theater was founded by Gregory Kandel, Mike Nussbaum and Frank Galati under the original name of Evanston Theater Company. Galati, a communications school teacher at the time, directed its first production.

Since then, Jones said, Northlight has worked closely with the School of Communication’s theater department. Once back in Evanston, the nonprofit aims to strengthen those “long and fruitful” ties, he said.

Jones said Northlight’s move will also benefit the theater itself. The theater closed its performances from March 2020 to August 2021 due to the pandemic, and its box office revenue has struggled to recover since reopening.

The City Council’s $2 million grant to Northlight is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal plan to help local governments recover from the pandemic. Evanston received $43 million from the deed.

According to an economic impact study conducted by Hunden Strategic Partners, Northlight is expected to generate $56 million in new spending and $450,000 in municipal tax revenue.

Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, said surrounding business owners were pleased with the new spending to boost their own efforts.

“Putting a live theater and encouraging people to be social again is really where we think it will be a great addition to the downtown offerings,” Coakley said. “When you go out, you want to add a few other things – you’re not going to leave your house just to do one thing.”

Once the theater opens, Coakley said downtown Evanston will aim to attract theatergoers to surrounding shops and restaurants through incentives such as dining rewards programs and weekend itineraries. end or day trip for visitors. According to her, the organization is already working on “packaging” arts events and restaurant offerings to attract more visitors – and having Northlight in the area will bolster those efforts.

At the April 11 meeting, Reverend Michael Nabors, who leads the NAACP Evanston/North Shore, said he was especially thrilled to see Northlight bring its commitment to diversity to the community. He said the NAACP has already spoken with Northlight contractors to ensure women and people of color are included in its workforce development projects.

As Northlight continues to work toward its $26 million fundraising goal, Nabors said he’s thrilled to see the theater transform Evanston through the “gift of art.”

“True art – which includes (Northlight) – has no color, class, creed, dogma, political affiliation, ethnicity or race,” Nabors said. “True art is emotion, and what better place for such emotion to be revealed than in the heart of our beloved community?”

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Twitter: @lilylcarey

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