Northlight Theatre is a professional, non-profit theatre company currently located in Skokie, Illinois at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Northlight produces five mainstage productions each year with a spectrum of work ranging from timely world premieres to refreshed classics. It is one of the largest and longest-running nonprofit theatres in the Chicago area.
In addition to the mainstage season, programming includes development of new works, audience outreach and community engagement programs, and a comprehensive arts education program for underserved middle and high school students.
Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences. We seek to entertain, enlighten, and electrify our audiences through contemporary dramas, intimate musicals and refreshed classics. We are fearless in our commitment to champion new work, and to provide a nurturing and creative home for our artists. We are relentless in our pursuit of excellence through our productions, our business practices, our outreach, and our education. Northlight Theatre reflects our community to the world and the world to our community.
Northlight Theatre began in 1974 as part of the Master’s Thesis of Gregory Kandel, who was also a founder of the League of Chicago Theatres. Together with Mike Nussbaum and Frank Galati, the three established Evanston Theatre Company, which set up residence in the then-decommissioned Kingsley Elementary School Theater on Green Bay Road in Evanston. Other original ensemble members included Judith Ivey, BJ Jones, and Barry Cullison, who were unknown at the time, but who quickly rose to prominence in the theater community.
The first season was composed of Jumpers by Tom Stoppard (starring Nussbaum and directed by Galati), The Au Pair Man by Hugh Leonard, and Nourish the Beast by Steve Tesich. Northlight struggled in their second season, running out of money after the third play of a five-play season, but an emergency fund drive raised almost $20,000, more than was needed to stay afloat, and the theater company began its road to success.
On May 1, 1978, Evanston Theatre Company was officially renamed North Light Repertory, Inc. The change came from the result of a marketing survey which determined that the Evanston name led to confusion about the professional status of the theatre, associating the company with amateur community theater groups, many of which were also located in the North Shore area. The new Repertory name was used to communicate the regional professional status of the theater, and to communicate the artistic passion of the company. Kandel, then the producing director, said of the new name: “The north light is traditionally the artist’s light; the purest light in which to create a work of art. Furthermore, our artistic thrust has always been toward contemporary plays which in some way enlighten.”
By 1980, as North Light Repertory was to begin its sixth season, the subscriber list had reached nearly 6,000 – meaning North Light had added nearly 1,000 subscribers each year since its founding. The company had already received a handful of Joseph Jefferson awards, with numerous nominations, and was becoming known for staging Chicago premieres. That year, however, Greg Kandel announced his resignation due to personal reasons, which took place the following year once the season was over.
In the next few years, North Light would undergo numerous changes, including changing its name to the current Northlight Theatre. Eric Steiner and Jeff Bentley replaced Kandel as Artistic Director and Managing Director, respectively, and a few years later the roles were succeeded by Michael Maggio and Susan Medak. Maggio left in 1986 to pursue a freelance directing career and a national search turned up Russell Vandenbroucke for Artistic Director. Jeffrey Woodward replaced Medak in 1990.
The Evanston School Board decided to reopen Kingsley School that same year, forcing Northlight to leave the theater space there. Northlight settled in the Coronet Theater, a former movie house that had been renovated for live productions in the 1980s. Evanston City Council was very committed to having Northlight stay in Evanston, and helped fund the renovations of the theater and a nearby parking lot. However, the Coronet also became unavailable after four years, and Northlight entered a nomadic phase in 1994 that ended when it became the resident theater company at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie in 1997.
This long-term home permitted Northlight to enter a new era of growth – in size and quality – which was galvanized by a new Artistic Director, BJ Jones, who took over in 1998. Joined by Executive Director Timothy J. Evans in 2007, under their leadership Northlight has produced the largest hits in its history (The Outgoing Tide, Relativity, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley); its first international co-production (Chapatti) and several other participating productions with the Galway International Arts Festival in Ireland; and has focused on the development of new work, earning ten Edgerton Foundation for New Play Awards (as of the 2019-20 season).
Northlight is among the largest nonprofit theatres in the Chicago area, maintaining over 5000 subscribers and audiences totaling nearly 50,000 each season, as well as an array of engagement opportunities and an extensive youth education program. For information about our current programming, explore our Current Season, Engagement Events, and Education Programs.