For groups composed of Shakespeare buffs, fine art aficionados, stand-up comedy lovers or music enthusiasts, the Chicago suburbs share a rich calendar of local performances to please every attendee.
With an unexpectedly artsy side, these neighbors of the ever cultural and theater-friendly Windy City are brimming with entertaining opportunities for visiting groups via performing arts centers and local theaters that double as off-site event spaces. Get attendees on stage for a banquet, reception or improv class to round out the itinerary and ensure a memorable experience for groups.
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie
The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie is a two-theater complex featuring an 867-seat main theater and a convertible 342-seat theater. Home to several resident companies, including Northlight Theatre and the Skokie Valley Symphony Orchestra, there is always something on the calendar to entertain visiting delegates.
According to Gina Speckman, executive director at Chicago’s North Shore CVB, the facility, which features a 6,000-square-foot grand lobby and conference rooms, holds annual meetings, special performances for companies, board meetings on the stage itself and receptions and smaller trade shows in the lobby.
“It is very versatile,” she says, explaining that group tours can also be arranged in conjunction with a reception and a performance of a scheduled show. “The venue’s staff can assist a planner, in concert with Chicago’s North Shore CVB, in sourcing and bringing in facilitators for improv and other team-building exercises.”
As the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts is situated adjacent to the DoubleTree by Hilton Chicago North Shore and across the street from the Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center, Speckman adds that many creative planners use the proximity of the three venues to plan an event for which transportation isn’t necessary.
“All these venues package and work together to offer a one-stop meeting and event experience,” she says.
Genesee Theatre, Waukegan
Waukegan’s Genesee Theatre, built in 1927, is one of those venues that surprises patrons. Maureen Riedy, president of Visit Lake County, says visitors are taken by the beauty of the grand venue, which rivals theaters in downtown Chicago.
“It’s a magnificent, historic theater that was exquisitely restored to its original regal splendor and reopened in 2004,” she says, adding that visiting groups can enjoy live entertainment, including concerts, comics and Broadway shows, as well as back-of-the-house tours describing the theater’s colorful history.
The Genesee is available for private functions and features auditorium-style seating for up to 2,400 people and seven lounges, each accommodating meetings and receptions of up to 200 people. The stage, Riedy adds, provides a unique setting for banquets of up to 150 delegates.
“A group could hold a meeting in the auditorium or one of the lounge areas and then open the curtains to reveal a setup for a lunch or dinner right on the stage,” she says. “The lobby boasts a two-tiered grand staircase with a stunning chandelier that’s perfect for group photos.”
Additionally, members of the Clockwise Theatre Company, which stages performances in a small adjacent theater, can facilitate group activities at the Genesee, and local comedians are available to come by and host comedy workshops.
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights
Located in the heart of Chicago’s northwest suburbs in downtown Arlington Heights, the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is a multifaceted entertainment venue that annually offers a full calendar of events, from concerts to performances by Chicago-area companies like Second City and in-house productions featuring Chicago directors and actors.
According to Dave Parulo, president of the Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau, the box office often offers group rates for performances.
“To entertain groups, they work with catering partners to provide on-site receptions,” he says, adding that the theater also works with regional hotel partners to offer entertainment packages. “They also partner with numerous restaurants and a banquet facility that are only steps away to offer full-service food and beverage options.”
The theater is available for rental for private events.
Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont
If attendees would like to convene where Barry Manilow, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and Lady Gaga have performed, planners should consider the Rosemont Theatre.
The venue, which also showcases comics such as Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld, and Broadway shows like Mamma Mia and South Pacific, is ideal for corporate events.
Located five minutes from O’Hare International Airport and 25 minutes from downtown Chicago, the venue sports a multilevel VIP room for up to 150 people, and the grand lobby can accommodate 1,700 guests seated and up to 3,000 for a cocktail party.
Oak Park Festival Theatre, oak park
Oak Park Festival Theatre, the oldest and best known professional theater company in the Oak Park area, stages productions ranging from Shakespeare to contemporary plays throughout the year. According to Tom Lynch, president and CEO of Visit Oak Park, the theater company enjoys a national reputation for high-quality performing arts entertainment.
He explains that Oak Park Festival Theatre presents two plays outdoors during the summer season at Austin Gardens in downtown Oak Park.
“There is virtually unlimited space available to accommodate groups of all sizes there, including space for pre-performance receptions and meetings,” he says. The remainder of the season finds performances indoors at Madison Street Theatre, which also accommodates group events.
The Oak Park Festival Theatre has a special traveling 40-minute show that highlights scenes, sonnets and songs from favorite Shakespeare plays.
“The cast sets about to debunk some of the greatest myths about the Bard,” Lynch says, adding that workshops designed to bring the theater experience to specific groups are also available.
The Paramount Theatre, Aurora
Paramount Theatre, according to William Pope, rental manager at the facility, is an entertainment and meeting complex that offers a beautifully restored Art Deco 1,851-seat theater built in 1931 and a spacious lobby called the Grand Gallery, which can dine up to 300 people or hold up to 700 people for a cocktail reception.
The Grand Gallery, which doubles as an art gallery with rotating works, is also used for pre- and post-show parties, silent auction events and small trade shows. The lobby space in front of the theater, Pope says, can be set up with tables for registration and sign-in, as well as food and beverage items.
When not hosting events, concerts of all musical genres, Paramount features stand-up comedians, dance productions, holiday productions and Broadway shows to entertain visiting groups.
“Group tours of the Paramount Theatre are very popular,” Pope says, explaining that they are conducted by the theater’s group sales manager or technical director. “Both have been with the Paramount for approximately 20 years, so rest assured they know all of the stories associated with the theater.”
It’s worth noting, Pope adds, the Paramount has a resident artistic director who, depending on his schedule, could be available to direct team-building activities or improv classes.
Drury Lane Theatre and Conference Center, oakbrook terrace
The 971-seat Drury Lane Theatre and Conference Center is an award-winning, Broadway-style venue that stages musicals, comedy, concerts and dinner theater.
According to Lisa Landers, director of sales at the DuPage CVB, Drury Lane draws local theater-goers and is consistently ranked as one of the top attractions attended by meeting, event, reunion and tour groups convening in DuPage County.
With more than 40,000 square feet of trade show space and banquet space for up to 2,500 people, the facility accommodates group gatherings. Groups can also rent out the theater auditorium when it’s not being used for shows.
On-site amenities include behind-the-scenes tours, event planning assistance, catering and audiovisual services, and wireless Internet access in meeting space and common areas.
Arcada Theatre, St. Charles
The Arcada Theatre is truly a unique, charming gem of St. Charles, according to Jenny O’Brien, marketing manager at the Greater St. Charles CVB.
“This former vaudeville house dates from 1926 and is one of the few historic venues in the Fox Valley,” she says, explaining that the theater’s calendar is filled with live concerts, plays, movie showings and a variety of special events throughout the year.
The Arcada has nearly 900 seats and is available for rentals for performances, corporate events and parties, O’Brien explains, adding that a portion of the seats in the front and center of the main floor are removable, so as to accommodate a dance floor, meal seating and more.
“The other way to entertain your meeting attendees here is by enjoying a tour of the theater,” she says. “Tours showcase the magnificent architecture and history of the Arcada, and you’ll learn about famous acts from the past, such as George Burns and Gracie Allen.”
Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, University park
The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University is one of the more unique art venues in the Chicago suburbs, according to Scott Bort, public relations manager at the Chicago Southland CVB.
He says pieces like Paul, a 30-foot-tall rendition of an older, greyer Paul Bunyan, impress guests as they walk along to discover some 27 sculptures spread out over 100 acres of wild native landscape.
“This setting gives both a sense of isolation with the art and total immersion in the surrounding natural environment,” Bort says, adding that custom tours can be arranged by contacting the park office at least a month in advance.
For an accompanying group gathering, the campus of Governors State University offers facilities well-suited for meetings, receptions or presentations, including the Center for Performing Arts and the Hall of Governors.
“The staff at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park is very group-friendly and is willing to work with your group to create the best experience on the campus of Governors State University,” Bort says.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus MidAmerica.