“The transformation has been quite fascinating and poetic,” Jacqueline Russell said. “Some things just align, and this felt perfect.”
Russell started her career teaching drama to children in a sub-contained autism classroom. Building off of her techniques, she decided to create her own curriculum and work with special educators to use theater to enhance communication and social skills in children. Thus began the Chicago Children’s Theatre, founded over 10 years ago with the help of her partner, Todd Leland.
For years, the Chicago Children’s Theatre worked out of various venues across the city, putting on plays and continuing Russell’s work with autistic children. When the pair felt like they finally needed their own home, they went searching for a usable space and came across an old police station in the West Loop. The city had no plans for it, so Russell and Leland proposed turning it into the Chicago Children’s Theatre.
“It was a very long process, and a lot of people were involved from the city, from the state, from the funding community,” Russell said. “It took a lot of people to make this happen.”
The Theatre has been moving nonstop since. Its first open house saw over 750 people come through, and kids have already signed up for regular classes and summer classes. In addition to programs such as musical theater camps and performance camps, the theater company will also offer programs for children on the autism spectrum, such as Camp Red Kite, a summer camp exclusive to kids with autism. These kids will also be able to partake in year-round programming and the new Red Kite Adventures Tour, a multi sensory and interactive theater experience.
“Our intention for this space is that its educational programming be as diverse as our city and as unique as our children,” said Frank Maugeri, community programs artistic director at Chicago Children’s Theatre.
The new theatre will be referred to as “The Station”, a tribute to the space’s old purpose as a police station while completely changing what is done inside.
“We get a chance to showcase children’s creativity, imagination and vision, something we haven’t been able to do without our own home,” Russell said. “It’s so nice to be a part of something that is an absolute gift to these kids.”