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  • Writer's pictureKrissy Vanderwarker

STPNWLF, My What A Bad Re-brand You Have

Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, founded in 1974, has recently gone through a re-brand and they've made a huge mistake.

Launched in October of 2017 and designed by Grip, the new brand seems to be a foolhardy attempt at attracting a millennial audience. They are using millennial trends like dropping letters from the brand name to be more text friendly, using bright, vibrating colors and a sans serif, all-cap typographical approach.

Putting millennial pink lipstick on a old, white pig isn't going to do the trick.

Brand strategy should always follow business strategy and that seems to be the big misstep here. What is the big shift in business strategy that spurred this new branding strategy?

There has been a shift in leadership. Anna Shapiro (left) has taken over as Artistic Director from the late, great Martha Lavey (right). Steppenwolf has continued to program much of the same kind of material that they have produced in the past 44 years. Looking at their current season, their new tag line "Find Yourself Here" seems to only apply if you are white, upper-middle class, midwestern, college-educated theatre-goers.

Yes, the lobby is now painted horrific colors - a yellow, red and purple, only found in nature to warn you or signal "don't eat this!". Yes, they have taken down the historic pictures of all of the past shows. (I quite liked perusing those photos. It always felt like a "Celebrities are people too" kind of thing - but more like a "Our ensemble was once your age too" kind of thing.) Yes, they have programed two shows (of their 7 show season) with writers of color - and 6 of the 7 are directed by women. But the stories they are choosing to tell couldn't be less interesting to a millennial culture-consuming audience. And don't get me started on those horrifically bad posters. They are just ugly and apparently they can't even give the t-shirts away.

Indulge me while I reverse-engineer my way into a business strategy that would warrant a rebrand (but hopefully a rebrand that was more in touch). A day-dream is descending as I stare into the dust mote in my living room. [sound effect: doodle loo doodle loo doodle loo.] Steppenwolf has hired a early-thirty-something, woman of color as their new Artistic Director, and a Chicago-based, business innovator as their new Executive Director. They broke the rule that their AD has to be an ensemble member because currently they don't have a person in their ensemble that fits this description and it was important enough to the health and longevity of the company to break this rule! They are announcing a season of genre-defying, event-based theatre that will really blow the lid off the city, attracting all kinds of Chicagoans because it will be really speaking to their cultural interests. They have stopped trying to sell what they think is the next great Broadway hit and are instead attempting to hold a mirror up to the city they have called home for almost a half-century. Instead of eschewing their punk rock take-a-bat-to-the-set past, they are doing the ultimate punk rock thing and passing the bat to the next generation - so that the youth can take that bat to what has become a buttress of the patriarchy - the current Steppenwolf M.O. (whether it's missing a few letters, dressed in yellow and telling me to find myself or not).

A person can dream.


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