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BOB DOEPEL & CHICAGO SCENIC STUDIOS - 40 Years Of Making It All Come Together

To hear Bob Doepel reflect on Chicago Scenic Studios, the company he founded almost 40 years ago, you might think that it just happened to come together. In truth, Doepel has elevated the process of making things come together, often under impossible deadlines, on projects that materialize overnight, to an art form. His company has a vast array of resources, and coordinates with other industry professionals, to collaborate with clients to turn vision into reality.

Imagine staging Grant Park for the election party of Barack Obama or the Cubs World Series victory party, 25 years of sets for Oprah Winfrey, including the big Michigan Avenue event and the final show at the United Center, and, Winter Wonderfest on Navy Pier. Chicago Scenic has outfitted the Picasso at Daley Center, the lions at the Art Institute and you can see their work in the new American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue and in some of the staging elements in the brilliant Joffrey production of Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre.

Considering the variety and scope of these and other projects, things have certainly come together for Chicago Scenic, which began serving theater companies, museums and the City of Chicago in 1978 and now provides a range of design, building and professional consulting and management services to national and international cultural and business clients. It is all part of a new strategic plan that took a giant step forward this summer by moving into an extraordinary 165K sq. ft. facility on West Cermak in Chicago.

That’s where we caught up with Bob Doepel on November 28th, to talk about the 40th anniversary of the company and how Chicago Scenic Studios has evolved into a market leader.

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Diverse Projects and Clients… “we do work for the International Auto Show in Detroit and here in Chicago… we do pharmaceutical projects… we also do lots of museum work… just finished the American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue…  Andy (Anway), the designer from Amaze Design, did a terrific job… it is engaging on all levels.”

Building a creative team… “there are a lot of components. I come from a theatrical background, rooted in storytelling, which is what theater is all about. We try to find out what the story is. At the museum, we are telling the story American writers. What is the process? How do we communicate and engage people in a collaborative method? We have lots of resources here so if we can’t do it, we find someone else who can… talented project managers and phenomenal crafts people pull the different resources together to make the project happen.”   

Winter Wonderfest 2.jpg

Navy Pier… “my great grandfather was the general contractor for Navy Pier. The family has continued to be in the construction business, Paschen Construction... my mother’s side of the family. I have always had the construction bug. I worked summers for Paschen, then went off to be a forest engineer. It was interesting, but no job, so I came back to my roots, theater.”

New Trier High School mentors… I was on the stage crew building shows… the fine arts program at New Trier was extensive. ...Toby Nicholson, choreographer, Carol Gill, lighting and set designer, and Frank Gill technical director... a talented group of people who were into their art form.”

Joffrey Ballet’s-The Nutcracker… “they redesigned the Mother Ginger costume set piece… we just finished and delivered it to them so they could rehearse with the dancers. It is a very integral piece in the show.”

Big New Space… “165K sq. ft. … 32 ft. high ceilings… 62 ft. wide bays… we have a greater ability to set up shows. It was good on Goose Island, but this is much improved.”

Talented Staff… “We have a broad array of talented people on staff at Chicago Scenic Studios. We are licensed electrical contractors in the City of Chicago along with being a licensed general contractor… we have phenomenal sub-contractors that we use… they all come in to collaborate with us on these crazy things we all want to do.”

Four-Tier Apprentice Program… "The bulk of our crafts people and our project managers come from a theatrical or art background and have college degrees… we have a four-tier apprentice program… even if they are ultimately going to be a carpenter or electrician on the floor, we still put them through the project management process so they understand how the estimates are formulated, what the process is, and, how to deal with clients.”

New Technology… “Video mapping, LED walls and projections are all being integrated. The Nutcracker is a dimension show, but also has the integration of projection. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is scenery versus projection. They really did an unbelievable job with it. I was amazed when I saw it all come together at the Auditorium Theatre.”

PODCAST
CHICAGO SCENIC WEBSITE
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Project Photos Courtesy of Chicago Scenic Studios
Joffrey Ballet Photo|Cheryl Mann
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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