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On the verge of a film project, Anna D. Shapiro announces exit from Steppenwolf

The longtime artistic director, whose stage credits include the landmark “August: Osage County,” is set to direct a movie about a real-life White House correspondent.

Anna D. Shapiro has served as Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director since 2015.
Frank Ishman

Anna D. Shapiro, a rising star in the theater and now the movie world, will step down in August as Steppenwolf Theatre’s artistic director, the company said Sunday.

She has held the title since 2015 and has been working on a succession plan for several months, as the end of her contract neared. Last week, news emerged that Shapiro is about to direct a film, “Bury the Lede,” about the 50-year tenure of White House correspondent Connie Lawn.

The script is by Joy Gregory, the Lookingglass Theatre co-founder who went on to work on TV’s “Jericho” and “Madam Secretary.”

While Shapiro earlier directed the filming of her National Theatre revival of “Of Mice and Men,” starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd, “Bury the Lede” will be her first work originating on the big screen.

An Evanston native, Shapiro has been a key national player in the stage world for more than a decade, since winning a Tony Award in 2008 for directing the Broadway production of “August: Osage County.” Earlier she directed the world premiere of the Tracy Letts drama at Steppenwolf.

In addition to her Steppenwolf work in recent years, she’s been working on “The Devil Wears Prada,” a new musical based on the hit movie with music by Sir Elton John, lyrics by Shaina Taub and book by Paul Rudnick. After several delays, it now is scheduled to premiere in July 2022 at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre on its way to Broadway.

Shapiro will remain part of the Steppenwolf ensemble and is slated to direct two plays in the 2021-22 season announced last week: Letts’ “The Stretch,” part of a trio of short streaming plays set to debut in September, and Rajiv Joseph’s “King James,” planned for a world premiere on stage in February.

As is Steppenwolf tradition, the 49 ensemble members will choose the next artistic director.

“We have an opportunity in this moment to evaluate what we need to help us keep thrilling existing audiences and grow new theater lovers as we joyfully reopen our doors to live performance,” ensemble member Jeff Perry said in Steppenwolf’s announcement. “We will take the appropriate time to thoughtfully answer those questions as we determine the best next steps for artistic direction at Steppenwolf.”

Perry, an actor best known for “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” founded Steppenwolf with Gary Sinise and Terry Kinney in 1974.

Among Shapiro’s successful productions at Steppenwolf were Bruce Norris’ “Downstate,” which she took to the National Theatre in London; Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” which Spike Lee filmed for an adaptation presented by Amazon Prime, and Letts’ “The Minutes,” another transfer to Broadway.

Outside of Steppenwolf, she directed Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Motherf- - - - - With the Hat,” starring Chris Rock, and “Fish in the Dark,” written by and starring comedian Larry David.

Among Shapiro’s other Steppenwolf achievements was the construction of a multi-million-dollar, 50,000-square-foot education center including a 400-seat round theater, scheduled to open this fall.