Ragdale to bring back outdoor performances with ‘Ring’ project
Jeffrey Meeuwsen, Ragdale's executive director, is leading the charge on a call for proposals to build a temporary outdoor performance venue to be used this summer in Lake Forest. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 12:23PM
LAKE FOREST — The deadline looms for designers to submit ideas for an outdoor performance venue at Ragdale, and the jury eager to see what emerges.
“We’ve been receiving questions, e-mails and phone calls,” Ragdale Executive Director Jeffrey Meeuwsen said. “We’re expecting great things.”
The Ragdale Foundation, which funds the artist residency program on the former estate, put out the call Feb. 5 for architects and designers to create a new Ragdale Ring, an outdoor space on the sloping meadow behind the Ragdale House, leaving just more three weeks for ideas to be developed and submitted by Feb. 28.
The project will replicate, not recreate, the original Ragdale Ring designed and constructed by Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1912 for staging plays written by his wife, Frances Shaw. The community participated in and attended the plays for years at the Shaw estate on Green Bay Road.
The turnaround is quick, organizers and jury members admit, but that aspect, too, is steeped in Ragdale history.
In an essay written by Frances Shaw, titled “Audiences and the Open Air,” Shaw wrote that her husband told her in late summer 1912 that the Ring “was ready, and that we must produce, before an audience of some 250 people, something pleasing, original and ‘not too expensive.’ He said that we should plan to give it two weeks from that day as the season was getting late.”
“We consider the timetable doable,” juror Zurich Esposito, a Ragdale Foundation board member and head of American Institute of Architects Chicago, said of the Feb. 28 deadline.
Finding architects-in-residence each year to create a temporary performance venue onsite seemed a good first project for Meeuwsen, who joined the organization last September.
“Traditionally, we don’t have architects in residence and yet Howard Van Doren Shaw was an architect,” Meeuwsen said.
The aspect of “how do we make connections with the general public and create educational programs” also fueled the idea, he said.
Organizers envision the new Ragdale Ring will do just that.
“We hope this nod to Ragdale’s past will be an opportunity to support innovative new work that will, in turn, transform our landscape, and continue the Shaw family tradition of providing both a vibrant and nurturing atmosphere for artistic inspiration,” Ann Merritt, a juror and Ragdale board member, said.
Though the new ring will be located on a different site than the original, the spirit of the project remains the same.
“We’re hoping for something really innovative and exciting that takes an entirely new approach to what the Ragdale Ring looks and feels like,” Meeuwsen said.
The original ring featured was a copy of an outdoor garden theatre in Italy, where the audience sat in a circular orchestra paved with grass and surrounded by a low limestone wall. The stage was flanked by evergreen “wings” and columns topped with baskets of stone fruit.
Esposito thinks Shaw would give his nod to the new project.
“Shaw experimented a lot with architecture. This project carries on that tradition,” Esposito said. “I think he’d love this idea.”
The new venue will be constructed in May to be ready to open Saturday, June 15, for the Ragdale Ring Gala and monthly Ragdale Ring Spotlight Series on Thursdays, June 20, July 11, Aug. 15 and Sept. 12.