Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Chicago Scenic Studios, Inc., a firm of 65 artisans, that have been behind the scenes producing set designs and fabrication for some of the most iconic events and venues in Illinois. That includes the Oprah Winfrey Show finale, the “Science Storms” exhibit at the Museum of Science & Industry and Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” as well as lavish displays for trade shows, corporate sales meetings and more industry events across the country. Business is booming so much that Chicago Scenic Studios just relocated to a 165,000-square-foot warehouse in Pilsen where owner and long-time Chicagoan Bob Doepel can set the stage for the future.
ILM+E: How did Chicago Scenic Studios get started?
BD: I have a master’s [degree] in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon in drama design and production, and when I came back to the area after college I worked with the Academy Festival Theatre in Lake Forest. Through that relationship, I met Michael Cullen of the Travelight Theatre and Stuart Oken of Apollo Theatre Center who had the need for someone to design and build shows. It continued to grow from there into other markets like trade shows, TV and film, museums and special events.
ILM+E: There’s also an interesting history of construction in your family, right?
BD: Yes, my grandfather was the general contractor for Navy Pier; he owned Paschen Construction.
ILM+E: Do you have any favorite sets from over the years?
BD: We’ve done some crazy projects. We were the executive staging producers for the World Cup Opening Ceremony in 1994 at Soldier Field, general contractor for production construction for the Democratic National Convention in 1996 and we used to produce Chicago’s Christmas Parade. I remember for the Oprah Winfrey Show finale having to load 80 tractortrailers of equipment in and out of the United Center in 60 hours because we had NBA playoff games in front of and behind us.
ILM+E: With all the work that goes into sets, what happens when events are done?
BD: We have ‘rental equipment’ such as portable staging and drapery and rigging systems we try to reutilize where we can to put things back in our inventory. Custom pieces unfortunately go into the dumpster, but we work very hard to separate steel, wood and acrylic to be recycled.
ILM+E: What should planners know before starting to work with you?
BD: It helps us if we have a budget to work from. We can provide three to five approaches or concepts but we try to be cautious not to present an idea that is outside the budget realm. Having a theme or idea of what they want to create is helpful, too. My core training is storytelling so I always try to ask, “What is the story we are trying to tell here?”