Claude E. Binder
September 7, 1952 - July 1, 2018
Claude Binder worked professionally in the Chicago theater community for more than 30 years, over which he quietly, passionately, and sometimes cantankerously brought others people’s visions to spectacular life. His career as one of the unsung heroes of this city’s storied theater scene is legendary. His legacy is the love he shared with his wife, Lighting Designer Christine A. Binder, and their son Cody.
Born in Cleveland and raised in Chagrin Falls, OH, Claude attended the University of Kentucky to study journalism but switched to the theater department (because the girls were prettier there). He never looked back. Upon graduation, he got a job at Actors Theatre then moved on to the role of Technical Director at The Goodman. He talked extensively about how much he loved working with the incredible designers who came through The Goodman, saying “I’d like to see any schmo try to build a John Lee Beaty or John Conklin set!”
He had a DIY spirit, believing in doing it yourself if you want to get it done. That philosophy attracted him to his next role. After 11 years at The Goodman, he left to become Production Manager at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. While there, he participated in the “big move” from a 211-seat space on North Halsted Street to the company’s current complex. He spent 15 years at Steppenwolf. In that time, he led the company in mounting five productions to New York City, including the Tony award-winning production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well as moving productions to theaters in England, Ireland, Canada and Australia. Other accomplishments while at Steppenwolf include principal management of the reconstruction of the Upstairs Theatre which debuted with the world premiere of Frank Galati’s adaptation of After the Quake.
Claude left Steppenwolf to become Executive Director at the new Chicago Children’s Theatre, and his leadership helped propel that theater to new heights. Unfortunately, cancer arrived at about the same time. After his first bout, he left Chicago Children’s Theatre to work for the Joffrey as Director of Production, then on to Milwaukee Rep only to return to Joffrey and Chicago shortly after. After he left Joffrey, he contemplated retirement but theater so much a part of who Claude was that he ended up spending a few months at American Blues Theater before finally going for good. A month later, cancer had come back for the third time. He spent the last year of his life battling the disease in the same way he approached a seemingly impossible design request: with a strength of will to make the impossible possible.