Curtains Up

BAM’s new theater and arts plaza at Ashland Place.
Courtesy H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture

The Brooklyn Academy of Music Cultural District, or “the Lincoln Center of Brooklyn” in Fort Greene, has been in the planning for over ten years, but construction has finally begun on one of its anchors, the new home of the Theatre For a New Audience (TFANA).

TFANA’s new stage will be the first theatre built for classic drama since the construction of the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center in 1965, and the first permanent space for TFANA, which has specialized in performing work by Shakespeare and other classical playwrights in assorted less-than-ideal venues since 1979.

The new theatre will occupy a small 27,500-square-foot building but “has a theatrical presence,” according to its architect Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. TFANA will take the form of a glass box covered with reflective gun-metal grey tiles, cantilevered over a public plaza designed by landscape architect Ken Smith. The stage and lobby are on the second floor in a four-story space with a large glass-plate window offering an expansive view of the street.

Left to right: Inside the theater; front elevation at night features expanses of glass; reflective grey tiles cover the building’s exterior.

Since the original design was unveiled in 2005, the project has seen several changes, including the departure of Frank Gehry from the team in 2008 and three moves to its final site on a parking lot at Ashland Place between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue. The glass box concept has remained the same, only “cleaner,” Hardy said.

The interior’s rectangular configuration, fully trapped stage, and adjustable floor space were modeled after the Cottesloe Theatre of Britain’s Royal National. “The degree to which all aspects of the room come apart is really remarkable,” said Hardy. Stage levels and the auditorium floor can all be shifted, and the capacity can be adjusted from 180 to 299 seats, while the space behind the stage can be opened to increase stage depth or closed to allow rehearsal space.

The city contributed $34 million of the theater’s $48 million price tag to promote the development of the BAM Cultural District. The new theatre will be adjacent to the Morris Dance Center and the BAM Opera House, and near 40 arts and cultural organizations already in Fort Greene. The project, with an anticipated completion in spring 2013, marks one of the first major elements of the plan to break ground.

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