Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture
“All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players.” At today’s Archtober tour of the Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture‘s Geoff Lynch and David Haakenson explained how the firm took the Bard’s oft-quoted lines to their logical architectural conclusion.
Before even entering the performance space, the theatre’s 60-foot-high hanging glass facade reveals the theater of urban life on the plaza below and invites passers-by to view the actions of theater-goers in the lobby space and balconies.
According to our guides, the origins of the theater date back to the 1970s and ’80s, when BAM President Harvey Lichtenstein re-envisioned Fort Greene as the Brooklyn Cultural District. While the BAMbus carted jittery Manhattanites to and from the outer borough, developers and architects renovated and built a number of cultural spaces in the neighborhood, including the BAM Majestic, the Bam Harvey Theater, and the BAM Fisher Building. As development moved in, the Theatre for a New Audience got knocked around to a number of different sites, like a chess piece. No matter where it moved, however, the actual theatre and its dimensions stayed the same.
Inspired by the Cottesloe Theatre in London, the performance space itself has the proportions of an Elizabethan-style theatre. The 8-foot-6-inch balconies are significantly less high than those found in the majestic halls of Times Square, making the experience intimate, even from the “nosebleed section” on the second balcony. The U-shaped viewing areas also allow attendees to look at each other. A performance theater is not a movie theater, Lynch reminded us, and catharsis is experienced collectively.
While Elizabethan in proportions, H3 Hardy made sure to give the Theatre for a New Audience a 21st-century upgrade. The balconies are fixed but seating isn’t, and the space can be rearranged to bring the imaginative visions of theater directors, no matter how eccentric, to the stage. Lynch noted that despite providing the theater with nine different floor configurations, on the opening night of its first production, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the space was completely unrecognizable, a black box transformed into fairy woodland.
Camila Schaulsohn is Communications Director and Editor-in-Chief of e-Oculus. She was born and raised in Santiago, Chile.