The roof of the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center seems an unlikely place to locate a new theatre, but in land locked Manhattan, it’s either that, or plop it in the middle of the Lincoln Center Plaza. The new two story, 23,000 square foot facility will not only house a black box theater dedicated to a new generation of artists and audiences, but also provide much needed rehearsal and office space for the Lincoln Center Theatres operations. The theatre is modest in size, seating just 112 spectators.
Today the building opens for rehearsal and administrative use, with the theater itself set to debut in a few weeks.
But don’t call the new stage a black-box theater. “I didn’t want there to be the sense that this Lincoln Center theater was experimental,” said André Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater’s artistic director,. “I wanted it to be another theater on a level with the others.”
He added, “Many of our writers are beginning their careers, and they’re not known yet, and you want to break them in gently, yet with full production values.”
There has been extensive work done in the Vivian Beaumont’s “front yard” which includes, among other alterations, the creation of a huge grassy mound for sunbathing and a new restaurant along the sides of the reflecting pool that continues to hold Henry Moore’s titanic “Reclining Figure.”Despite this, the theatre plaza is still a windswept,lonely open space on a cold winter’s night, such as the one this past winter in which I journeyed there to see their incredible stage version of Warhorse. Lincoln Center is still a modernist monstrosity, a salute to big box theatres in the tradition of Best Buy and WalMart. It takes the heat of summer to warm up the windswept surroundings when stages can be erected outdoors.
The new Claire Tow Theater will open on June 4 with the premiere of Slowgirl by playwright Greg Pierce. Paige Evans, the artistic director of LCT3, said Slowgirl—about a teenage girl recovering from an accident by visiting her ex-pat uncle in Costa Rica—was brought to her attention by director Anne Kauffman, who led the LCT3 production of “Stunning” in 2009.
“Slowgirl is very sensitively written,” said Ms. Evans, whose aim is to identify and develop new theater artists whose future work can then be produced on the company’s two larger stages. “I want it to be an eclectic range.”
LCT3 productions—which charge $20 for tickets—have been taking place at the Duke on 42nd Street, where each was onstage for a total of four weeks. In their new home, productions will have two weeks of previews and four weeks of performances.
Even though most of the original Beaumont Theater structures, designed by Eero Saarinen and Gordon Bunshaft among others, will survive, the mood of the place will be different. The severe modernist rectitude is gone, a rectitude that was not without its charms and endearments. In its place will be a clash of glass, curving metal, and several varieties of stone.
The theater will be named the Claire Tow Theater, in honor of the wife of longtime LCT Board Member Leonard Tow, recognizing the Tow Foundation’s outstanding leadership support. It will become the home of LCT3, Lincoln Center Theater’s programming initiative dedicated to producing the work of new artists and the development of new audiences.
This new project will bring to fruition Lincoln Center Theater’s long held desire for a third theater to present the work of the next generation of LCT’s playwrights, directors and designers. As plans evolved for the campus-wide Lincoln Center Development Project, which seeks to make Lincoln Center more open and accessible, this new addition became a reality as well. The Claire Tow Theater will play a vital role in this expansion with LCT3 productions adding a new dimension of creative activity, as well as bringing a new audience, to Lincoln Center.
This new addition is designed by renowned architect Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture LLC and is intended to be LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. It will mark a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Hardy who early in his career worked on the design of the Vivian Beaumont Theater as the assistant to designer Jo Mielziner who, with architect Eero Saarinen, designed the Lincoln Center structure that also houses the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
Hugh Hardy was the architect responsible for the brilliant and successful restoration of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. The Hardy organization was also a key to the redevelopment and rezoning plans for Boston’s Midtown Cultural District in the 1980′s which I chaired.
Lincoln Center Theater has established a Capital Campaign to fund the construction cost as well as to provide endowment and operating funds for LCT3 programming in the new theater. The Capital Campaign has raised 90% of the $41 million construction cost with generous leadership support from Lincoln Center Theater’s Board of Directors and Lincoln Center. The additional funds needed will be raised during the public phase of the Capital Campaign.
Lincoln Center Theater created LCT3 to offer new artists fully staged productions. Each year LCT3 will produce a season of new plays and musicals in its new home. LCT3 not only serves as a nurturing arena for artists to hone their skills but will also provide a stepping stone for these artists who, it is hoped, will continue their professional lives at LCTs larger venues.
Currently in its second season (where it has performed at The Duke on 42nd Street, a New 42nd Street® project, and where it will continue to perform until its new home at Lincoln Center is ready), LCT3’s past productions include Clay, a one-man hip-hop musical written and performed by Matt Sax, directed by Eric Rosen, and the plays Stunning by David Adjmi, directed by Anne Kaufmann, and What Once We Felt by Ann Marie Healy, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. Other LCT3 productions included Graceland a new play by Ellen Fairey, directed by Henry Wishcamper, and On The Levee a play with music, conceived and directed by Lear deBessonet, play by Marcus Gardley and music and lyrics by Todd Almond.
About Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center Theater is currently celebrating its 25th year with a season consisting entirely of new work. This fall LCT presented the New York and world premieres of Nathan Louis Jackson’s Broke-ology, directed by Thomas Kail, Sarah Ruhl’s In The Next Room or the vibrator play, directed by Les Waters, and What Once We Felt, This spring, in addition to the aforementioned Graceland and On The Levee, LCT will produce the American premiere of Andrew Bovell’s When The Rain Stops Falling, directed by David Cromer beginning Thursday, February 11 in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, followed by the world premiere of A.R Gurney’s The Grand Manner, to be directed by Mark Lamos, beginning Sunday, May 30. In addition, LCT’s Tony Award winning production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, directed by Bartlett Sher, continues its record-breaking run in the Vivian Beaumont Theater.
About the Tow Foundation
The Tow Foundation, founded in 1988, supports innovative projects and collaborative ventures where there is a shortage of both public and private funding and opportunities for breakthroughs, reforms and significant benefits to society. Investments have been made in areas of groundbreaking medical research, the performing arts, higher education, vulnerable families and juvenile justice system reform. http://www.towfoundation.org
Hugh Hardy Speaks
Aided by their extensive experience in design of cultural institutions, New York-based H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture has been working closely with Lincoln Center Theater to help create a special place. “This project’s core belief in attracting a new generation to Lincoln Center Theater is a brave commitment to the future of American Theater,” says Hugh Hardy, principal of H3. The rooftop addition complements the aesthetic and structural clarity of Saarinen’s original design with a carefully proportioned rectangular volume set against the existing stage tower. The veiled, transparent addition brings new life and activity to the roof of the Beaumont, while housing new artistic programming that moves Lincoln Center Theater into the future. H3, a leader in the planning and design of cultural institutions, is dedicated to creation of memorable and engaging public places.