Theatre for a New Audience gets a new theater, audience

The Shakespearean troupe, Theatre for a New Audience, finally broke ground on its long-delayed theater near the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week. Joining Borough President Markowitz were (from left) the company’s founding director Jeffrey Horowitz, Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, theater Chairman Ted Rogers, failed “Spiderman” director Julie Taymor and director/actor/fashion plate Mark Rylance.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A renowned Shakespearean troupe will finally have a home in Fort Greene, thanks to the city’s hefty $34-million contribution to move the Manhattan-based company into its first freestanding theater.

Theatre for a New Audience broke ground last Friday on its long-delayed, Hugh Hardy-designed glass playhouse on Ashland Place in the heart of the BAM Cultural District, Brooklyn’s slowly emerging answer to Lincoln Center.

A panoply of locals pols — plus failed “Spider-Man” director Julie Taymor, who will helm the troupe’s first production in spring, 2013 — were on hand for the June 24 ceremony for the $48-million, 299-seat theater.

“We’re walking on air,” said Dorothy Ryan, managing director for the troupe. “The cultural district has created a great opportunity for us. This area has the opportunity to be the new Off-Broadway.”

The theater — a glass box with gun-metal gray sides in a former parking lot near Fulton Street — will overlook a new public plaza and feature event and rehearsal studios and a lobby cafe. Inside, seating and staging will be flexible, the 35-foot-tall main stage will have a trapped door, and state-of-the-art acoustics will allow spectators to hear whispered lines.

The city contributed $34 million for the theater’s construction, including $1.5 million allocated by Borough President Markowitz — covering 70 percent of the total cost. The company will have a long-term lease with the city, with the option of purchasing the building after 30 years.

The Hugh Hardy-designed Theatre for a New Audience will overlook an all-new public plaza on Ashland Place.
Theatre for a New Audience

“Theatre for a New Audience may have spent nearly 40 years wandering in the glittering desert known as Manhattan, but you weren’t lost, because now you’ve found your way to the big stage in Brooklyn,” Markowitz told a crowd that included Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, Tony-winning actor Mark Rylance and former Brooklyn Academy of Music President Harvey Lichtenstein, who set the BAM Cultural District vision into motion a decade ago.

The massive amount of city funding is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to commit $100 million to the cultural district over the next few years.

Initial designs for the theater were unveiled in 2005, but the soaring project’s budget and three location changes kept the troupe without its dream home. Plans for its new design, sans original starchitect Frank Gehry, were presented last year, but Taymor’s involvement in the first show is a new development.

Taymor directed four plays for the troupe, including Carlo Gozzi’s “The Green Bird,” which moved to Broadway in 2000, and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

In addition to the theater, other city-funded venues in the BAM Cultural District include the BAM Harvey Theater on Rockwell Place and upcoming renovations to the old Strand Theater on Fulton Street, which will be home to the organization behind the “Celebrate Brooklyn” concert series.

This Ashland Place lot will be home to the Theatre for a New Audience in 2013.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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