Lincoln Center Theater Gets Its Third Theatre at Long Last

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16 May 2012

Andre Bishop
Andre Bishop
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Lincoln Center Theater this week joined New York's three-theatre club—members of this exclusive group include the Roundabout Theatre Company, the Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and, most recently, Signature Theatre Company—with the unveiling of its latest space, the rooftop aerie christened the Claire Tow Theater.

The Tow joins LCT's long-standing duo of spaces, the Broadway-large Vivian Beaumont and the more intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse. The two-story Tow actually sits, penthouse-like, atop the Beaumont, and is accessible via an elevator in the Beaumont lobby.

The Tow will be home to LCT3, Lincoln Center Theater's already up-and-running (it commenced in 2008) programming initiative dedicated to new works by new, and often younger, playwrights and directors. The new space's debut production will be Slowgirl by Greg Pierce and directed by Anne Kauffman. It will begin performances on June 4. Past LCT3 productions have included The Coward, Stunning, When I Come to Die and 4,000 Miles, a hit that later transferred to the Newhouse, where it is currently playing.

The theatre, which was designed by Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, is named after the wife of longtime LCT board member Leonard Tow.

The dream of a third theatre is an old one, according to longstanding LCT artistic director Andre Bishop. It was, in fact, written into his contract when he assumed the post of artistic director in the early '90s. But, he got busy, as artistic directors do, and the plan was put on hold.

"About ten years in, I felt that we were somehow falling artistically behind," said Bishop at a May 15 press event at the Tow. "Like many theatres, we had developed a group of writers and directors and designers who worked with us. But it wasn't working as well as it should have been. Some of those artists went elsewhere, some stopped writing, a few of them died. I thought we better start thinking about the future, because we can get by for X amount of years, but we're going to run into trouble."

A rendering of the theatre exterior

He began to meet with some of the young artists who ran small theatre companies in New York City and soliciting their opinions. "I thought people will think, 'Oh, Lincoln Center, now they're trying to be us.' I was expecting a fair amount of cynicism. I found the opposite of this. People were amazed Lincoln Center was going to open its doors."

One thing that all the artists Bishop spoke to agreed on was that the new theatre should be at the Upper West Side complex, not at a different location. "Everybody said, "It must be at Lincoln Center. We don't want to be the little offshoot.'"

Placing the theatre on the roof was not LCT's first idea. There was talk of fitting it into the spacious backstage of the Beaumont, which is as big as a football field. "But then we started doing shows like Coast of Utopia and South Pacific, and we didn't want to destroy that backstage." They contemplated putting it outside, near where the cars drive in, but the Metropolitan Opera general manager Joe Volpe objected, saying that space was used by stagehands for smoking breaks. "I thought, 'Shouldn't they maybe be backstage and not outside smoking?'" remembered Bishop. Finally, "somehow we came on the roof because it was the only place to be. It was here."


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