Theatre for a New Audience Begins a New Era With Opening of Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn

By Stuart Miller
24 Oct 2013

The hope, Horowitz said, is that the plaza, with an "informal café" overseen by restaurateur Danny Meyer that will be serving food and cocktails even after shows have ended, will become a destination and which will help entice new theatregoers. Enhancing that connection between the plaza and the theatre is the 60-foot high multi-tiered lobby of all glass. "It creates a transparency," Horowitz said, adding that the form also has a function because the triple-paned glass will lower heating and cooling costs.

The theatre itself aspires to be "both epic and intimate," Horowitz said. To achieve that, he followed the style of an Elizabethan courtyard theatre in which the seating goes up higher by levels instead of further back. "This creates a sense of community too, because the audience is seeing other members of the audience in addition to the stage," he said, adding that the structure — with the back row and the top row equidistant from the stage — forces actors to lift up, to open their chests, which creates a better sound. (The 35-foot high grid is far higher than most Off-Broadway houses, allowing for extra flexibility.)

Of course, we don't live in Elizabethan times, so Horowitz and his team — Hugh Hardy's H3, consultant Jean-Guy Lecat, and theatre Projects Consultants — found ways to protect the theatre from sirens, subways and other side distractions. The building itself is wrapped in a curtain of concrete and it sits on special acoustic pads, while the theatre balances wood and acoustic mesh.

Horowitz insisted the house be designed based on the Cottesloe Theatre at London's National Theatre, because he wanted a space that was as adaptable as possible. The stage can be reconfigured seven different ways, from a proscenium to the round to thrust to runway; it can be a 99-seat studio or a 299-seat theatre; the fascia pops off balcony so a director can put the audience on the stage and perform in the balcony. "Any part of the theatre can be used for the performance and any part can be for the performance," Horowitz said. "The room isn't prejudiced."

One reason he wanted Taymor to direct the first show is "she will use just about every inch of this space and she will inspire others about how to use the room."

Taymor said that for her first production she has runways extending out from the balcony, so performers can hang off the rafters and she will have performers make entrances from above and below.