Two arts buildings — the century-old Brooklyn Academy of Music and the more recent Mark Morris Dance Center — never seemed quite enough to merit that corner of Fort Greene the name of Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District, as City Hall continually insisted on referring to it over the years. But with the Oct. 21 unveiling of the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, the new Ashland Place home of the 34-year-old itinerant nonprofit Theatre for a New Audience, Kings County can truly boast that it has an artistic center.
Stand inside the lobby of the graceful, glass-faced box, designed by renowned theatre architect Hugh Hardy, and you can easily spot BAM to the right, not a hundred yards away. Stand in front of the theatre, in the spacious plaza, dotted with circular red benches, that fronts and surrounds the building, and the BAM Harvey Theatre on Fulton Street and the Morris Dance Center on Lafayette are visible as well.
"We talked a lot about transparency," Jeffrey Horowitz, the artistic director of TFANA, said, referring to the three stories of glass that make up the facade of theatre. "The theatre is not a citadel."
Behind the facade, visible to passersby, is a large, colorful banner depicting Shakespeare's familiar face. The abstract rendering of The Bard's visage was created by the famed graphic designer Milton Glaser, best known as the creator of the "I ♥ NY" logo. Inside are other pointillistic portraits of Shakespeare, no two the same. "Shakespeare comes into focus as you bring him into focus," explained Horowitz of the pixilated painting style. Because he reasoned that there was no definitive image of Shakespeare, Glaser created multiple artworks. "All these portraits are reflective of artistic diversity," added Horowitz.
Horowitz said the Glaser contributions were long in coming. He first asked Glaser to design something for the company in 1989. The artist replied, "If you're still around in 20 years, I'll do a poster for you." In 2009, Horowitz returned and held Glaser to his word.
Horowitz is good at waiting. He's waited 13 years for TFANA's permanent home to be built. Never possessed of its own space, the company began searching for a permanent home in Manhattan in the late 1990s, but nothing seemed right. Then Horowitz was invited by BAM director Harvey Lichtenstein to meet him in his Brooklyn office. There, Lichtenstein encouraged Horowitz and his associate, Ted Rogers, to give up on Manhattan, which was "chockablock" already with theatre companies, and move his troupe to Brooklyn.
Many delays ensued, and the plot of land on which TFANA was to build — city park property — changed three times. (Frank Gehry was once set to collaborate with Hardy on the structure.) But, step by step, the project got done. Ground was broken in 2011. "The government, the donors, the staff, my friends, my family, they never gave up," said Horowitz, with evident wonder in his voice. "They got very frustrated, but they never gave up."
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