Theatre for a New Audience’s First Home

Fort Greene in Downtown Brooklyn has become one of the most diverse and fast-developing neighborhoods in New York City.  Right in the middle of Fort Greene is the new BAM Cultural District.  And, in the heart of the District, just steps away from the Mark Morris Dance Center and the BAM Opera House, our Polonsky Shakespeare Center is poised to make its boldest dream come true. Anchored in the new Cultural District, Theatre for a New Audience contributes to the renaissance of Downtown Brooklyn and add to the quality of life in Fort Greene and New York City.  Since our birth in 1979, Theatre for a New Audience has always been itinerant – always dependent on the renting of available theatres in Manhattan (which are now disappearing). But, in Brooklyn, we have a future. Here, we’ve built our first home, a center for Shakespeare and classic drama – New York City’s first theatre built expressly for classical drama since the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center in 1965. Since that time, there’s a whole new set of ideas about how to produce these plays and how audiences interact with them. Our theatre’s architecture supports the performance of Shakespeare and the canon of great dramatic literature. It is a space for performances that take audiences out of themselves and into the realm of the greatest storytellers who ever lived. Acclaimed theatre architect Hugh Hardy has designed Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. Our home is a 27,500 square-foot, sustainable “green” building, both elegant and efficient.  Arising out of a gritty parking lot, it is mere steps from Flatbush Avenue and easily reachable by subway, car, or rail. The design of our Mainstage is inspired by the Cottesloe Theatre of Britain’s Royal National, a gorgeous, hardworking playhouse. It is a playground for imagination and unlike any other theatre in the metropolitan area. There’s a new appreciation for the kind of public space cultural organizations can provide. Simply coming to our theatre is part of the excitement. Audiences enter into a soaring, four-story lobby. Unlike the cramped, under-lit lobbies of conventional theatres, this is a lobby to enjoy. You can savor its café, choose a book, wander into the Arts Plaza, or step around the corner to the District’s Grand Plaza. Most audiences don’t have this quality of public space as part of their theatre-going experience, but ours do. Of course, the play’s the thing! And what a place to perform it and watch it happen. The 299-seat Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage is a full 35 feet tall! Instead of seating an audience going back on one plane, our two seating galleries wrap around the orchestra, bringing the people closer and creating an intimacy between stage and audience. The auditorium’s height – twice that of a typical Off-Broadway theatre – and trapped floor enables audiences to experience Shakespeare’s dramas with gods and spirits entering from above and below. And, immediately behind the Mainstage is a space, which, when opened, increases the stage’s depth; closed, it’s a studio for performances and rehearsals.The design combines an Elizabethan courtyard theatre with modern technology so that the stage and seating can be configured in multiple ways.  The levels of the auditorium floor and stage can be shifted so that productions can be conceived for proscenium, thrust, run-way or in-the-round.

Just as our stage can change shape, so our seating plan can be reduced to 180 seats or expanded to 299.  By experiencing different relationships between the stage and the audience, the playgoer is part of the artistic vision.  This flexibility allows artists to explore the possibilities of what theatre can be. Because of our love for language, our sublime acoustics will make every word sound as if spoken “for your ears only.”

In our building, we can make art – not just show it. Of course, when we’re not using our spaces, the studio and the Mainstage can be rented at affordable rates to other groups and artists, bringing much-needed theatre space to the community.

We started construction in April 2011 and opened our home and launched our first season here in fall 2013.

Pictured above: Polonsky Shakespeare Center, photo ©David Sundberg/Esto.