The Playgoer: Philly Space Unveiling

Custom Search

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Philly Space Unveiling

"When the company[Philadelphia Theatre Company], which specializes in new American plays, moves into the Symphony House condo building in October 2007, it will be the fourth new theater venue to open on, or just off, Broad Street since it was dubbed the Avenue of the Arts by the Rendell administration. While PTC won't have a free-standing building, as the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music do, its 365-seat space on the corner of Lombard Street has been designed by Philadelphia's KieranTimberlake Associates to grab public attention. It will be the first and only one of the six venues on Philadelphia's theater row to give passersby a clear front-row seat on the lobby action."

- from a Philadelphia Inquirer architecture review of the newly announced plans for the "Suzanne Roberts Theatre" on Broad Street.

I don't think the answer to theatre's problems is more high-tech spaces appealing to the gentrification crowd....However, I cannot deny an admiration for any local government designating an "Avenue of the Arts." If only more of our declining cities saw the wisdom in using the arts, and theatre in particular, to revive their abandoned downtowns. Just because all the stores have closed from competition from mega-malls, doesn't mean you can't still have some culture.

But as for this particular piece of real estate, the mission indeed does seem pretty gentrifying on a few different levels:

The stage at the $22 million Suzanne Roberts Theatre will be outfitted with a traditional proscenium arch, a feature that will serve as the frame for a full curtain and will also camouflage the flyhouse that stores the lights, pulley ropes and scenery high above the stage.

Taken together, these design elements represent a significant departure from purely functional spaces like the Arden, and a return to a more formal kind of theater experience. Ever since Bertolt Brecht denounced stage gimmickry in the 1920s, many new theaters have been designed to downplay the make-believe. Stages became open platforms, leaving actors without the refuge of the wings or a curtain. Theater hardware was exposed, so that patrons saw exactly how all the tricks were done.

By contrast, the PTC stage includes 20-foot wings. By cocooning its main theater in voluptuous colors and fabrics, the PTC is signaling that it wants patrons to sink into their plush seats and suspend disbelief for the length of the performance.

Nice to see an architecture critic--Inga Saffron--fairly well versed in theatre, by the way.

No comments: