NEW YORK (AP) -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, director Julie Taymor and actor Mark Rylance gathered Tuesday in Brooklyn to help cut the ribbon for a jewel box-sized, shiny new theater, the first permanent home for Theatre for a New Audience in its 34 year existence.
It is the city's first new theater designed expressly for Shakespeare and classic drama since 1965, and is the first permanent home for the itinerant company, which was founded in 1979 by Jeffrey Horowitz. He estimates it will attract an audience of between 30,000-to-40,000, many public school children.
"Friends, Romans, Brooklynites," the mayor intoned inside the $69 million theater, which was created with public and private pledges. "Lend me your ears. We come not to praise Shakespeare, but to stage him."
In addition to a 299-seat main theater, the 27,500-square-foot company's home also houses a 50-seat rehearsal space and a lobby cafe. It overlooks a new public garden plaza and sits along a walking path between the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Opera House and Harvey Theater. The city pledged some $34 million to the project.
Designed by Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, the new theater has a large glass facade, gunmetal gray panels, a 35-foot-tall main stage, a second-floor lobby and a central staircase. The building went up in a former parking lot and has been named the Polonsky Shakespeare Center after a gift from the Polonsky Foundation.
The new theater boasts an ability to morph into seven different stage and seating configurations. Hardy said building it posed an interesting challenge: "How do you make a small building important?" The answer was to tilt the square structure and help it stand out by using glass and shiny metal.
"I can imagine a child coming in here and saying, 'Yeah, but it's empty. It's got nothing in it,'" said Rylance, the two-time Tony Award-winning English actor who is alternating between starring in "Twelfth Night" and "Richard III" on Broadway. "It's wonderful for plays. It doesn't have a character that forces itself on you. It's a neutral space that is waiting for the words of the actors to fill it."
Taymor, of "The Lion King" and "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" fame, has accepted the theater's invitation to direct the official 2013 inaugural production, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Taymor has already directed four plays for the troupe, including Carlo Gozzi's "The Green Bird," which moved to Broadway in 2000.
Taymor has already been hard at work getting "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and her cast of 36 ready for its Nov. 2 opening. "I've been in the dark. Oh, I shouldn't have said that," she joked, referring to her rocky ride with the comic book musical.
"I love being here. It's the perfect play to open this theater because it is a blessing of the house," she said. "The theater is flexible and it's small and intimate. How many times do you get a space that's dedicated to that and dedicated to experimentation?"
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