WASHINGTON — A new era in D.C. theater dawns this week with the debut of the Shakespeare Theater Company’s new $89 million Sidney Harman Hall, a sleek and functional space that’s certain to elevate the profile of the Bard and his buddies in the nation’s capital.
The 750-seat house consolidates the emergence of the Shakespeare Theater as the city’s largest theater company, with a $19 million operating budget and a dramatically expanded mission. It also will become an important new downtown venue for medium-sized arts orgs of all stripes, and a likely destination for tourists.
Artistic director Michael Kahn calls the new facility the cornerstone of his much anticipated “Shakespeare Theater for the 21st century.” It bows here in grand style Oct. 1 with a gala fund-raiser expected to raise $2 million that will feature performances from Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and actress Patti LuPone.
Harman Hall is part of an 11-story building co-owned by the company with the Intl. Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. Designed by Canadian architect Jack Diamond, the theater features a versatile stage that can be rapidly configured to proscenium, thrust or semi-arena. The first several rows of seats are on movable wagons that can accommodate three-quarter or “in-the-round” viewing.
The facility was named in honor of businessman Sidney Harman, who with his wife, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), donated $20 million toward the project. Together with the company’s existing 451-seat Lansburgh Theater, the complex has been renamed the Harman Center for the Arts.
The new mandate broadens the scope of an org that seeks to be considered the country’s premier classic theater. It also is slated to be a multipurpose performing arts org that will rent out its two spaces when not in use. To date, it has partnered with Washington Ballet, Washington Performing Arts Society, CityDance Ensemble and Summer Opera Theater Company, among other local orgs.
It also will expand its season from five productions to eight, and will present periodic repertory perfs, so that visitors can catch several related plays on a weekend. To demonstrate its new vision, STC opens Harman Hall with two plays by Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe while launching the Lansburgh with “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Finished on time and substantially on budget, the project owes its success to a D.C. government that donated $20 million toward the effort, managing director Nicholas Goldsborough says.
“We now have the opportunity to present other productions that will greatly expand the kind of material we’re doing,” Goldsborough continues. That will mean more foreign-language plays in new translations, as well as American classics, he predicts. The org also aspires to become a presenter that will support appearances by national and international arts orgs, and perhaps tours by other members of the League of Resident Theaters from around the country.