Vivian Beaumont Theater

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Vivian Beaumont Theater
Lincoln Center Theater
Address 150 West 65th Street
New York City
United States
Coordinates 40°46′24″N 73°59′03″W / 40.773472°N 73.984028°W / 40.773472; -73.984028
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Owner Lincoln Center Theater
Operator Lincoln Center Theater
Type Broadway
Capacity 1200
Construction
Opened 1965
Architect Eero Saarinen
Website
www.lct.org

The Vivian Beaumont Theater is a theater located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex at 150 West 65th Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It is New York City's only Broadway-class theater (thus making its productions eligible for the Tony Awards) that is not located in the Theater District near Times Square. The building was one of the last structures designed by Finnish mid-century architect Eero Saarinen, and is the current home of Lincoln Center Theater.

History[edit]

The theater is named after Vivian Beaumont Allen, a former actress and heiress to the May Department Stores fortune, who donated $3 million for a building to house a permanent dramatic repertory company at Lincoln Center in 1958. Mrs. Allen died in 1962, and after several delays and estimated construction costs of $9.6 million, the Vivian Beaumont opened on October 21, 1965 with a revival of the 1835 play Danton's Death by Georg Büchner. The cast included James Earl Jones and Stacy Keach.

From 1965–66, the theater was operated by the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, under the direction of Jules Irving and Herbert Blau; Blau, who directed Danton's Death, resigned that first year, while Irving remained as sole director through 1972. From 1973 until 1977, it was managed by the New York Shakespeare Festival, under the direction of Joseph Papp. Following a three-year period of inactivity, it reopened in 1980 under the auspices of the Lincoln Center Theater Company, directed by Richmond Crinkley. He had the ad hoc assistance of a five-member directorate consisting of Woody Allen, Sarah Caldwell, Liviu Ciulei, Robin Phillips, and Ellis Rabb, with Edward Albee as the company playwright.[1]

A contemplated $6.5 million interior reconstruction of the Vivian Beaumont led to its being closed between 1981 and 1983, but these plans, which would have changed its configuration from a thrust stage to a more traditional theater with a proscenium arch, were finally abandoned. However, other substantial improvements to the theater's acoustics and technical facilities have been made over the years.

On rare occasions the theater has been rented to commercial producers, such as Alexander H. Cohen and Hildy Parks, who presented Peter Brook's production of La Tragedie de Carmen in 1983.

Since 1985, the Vivian Beaumont has been operated by Lincoln Center Theater (now under the direction of André Bishop and Bernard Gersten).

In the lower level of the building is the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, originally known as the Forum and renamed in 1972,[2] an intimate, 299-seat venue in which Lincoln Center Theater presents its Off-Broadway-style plays and musicals.

In 2012, Lincoln Center Theater opened the Claire Tow Theater on the Beaumont's roof, a new third stage that features work by emerging playwrights, directors and designers, and for which tickets are only $20 each. It operates with an annual budget of about $2 million and stages three to four productions a year. The auditorium is named for Claire Tow, whose husband, Leonard, a board member, donated $7.5 million.[3]

The Vivian Beaumont Theater is the only Broadway theater built outside of the Times Square theater district, meaning that the shows performed there are qualified for Tony Awards. When the theater was first built, it was supposed to be similar to the National Theater of Great Britain, however it was not as successful in its earlier years. Many producers and directors tried to put on successful plays, but theater lovers were not compelled to come and see any of the shows. Eventually in 1978 the Beaumont Theater had to close Broadway productions for several years because they were so unsuccessful. From 1978 to 1985 the theater was being leased to producers, unused, or renovated. In this period of time where the theater was dark, a myth started circulating that if the Beaumont failed as a Broadway theater once more, then the lower levels would be filled with cement and the theater would be turned into a skating rink. [4]

Eventually the architect Eero Saarinen and set designer Jo Mielziner took over the theater and realized it was not the plays being put on that were bad, but rather the theater’s architecture that was horrible. The theater had a thrust stage and audience members were sat almost perpendicular to the stage, unable to see what was happening on large sections of the stage. Saarinen and Mielziner wanted to make the seating design flexible. Their ideal architecture plan was to have a movable thrust stage so that there could be a thrust stage, but if the directors or producers did not want it, then the stage could be moved backwards and that area could be filled with seating. However, their plan could not work and the theater had to stay exclusively a thrust stage. Saarinen and Mielziner still made a 6.5 million dollar renovation from 1981 to 1983 and the theater was turned into a membership-based theater. The renovations included improved acoustics, better sightlines for audience members, less steep aisles, 57 additional seats, and improved handicap access. [4][5]

The theater reopened under new management in 1985, which is the same management as it is today. The theater yet again underwent an 8 million dollar renovation in 1996. After the renovations were made a director named Bartlett Sher came to the Beaumont and started a new generation of directors. He noticed that with a thrust stage small details and the broad-spectrum compliment each other. The more detailed and intricate a set piece, or costume was the more likely he would put it on the thrust stage. He also placed intimate scenes on the thrust. The more broad a set piece was the more likely he would put in behind the proscenium arch. This created a stark contrast between what the bigger picture is and what the fine tuned details are. It is appealing to audience members. The Beaumont is now putting on successful shows regularly. Audience members now enjoy how different the Beaumont is from other Broadway theaters; it has stadium seating and the thrust stage, it is similar to a glorified, elegant gymnasium. [4]

Design[edit]

The structure was designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen, and Jo Mielziner was responsible for the design of the stage and interior. The travertine-clad roof houses stacks of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts,[6] designed by Gordon Bunshaft.[7]

The Vivian Beaumont differs from traditional Broadway theaters because of its use of stadium seating and its thrust stage configuration.

Located on the Vivian Beaumont’s planted green roof, the Claire Tow Theater seats just 112 people in a fixed configuration.[7] Designed by Hugh Hardy and built at a cost of $42 million, the two-story, 23,000-square-foot glass box has the same width as the glass base of the Beaumont[8] and also houses rehearsal space, dressing quarters, offices, and a pocket lobby with a bar. The structure is wrapped inside a grille of aluminum louvers that help screen out the sun.[6] In designing the interior, Hardy used simple materials, stained oak for the lobby floors and walnut for the theater’s sloping walls.[3] The bar features Overture (2012), a sculpture by Kiki Smith.[8]

Production history[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]