Princeton University and the McCarter Theatre Center for the Performing Arts have joined forces to construct a second stage at the Tony-winning venue in Princeton, NJ. The 350-seat, proscenium-stage theatre, designed by New York-based architects Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, will be shared by Princeton University students and professional McCarter Theatre artists. Students will be in residence during the academic year, and the McCarter will take over the facility for productions during vacations and semester breaks. The expansion project, which complements the existing 1,100-seat main stage, also includes two rehearsal halls, offices, a lobby, and production support spaces. McCarter officials are aiming for an opening date of early 2001.
The centerpiece of the $8 million expansion will be the Roger S. Berlind Theatre, named in honor of the renowned Broadway producer and Princeton alumnus who recently pledged a gift of $3.5 million to support the project. At a November 30 press conference announcing his involvement, Berlind expressed his hope that the namesake theatre would become a forum for the premiere of works from a new generation of American playwrights. "I'd like to see a great new American play in this theatre, one that hasn't been written yet," he said. Emily Mann, McCarter artistic director since 1990, affirmed that the facility will enable the theatre to expand its role as a showcase for emerging playwrights and directors. "Essential to the growth of new work is an intimate space where we can create something up close and personal," she said. "It might be a reinterpretation of a Greek tragedy, or a new play by Athol Fugard."
The new stage and support spaces will also enhance the facilities for Princeton's program in theatre and dance, known for its emphasis on bringing students together with professional actors, playwrights, directors, dancers, designers, and critics. The addition will provide a larger and more flexible performance space, several classrooms, and areas for theatre technology instruction and production. Currently, the university is using a converted elementary school on Princeton's Nassau Street for small productions and senior-thesis shows.
Constructed in 1930 for the Princeton Triangle Club and built with funds from alumnus Thomas McCarter, Jr., the venue has long served as a popular pre-Broadway showcase and one of the country's leading regional theatres, presenting more than 200 theatre, dance, music, and concert performances each year. Since 1973, it has been operated by the independent McCarter Theatre Center, which received the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. McCarter and Princeton have enjoyed a close working relationship for many years. University faculty members have served as playwrights and directors in the McCarter Lab, an experimental workshop for new plays and playwrights. Artists performing at the McCarter have also taught classes at the university. The new Berlind Theatre is a priority of the Anniversary Campaign for Princeton, launched in 1995 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the signing of the university charter. Princeton now is seeking $3.2 million in additional private and corporate donations to co mplete the funding of the McCarter expansion.
Berlind, who composed songs for Triangle Club productions during his undergraduate years at Princeton (class of 52), originally planned on a career in songwriting; instead, in 1960, he founded a Wall Street brokerage firm that eventually became known as Lehman Brothers. He continues to serve that firm as a director, but in 1975 retired from active business responsibilities and returned to the theatre as a producer. His Broadway credits include Amadeus, Lettice and Lovage, The Real Thing, City of Angels, Passion, Steel Pier, and The Blue Room. His upcoming projects include David Hare's Amy's View, Patrick Marber's Closer, and the new Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical, Wise Guys.
The McCarter expansion also marks the return of another Princeton alumnus, architect Hugh Hardy (class of 54). Hardy's work has included the acclaimed restorations of the New Amsterdam and New Victory Theatres on 42nd Street, as well as the ongoing refurbishment of Radio City Music Hall. At press time, architectural plans for the McCarter project had not been released, but McCarter managing director Jeffrey Woodward said the back wall of the existing theatre would be removed and the new venue would be constructed on the south lawn behind it.
Recent acclaimed productions at the McCarter under Mann's reign have included Having Our Say--The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, written and directed by Mann; the American premieres of Athol Fugard's Valley Song and Edward Albee's Marriage Play; and the world premiere of Richard Greenberg's Safe as Houses. "Emily has created excellence at McCarter, and I don't know how she's done it with only one stage," Berlind said. "I hope that this theatre will move the program from excellence to preeminence." With a nod to his dual background as a Broadway veteran and Wall Street financier, he added, "I still remain a competitive animal."