Where Art Thou Romeo?

Aug. 22, 2007

In the Shakespeare Theatre Company's new Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

The 800-seat theatre designed by Toronto-based Diamond and Schmitt Architects will occupy the first five and one-half floors of an new 11-story office tower in downtown Washington, D.C. The theatre's footprint is aligned perpendicular to F Street and allows for maximum street exposure.

Principal exterior materials include precast concrete, glass, and metal spandrel panel. The street-level lobby entrance allows for a direct connection to the street life. A five-story glass facade features an 8-foot projected "bay window" extending outward, acting like a screen or theatrical scrim, hanging over the F Street sidewalk below. Through the extended window bay, the activity of the theatre lobbies is visible to the street below.

The bay window projection inherently creates a sheltered entrance to the street-level lobby. Just under the projection, is an animated marquee that will have the capacity to project changing images and information regarding current and future events.

The street-level entrance lobby consists of the theatre's box office and gift shop. The orchestra lobby level is extended to meet the glass facade "bay window." The balcony lobby level is cut short of the facade and becomes a mezzanine that looks down to the orchestra lobby below, visually connecting the audiences on both levels.

The new facility, along with the The Shakespeare Theatre's existing home -- the Lansburgh Theatre -- will constitute the Harman Center for the Arts. The new theatre, designed to address The Shakespeare Theatre's expanded programming mission, will allow for a wide variety of staging configurations -- proscenium, thrust, seimarena, or bare -- as well as for the presentation of dance and music events.

Simple, technically advanced stagecraft include a retractable proscenium that can fold up like a venetian blind for storage in the fly space; a series of seating units on movable wagons for three-quarter on "in-the-round" viewing; a stage floor extension over a small lowered pit to create a thrust stage; and a series of movable acoustical wall panels, arranged in a semicircle in front of the proscenium, which renders an environment for chamber music or solo recital concerts.

Acoustically, the space has been rendered for the spoken word, and also can be esily adapted for chamber music as well as live, amplified, or recorded music. A series of "suspended bridges" connects the lobby areas to the performance areas. This separation completely isolates the performance area from the rest of the building. The interior theatre space floats on large rubber pads that absorb ground-borne noise vibration from underground services and nearby subway traffic, protecting the acoustical integrity of the performance environment.

The interior performance area is defined on three sides by a two-level colonnade. Elements of the colonnade structure, such as columns and guard panels, are removable for flexibility to incorporate stage sets. The second-level colonnade connects directly to the audience balcony, allowing for multiple exits and entrances from the audience to the performance area.

Set in between support pilasters of the performance and audience areas is a series of panels or screens constructed of wood strips that differ in width and depth to create diffusion, spreading the sound. Automatically adjustable absorbent curtains, capable of being programmed at various levels depending on the acoustical need, are set behind the wood strip panels and are masked from the spectator's view.

Suspended over the performance/audience space is a catwalk for lighting instruments. Set within the rectangular catwalk are adjustable acoustical panels, that, like the acoustical curtains, are fully adjustable.

Balcony guard panels on either side of the stage are adjustable to tip forward in the trust stage set-up. This modification wil improve unamplified speech clarity in this configuration.

Contact: Louise Errington, C4 Consulting, 310-899-2727, [email protected]

Photo: Scott Suchman Photography

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