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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the September 10,
2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Raising the Berlind Curtain
An actor dreams of holding an audience in the palm
of his hands. So, too, does an artistic director.
Emily Mann, who arrived in Princeton in 1990 to become artistic
of McCarter Theater, described her vision of a theater that actors
and audiences could share in intimacy to architect Hugh Hardy of Hardy
Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, designers of the new Roger S. Berlind
"I cupped my hand and pushed them towards Hugh," says Mann,
"and I said, `I want the audience to feel that they are in the
same room as the actors.’"
The result is a brand-new space — already charged with that
magic" — in which the performers can address the audience
The Berlind Theater opens its first season with the 2003 Pulitzer
Prize-winning play "Anna in the Tropics" by Nilo Cruz,
by a high-profile cast. Previews began on Tuesday, September 9, and
opening night is set for Wednesday, September 17. The drama runs to
"I’ve wanted a second stage since I arrived 13 years ago,"
says Mann. "And it was Roger Berlind who made it all happen. He
put the pieces in place." Mann emphasizes that the Berlind
now emerging from a five-year planning period, is not a "second
stage" but a second mainstage.
Roger Berlind, the man whose name has just been affixed to the front
of the theater in brass lettering, is an eminent theater producer
and winner of more than a dozen Tony Awards. A member of the Princeton
Class of ’52 and an alumnus of its Triangle Club and Theatre Intime,
he got the new project under way in 1998 with a $3.5 million gift.
The Berlind’s two-and-a-half year design process was completed and
approved in July, 2001, and groundbreaking took place on September
20, 2001. Over the course of the project the cost of the theater was
revised upward from an estimated $8 million to $14.1 million, and
its opening date moved forward from early 2001 to 2003. Funding came
equally from Berlind, Princeton University, and McCarter’s fundraising
campaign that included 1,800 individual contributions.
Even now, a few days before the Berlind’s celebratory September 8
"curtain-raising," the theater’s streetscape is still a major
construction zone. Managing director Jeffrey Woodward explains how,
working with the borough, the university is reconfiguring the wide,
often lawless expanse of University Place, narrowing it for a calming
effect on traffic, and placing a new crosswalk with a
light between the Berlind entry and the Dinky station.
The Berlind, which can seat between 350 and 380 patrons, is not a
conventional proscenium, because it does not have a proscenium arch;
it is called an end-stop stage. Its banked seats are all placed
in front of a low, spacious stage. The Berlind complements McCarter’s
historic 1,100-seat mainstage, renamed in September, 2000, the Marie
and Edward Matthews Theater, or "The Matthews," as it is now
"McCarter’s 1,100-seat house is awfully wide and awfully long
and the stage itself is awfully high," says Mann. "It’s an
old-fashioned Broadway house, but the stage is even deeper than most
Broadway houses. I do love it and we’ve done great work there and
will continue to." Among the intimate dramas that Mann has
presented in the behemoth Matthews stage is Harold Pinter’s
drama "Betrayal" and Nilo Cruz’s "Two Sisters and a
The original McCarter Theater was built in 1929 with a $250,000 gift
from alumnus Thomas N. McCarter, Class of 1888. Its original function
was as a permanent home for the university’s lively Triangle Club.
The club, still going strong as it enters its 113th annual season,
opened the custom-built theater in 1930.
During the 1930s and ’40s, McCarter’s 1,000-plus seats,
central location, and good production facilities made it a favorite
for pre-Broadway tryouts and post-Broadway tours. Thornton Wilder’s
"Our Town" and William Inge’s "Bus Stop" both had
their world premieres at McCarter. In 1973 the university terminated
its direct operation of McCarter, which re-emerged as a separate
The Berlind represents a new partnership between McCarter and the
Princeton University Program in Theater and Dance, directed by Michael
Cadden. Heading a department that is housed in the old Princeton
School at 185 Nassau Street, Cadden was instrumental in working with
Roger Berlind on upgrading the department. They shared the notion
of making Princeton’s performing arts department more competitive
with its traditional rival, and a much-vaunted training ground for
American theater, Yale University. The Berlind will also serve as
the principal performance venue for the Program in Theater and Dance.
McCarter’s Gothic inspired design is handsomely embellished —
during daylight hours at least — by its warm-hued fieldstone
that takes on an iridescent glint in sunlight. Its cathedral-like
appearance (visitors to town often think it’s a converted cathedral)
is further promoted by a 130-foot-high tower that once housed a warren
of dressing rooms on five floors.
Hardy, known as the premiere architect for the performing arts,
McCarter’s existing brick-and-stone exterior as "an essay in
masonry." And he has succeeded in upholding its stylistic legacy
while observing the hard realities of modern construction costs. Using
textured bricks in diamond weave patterns, and breaking up the
masses with cast stone parapets, belt courses, and lintels, the new
Berlind Theater nestles up comfortably against its older sibling.
It even has a small tower of its own — housing the house elevators
— that complements the original big Gothic tower.
A member of Princeton’s Class of 1954 and, like Berlind, a Triangle
Club alumnus, Hardy and his New York firm have been responsible for
such high-profile theater projects as the Radio City Music Hall
the New Victory Theater, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey
and Rose Cinemas. Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater, a modest 350-seat
theater that sits across the road from the gargantuan new Kimmel
provided Mann with another Hardy model.
At the outset of the project, both architect Hardy and others assumed
McCarter would be building a large blackbox theater that could be
configured in different ways for different needs.
"What we need is a second mainstage," says Mann, explaining
that the new space will be suited to new intimate drama as well as
the classics. "We learned from the 1960s and ’70s that those
stages are not good for everything," she says.
"Most of the theaters designed to provide total flexibility
worked," says managing director Woodward. Features that once
attractive, like reconfiguring seating for different productions,
have proved both impractical and prohibitively expensive in labor
costs. Rather than run concurrent seasons in its two theaters, Mann
has chosen to divide the theater series between the two stages,
each play to the performance space that best suits it. And for the
first time, interest in the her annual drama season will be allowed
to bud and blossom: the much smaller venue allows for much longer
runs, enabling theatergoers to help sell the shows through
A bank of glass doors leads to the theater’s entry lobby
at street level, and inside, the theater has an attractive, somewhat
industrial look. Forms and surfaces are utilitarian but also colorful.
Particle wood wall finishes are in playful hues of salmon, mauve,
and terra cotta, secured with visible screws. Handrails are painted
pike. Hardy went for a sense of utility and bare-nails, to reflect
the theater’s experimental mission. He also saved the big money to
spend on state-of-the art acoustics and technical features.
The entry lobby houses a same-day ticket counter, a university seminar
room, and the Berlind’s two spacious rehearsal rooms that are tucked
under the auditorium seating. The Berlind auditorium and stage are
located on the second and third floors of the building, up the hill,
so to speak. The new stage has been built back-to-back with the
stage, making both accessible to a shared loading dock and even
rooms. Total acoustic separation between the Matthews, the Berlind,
and the rehearsal studios will allow McCarter to utilize all three
spaces simultaneously. This fall there are already more than 25 dates
scheduled when both mainstages will be in use. "Please leave
of time for parking" is the management’s current mantra.
The Berlind’s two generously large, column-less rehearsal studios
match the dimensions of the Matthews theater stage. Both studios
lighting and technical grids suitable for performance as well as large
windows and sprung wood floors.
Rehearsal room windows that allow natural light to stream into the
space are a "glorious" addition to the design championed by
Mann. Long-time professional experience tells her that she and her
colleagues have spent far too many days — often in eight to twelve
hour stretches — in rehearsal studios that are invariably located
in the theater basement. At the Berlind, the company of actors can
have their spirits raised by the sight of sunny skies outdoors —
or perhaps dampened by Princeton’s inimitable gloomy drizzle that
preceded the opening of "Anna in the Tropics."
In the upper lobby, four large lantern windows look out onto the
"South Lawn," shielded from a direct view of University Place
traffic by new plantings of mature trees.
Great acoustics and state-of-the-art technical systems were a must
for the new design and Woodward says the staff is well-pleased by
the results so far. Woodward also likes the new house’s range of
and wheelchair seating, some of which is placed in back of the house,
but much of which occupies its much more attractive middle rows.
Ticket prices at the Berlind appear slightly higher ($30 to $48) than
the Matthews because all its seats are considered comparable to the
Matthews premium and front orchestra sections. The good news is that
McCarter still offers excellent discounts on same-day rush tickets
and rock-bottom prices for patrons age 25 and under.
"Performance is about the connection with the audience. Now the
actors can easily make eye contact with every single audience member.
You get that sense of having two hands cupped together," says
features the 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner. To Sunday, October 19.
comedy, set during a winter country weekend. Previews begin October
15 for the show that runs to November 2.
effervescent adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s turn-of-the-century
novella, directed by her husband, Stephen Wadsworth. Previews begin
January 6 for the show that runs to February 15.
an unconventional production of G.B. Shaw’s "Candide," first
produced in 1897. Previews begin March 23 for the show that runs to
of the 1956 Lerner and Loewe classic, reconceived for just 10
and two pianos. Previews begin May 4 for the show that runs to June
"Color Me Dark," the story of a 14-year-old African-American
girl and her family’s journey north from Tennessee to Chicago in 1919.
Previews begin November 5 for the show that runs to November 16.
staring in the musical that was the hit of Crossroads’ season in the
late 1980s. Backed up by five musicians, Reaves-Phillips portrays
five great female singers: Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters,
Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Mahalia Jackson. Previews begin
December 3 for the show that runs to December 21.
storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas in a panoply of tales, fables, comedy,
and folklore from the West Indies, North America, and West Africa.
Previews begin February 4 for the show that runs to February 15.
of the new South Africa. Written by Duma Ndlovu and Steve Fisher,
the show is a hybrid of contemporary and traditional musical forms.
Show will premiere in South Africa in July. Previews begin April 28
for the show that runs to May 9.
George Street Playhouse
of Charles Evered’s play about the birth of the CIA. David Saint
Opening night is Friday, September 12 for the show that runs to
drama about the love between an American man and a Turkish woman after
September 11, 2001, directed by David Saint and starring Cigdem Onat.
Previews begin October 14 for the show that runs to November 9.
about two diplomats, one Soviet and one American, negotiating their
way through the Cold War; Ethan McSweeny directs. Previews begin
18 for the show that runs to December 14.
young nun charged with murder in the death of a newborn baby. Suzzanne
Douglas stars in the production directed by Ted Sod. Previews begin
January 6 for the show that runs to February 1.
about two couples on Fire Island during the Fourth of July weekend.
Previews begin February 10 for the show that runs to March 7.
of "Rent." Previews begin March 16 for the show that runs
to April 11.
609-392-0766. $20 & $25.
new play, set in the present day, about an Afghan-American doctor
who returns to her homeland to volunteer at an orphanage where she
comes under attack from a rogue warlord. Desperate to save her country
and her young charges, she finds she must take part in an unexpected
battle. Part of ticket sales goes to International Orphan Care.
begin October 9 for the show that runs to November 2.
today. Three innovative and funny solo shows by Robin Hirsch, Cecelia
Antoinette, and Cynthia Adler run in repertory, Thursdays through
Sundays, February 5 to 29.
to Mahalia Jackson by famed gospel and jazz singer Queen Esther Marrow
and collaborator Roseanne Kirk. Previews begin May 13 for the show
that runs to June 6.
Bristol Riverside Theater
thriller by Stephen Mallatratt. Previews begin October 7 for the show
that runs to October 26.
by Robert Walman, adapted from the bestseller by Lois Wyse. Previews
begin December 2 for the show that runs to December 21.
songs of the late, great Thomas "Fats" Waller. Previews begin
January 27 for the show that runs to February 15.
the lives of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and starring
Douglas Campbell. Previews begin March 16 for the show runs to April
classic family comedy. Previews begin May 4 for the show that runs
to May 23.
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey
$23 to $28.
inspired by the ancient myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Previews begin
September 4 for the show that runs to September 28.
insidious evil, and innocent purity. Previews begin October 28 for
the drama that runs to November 23.
captures the magic of holidays past. Previews begin December 2 for
the show that runs to December 28.
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