New York University opened the doors of the newly renovated Provincetown Playhouse to the Greenwich Village community today, marking the official re-opening of the historic theatre following a two-year, $4.5 million refurbishment which preserved most of the theatre’s original structural walls and maintained the exact volume and footprint of the theatre, which dates to 1918.
The Provincetown Playhouse was renovated as part of the construction of an adjacent new center for legal research, Wilf Hall. The University went forward with its renovation plans after receiving near unanimous support from Community Board 2 and with the support of all local elected officials. The project was led by architect Morris Adjmi.
Alicia Hurley, NYU’s Vice President for Government Relations and Community Engagement, said, “From the outset, NYU understood the historic importance of this playhouse, and particularly the role it played in works of the great American playwright, Eugene O’Neill. For that reason, the University not only committed to keeping the Provincetown a working theatre, but went to great effort and significant expense to retain as much as possible of the original theatre’s walls. We’re very proud of the outcome, which will contribute to the artistic and intellectual life of the Village for many years to come.”
“The redevelopment of the Provincetown Playhouse set a new standard for NYU and was a real win for the community,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. “By engaging in an open dialogue with the Community Task Force on NYU and Community Board 2, NYU met the community’s need for preserving the low-rise character of the block and retaining a historic theater while still meeting its growth needs.”
“By engaging with the community early in the Provincetown Playhouse renovation process, NYU sought to balance its goals and mission with the community’s and preservationists’ concerns,” said New York State Senator Tom Duane. “NYU has successfully increased the accessibility and enhanced the functionality of this historic theatre while preserving several key attributes of the original.”
The Provincetown Playhouse has a rich history and is central to the history of new American drama. Its history reaches back to the Provincetown Players, an amateur group of actors, writers, and artists who presented the work of new American playwrights, first in Provincetown, Massachusetts and later in Greenwich Village. In 1918, the Players moved into 133 MacDougal Street, a row house that had been used as a stable and a bottling works company.
The Players were the first to produce the plays of America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill. The Playhouse itself was the site of numerous “firsts,” from the stage debut of Bette Davis in The Earth Between in 1929 to the American debut of Tony Award-winning playwright Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story in 1960. The Playhouse was also the site of the longest running non-musical in off-Broadway history, Charles Busch’s Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, which ran for 2,024 performances from 1985 to 1990.
“I am pleased that NYU has kept the Provincetown Playhouse a working theater that will help foster a new generation of actors,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Hopefully, the spirit of the Provincetown Players will live on in this new space and the community can once again enjoy theatre there for many years to come.”
“I am thrilled that the Provincetown Playhouse is re-opening and once again will be a home for theatre in the Village,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler. “I thank NYU for engaging the community during the Playhouse’s renovation and for preserving the Playhouse as a theatre for generations to come.”
“At a time when small theatres are consistently in danger of permanently closing, the Off-Broadway League is pleased NYU has preserved an important and historic theatre,” said Off-Broadway League President George Forbes. “We thank NYU for its commitment to keeping the Provincetown Playhouse a working theatre. By preserving the Playhouse, NYU has kept the creative spirit and heritage of this theatre from disappearing forever.”
In addition to preserving the theatre’s exact volume and footprint and as much of its original structural walls as possible, the University carefully restored the theatre’s façade to its 1940s condition, with a replica of the original signage, doors consistent with historical photos of the era, and restored cast-stone occuli. The interior walls, which had been covered in plaster and sheetrock in previous decades, were peeled back and cleaned, resulting in exposed brick as the wall surface in most of the theatre.
The design team also installed a new lobby ceiling inspired by the “Kuppelhorizont” dome, a painted scenic element that was formerly installed over the stage to create the illusion of infinite space and which was removed in one of the theatre’s many previous renovations. The painted metal end pieces of the seat rows were also preserved and installed into the walls at the end of each seat row. Finally, a permanent exhibition of archival photos has been installed which documents the history of the theatre and the artistic, cultural, and intellectual life of Greenwich Village.
“The overall retention of the Provincetown Playhouse means that we have been able to retain a remarkable, historic space that is an important piece of New York’s history, and the steps NYU took to restore the playhouse are appreciated,” said New York State Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
The theatre is used year-round for rehearsals, for acting, set design, lighting, and directing classes for NYU’s programs in educational theatre and vocal performance at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and for a wide variety of performances of experimental, classic, and contemporary plays and works-in-development for audiences of all ages.
A special series of events has been planned that celebrates the re-opening of the Playhouse, including a panel discussion on Sun., Dec. 19 with Edward Albee, Living Theater’s Judith Malina, La Mama Experimental Theater Company’s Ozzie Rodriguez, and Village Voice theatre critic Michael Feingold; a storytelling hour about the Provincetown on Fri., Feb. 11; and series of one-act plays from the original Provincetown Players, featuring works by Eugene O’Neill, Susan Glaspell, and Edna St. Vincent Millay on Feb. 25-27 and March 3-6. For a full listing of events, visit http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/provincetown_calendar.