Philadelphia Theatre Company is a nationally known regional theater company that produces new American drama. The company performed in the historic Plays & Players Theatre for more than two decades, in a 325-seat proscenium theater that provided visual and acoustical intimacy between the audience and the performers. Plays & Players was deficient in nearly every other aspect, however, with inaccessible and inadequate facilities for theater production and audience comfort. In the late 1990s the company retained KieranTimberlake to assess potential sites for a new performance space.
Philadelphia Theatre Company is a nationally known regional theater company
that produces new American drama. The company performed in the historic Plays
& Players Theatre for more than two decades, in a 325-seat proscenium
theater that provided visual and acoustical intimacy between the audience and
the performers. Plays & Players was deficient in nearly every other aspect,
however, with inaccessible and inadequate facilities for theater production and
audience comfort. In the late 1990s the company retained KieranTimberlake
Associates to assess potential sites for a new performance space.
As possible sites throughout the city were explored, a clear set of
institutional goals emerged. A primary objective was that the architecture
express the company's artistic commitment to new American drama and musicals.
This translated to the design of an intimate theater where audience and actor
are in close proximity and the natural voice clearly heard. In the spirit of the
modern work presented, the architecture would be contemporary, elegant and
urbane. A highly visible location, which would accommodate the full program of
spaces, was desired. Ultimately the decision was made to build the theater
within the Symphony House development on a prominent location on the Avenue of
the Arts. While the developer, Dranoff Properties, and the developer's
architect, Bower Lewis Thrower, were responsible for the building envelope,
KieranTimberlake designed the full interior of the theater, including
structural, mechanical and theater systems, as well as the exterior marquee and
This location allowed the company to achieve several goals that were
difficult on other sites. The stage house could be located at the quietest
location in the center of the block, and rise unencumbered by surrounding
construction. The façade spans more than half the length of the block
between Pine and Lombard Streets, offering unprecedented street presence for a
regional theater of this size. A three-story glass façade allows the
public to engage with the vibrancy of the theater and the life of the street.
The architecture seeks to celebrate the notion of theater as both performance
art and civic event.
To convey a sense of drama at street level, a sculptural marquee serves as
an entry canopy and an insignia for the theater company. Fabricated from red
interference-coated stainless steel, the marquee appears to change color as the
daylight and activity on the city street shifts. In place of traditional "three
sheet" paper displays announcing productions, flat panel electronic displays
contribute to the feeling of animation, while a video art projection by Klip
Collective on the interior lobby walls is visible from the street.
The lobby is a bright, expansive space, enclosed by a three-story glass
façade, allowing the texture of the city streets to merge with the
interior. Terrazzo flooring continues the paving to the interior, while the
syncopated pattern of the carpet references the street traffic outside. A glass
and stainless steel grand stair leads to a double-height mezzanine lobby, where
views of Broad Street form a backdrop. From this level, patrons access the main
stage mezzanine, as well as a 100-seat flexible black box theater, which will be
used for experimental productions and educational activities.
The 370-seat theater was designed to have the flexibility and utility of a
black box theatre, where lighting and rigging are exposed, while maintaining a
traditional proscenium configuration. Glass-reinforced gypsum panels on the
walls provide optimal acoustics for the natural voice. They are hand stained in
deep red tones and punctuated by horizontal strips of light to envelop the
audience with warmth and shadow. The theater is stepped to ensure excellent
sight lines, and staggered seats improve views and provide ample leg room.
Custom upholstery on the theater seats incorporates the curves of the walls and
the theater company's monogram.
The proscenium is clad in dark red leather tiles set in a herringbone
pattern, and is curved in both plan and section to create the sense of looking
through a lens to the stage. To isolate sound from the Broad Street subway and
the parking garage, the stage house and auditorium float within an independent
steel structure bearing on custom-fabricated rubber pads and separated by a two
inch gap at the perimeter. Backstage, the fly gallery rises two and a half times
the height of the proscenium for rigging scenery, lighting and props. The
proscenium opening is 30 feet wide by 22 feet tall, with a stage house height of
70 feet. Ample wing space and a trap room allow actors to move beyond the
possibilities of the former theater. Control rooms for lighting, sound and
stage direction are on the third floor, with uninterrupted sight lines to the
stage and access to the lighting galleries.
The Philadelphia Theatre Company is also one of the most accessible
performance venues in the region. In addition to having prime performance seats
in all wheelchair accessible areas, the main level of the building, stage and
back-of-house areas are all aligned with the center of the theater. A
state-of-the-art assisted listening system is also available for those with
KieranTimberlake worked closely with Sara Garonzik, producing
artistic director, and the Philadelphia Theatre Company Board to create a space
that combines the flexibility and utility of black box-type theatres (where
lighting catwalks and towers are exposed within the room) with a sense of
architectural presence, place and character found in traditional proscenium
theatres. The rich ambience of other local theaters and many of the Broadway
houses was captured with a distinctly contemporary feel.