Hartford Stage was designed by Robert Venturi, a Pritzker laureate, who created a “decorated shed” to contain a 500-seat thrust theater, offices, and workshops. The building is an opaque box that’s partly embedded in a surrounding parking garage and partly free-standing, with a corner cut out to form a recessed entrance. It is skinned in a thin layer of brick veneer that camouflages what’s inside. The skin uses brick masonry units that are repetitively arranged to form a large-scale stepped decorative pattern to articulate and enrich the simple building enclosure that conceals a theatrical landscape that’s always changing.
Hartford Stage wanted to open up the building and make it more inviting. The glass filled addition appears “open” rather than “closed” in striking contrast to the existing building. The interior is light filled and the theater’s illuminated outside wall can be seen from the street. Transparency is used as a metaphor for inviting the community into the building and providing access to the arts in support of Hartford Stage’s mission. Moving lights within the signs and the movement of people seen inside the building provide an “active” rather than “static” picture that reflects a dynamic theater scene and is a moving metaphor for the lively theater art and bustling social scene at Hartford Stage.
The addition consists of a large glass “brick” partly inserted into the box, partly freestanding. On the outside, a zinc metal band traces the edge where the old and new meet and the edge of the glass addition. The band is topped with a vertical blade sign with illuminated fixed and electronic changeable graphics trumpeting institutional identity and providing performance information at the city-scale; the bottom of the band finishes off at a pedestrian scale with an exterior bench, showcases, and a recessed entry recalling the building’s original entrance. On the inside, at the juncture of the old and new, a glassy circulation core connects two lobby levels. The core consists of a red terrazzo monumental stair and a glass-enclosed elevator rising up towards a vaulted skylight.
Larger lobbies, new bars and café service, vastly expanded public restrooms, new auditorium seating, and accessibility to the seating area, stage, and front-of-house facilities offer an inviting level of audience comfort. The theater is located behind a curved wall that separates the lobbies from the house. The wall is lined with a thin layer of repeating, rectangular, backlit glass panels that reflect the incandescence of the dramatic space just beyond. No matter where you are in the lobby, you will know where the theater is located because of the curve and the lighted glass. The box office and audience services booth have open counters carved out of the wall, outlined by a metal band where it meets the wall. Entrance vestibules to the theater are a “brick” partly inserted into the wall, partly freestanding, painted in Chinese red lacquer.
The auditorium has been redesigned to improve sightlines and acoustics for the thrust stage and to facilitate the conversion of the original thrust stage to a proscenium arrangement when needed. This provides increased audience capacity and additional staging and production possibilities. The trapped area of the stage and the trap room below the stage are expanded to further enhance production capabilities. New stage lighting, audio, and video systems provide the latest technology and enhanced production capabilities in the theater, the lobbies, and in the new Community Room. Infrastructure upgrades to the mechanical and electrical systems increase capacity, comfort, efficiency, and safety.
The theater interior is lined with a thin layer of warm looking finished rectangular panels of perforated wood, steel, and cast gypsum to provide needed sound reflective and absorptive surfaces. These panels step down towards the stage to enhance the room’s visual focus towards the stage, revealing their kinship to the stepped patterns of the original brick veneer. Wood handrails, new seating, carpeted aisles, and decorative guardrails bring more inviting soft touches to the theater as a welcome complement to the concrete floors, steel railings, and catwalks.