Gehry-designed New York theater to open with $25-million gift

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Frank Gehry’s first project for a stage company –- the new home of Manhattan’s Signature Theatre –- will be named the Pershing Square Signature Center, thanks to a $25-million gift announced Thursday during the run-up to the venue’s opening on Tuesday.

The $66-million facility on 42nd Street takes its name from its benefactor, Pershing Square Capital Management, a New York-based hedge fund whose contribution will primarily subsidize low ticket prices to encourage attendance by new and diverse audiences.

It houses three stages, with seating capacities of 199, 244 and 294. The complex is at the foot of a 63-story, mixed-use glass tower developed by the Related Companies. Gehry designed only the theater center, which will debut with a production of Athol Fugard’s “Blood Knot,” directed by the playwright.

Responding to a Times inquiry, Gehry Partners noted that three of his previous projects have involved theaters for stage productions: the CalArts-run REDCAT, at the back of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A., houses a black box theater seating up to 270 people, plus an art gallery; at the multipurpose Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in Annondale-on-Hudson, N.Y., the smaller of two auditoriums is primarily for stage productions; and the American Center in Paris, a multipurpose arts development, included a 400-seat theater but closed because of financial problems less than two years after its 1994 opening. The film institute, Cinematheque Francais, took over the building in 2005 after renovations.


In 2007, the Pasadena Playhouse announced that Gehry had donated his services for a renovation and redesign of its campus, including a new 300- to 400-seat theater. The sinking economy derailed the plan.

In keeping with Signature Theatre’s tradition of putting a spotlight on a single playwright’s body of work during each season, a revival of Fugard’s “My Children! My Africa!” will open in May, and “The Train Driver,” again directed by Fugard, will have its New York premiere in August. Other plays in the 2012 season are Edward Albee’s “The Lady From Dubuque,” the U.S. premiere of Will Eno’s “Title and Deed” and world premieres of Katori Hall’s “Hurt Village” and an as-yet untitled work by Kenneth Lonergan. Since 2005, Signature has set a price ceiling -– currently $25 -– for every seat in the house during a show’s initially scheduled run (about five weeks for most productions in the coming season). Prices go up if a run is extended.

According to the theater company’s website, surveys since the price caps went into effect show that 37% of the audience buying restricted-price tickets had not been to the Signature before, and more than 20% said their household income was under $50,000 a year.


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-- Mike Boehm