The Theaters of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates
by Paul Goldberger
The wisest thing ever said to me about the connection between the theater and architecture was a teacher's offhand remark that architecture didn't matter at all. "The greatest theater is done in a barn, not in a palace," he said.
I was astonished. I was an eager high school student studying theater for the summer at a local college; architecture and theater were my two loves, and it seemed inconceivable to me that these worlds were not mutually dependent.
Surely great architecture enabled great theater; surely the whole experience of going to the theater was bound up in the architectural environment that had been created for it.
My teacher... had to make me understand that the theater makes its own magic, and that while architects may nurture it, they do not create it; as often as not, they can stifle it.
A great theater recedes from the consciousness of the audience when the lights go down. And it recedes from the consciousness of the players even before then, since it exists to serve them, not to interfere with their creative energies.
If it possesses tranquil rehearsal spaces, easy and functional dressing rooms and backstage areas, and a comfortable stage with good sight lines to and from the audience, then it stands a good chance of being a good theater, whatever else it may or may not mean as a work of architecture.
But if the theater is to be something other than purely neutral, how does it work as a piece of architecture? How does the architect serve his own need to express himself while not interfering with the director's and the actor's and the playwright's and the composer's and the musician's and the conductor's needs to express themselves?
This article is excerpted from "Theaters," by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, with permission of the publisher, Watson-Guptill Publications.