Page N2.1 . 14 November 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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Blackfriars Shakespearean Playhouse

by William Lebovich

The recent opening of the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia marks a tribute to the original Blackfriars, William Shakespeare's favorite indoor theater. The new building's interior displays an authenticity born of extensive research by its architect, Tom McLaughlin, AIA.

Combined with his understanding of other 17th-century British architecture, McLaughlin created the playhouse for the Shenandoah Shakespeare company based on London's second Blackfriars Theater of 1608. There, Shakespeare had been actor, manager, and part owner before assuming these roles at the better-known Globe Theater.

Entering the new Blackfriars, theatergoers pass through lobby doors the leave the 21st century behind. The two-story theater is a structure of heavy oak beams and posts pegged together, the space lit by glass-filament sconces that resemble their candle-powered precedents.

The crispness of the unpainted, undecorated oak and bare walls is a startling yet pleasant contrast to the intentionally modern and institutional feel of the lobbies. McLaughlin hopes that more ornament will be added later.

Because the lights are left on during performances, as in the Elizabethan tradition, the audience gets a better opportunity to study the architecture of the space. The theater seats 300 with standing room for 20. The ground level seating is bench style, though modern audience members may rent backrests.

 

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ArchWeek Image

The two-story theater is of post-and-beam construction, designed to resemble the candle-lit interior of Shakespeare's own venue.
Photo: Lee Brauer Photography

ArchWeek Image

The Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia recreates William Shakespeare's favorite indoor theater in a modern building by Tom McLaughlin, AIA.
Photo: Lee Brauer Photography

 

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