The dusty old grand dame of Harvard theater has gotten a new lease on life, and what was once known as the Hasty Pudding Theatre has been reborn as the New College Theatre, a state-of-the-art facility boasting the latest in technology, ambiance, and creature comforts.
The new theater was dedicated on Oct. 17 with great fanfare that included speeches from Harvard University President Drew Faust and Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Dean Michael D. Smith. Renowned theater personality Robert Brustein, founding director and creative consultant of Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre, was on hand to moderate a provocative panel — “Does Play writing Have a Future?” — that included playwrights John Guare (“Six Degrees of Separation”), Melinda Lopez (“The Order of Things”), Adam Rapp (“Nocturne”), and Paula Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”).
“The opening of the New College Theatre provides an exciting addition to Harvard’s vibrant arts community,” Faust said. “Harvard has cultivated many great artists over the years and this newly renovated facility will help us cultivate many more as our faculty and students realize their full creative and educational potential.”
The new building, attached to the historic front third of the old theater, is a dramatic change. The 30,000-square-foot wing houses rehearsal space, dressing rooms, offices, classrooms, and a prop and scene shop. The heart of the new facility is a plush auditorium. The room is a visual feast: Rich red (not quite Crimson) wood panels line the walls, complementing cushy red seats. The stadium-style seating can be adjusted to accommodate an audience of 256 to 272. On stage, as many as 50 different scenic elements or backdrops can be lowered or raised using the first-ever counterweight fly system at Harvard. A massive elevator system can deliver a 24-piece orchestra from the lower level of the building up to the orchestra pit.
Built in 1888 as the home of the Hasty Pudding Club and Theatricals, the historic Georgian Revival building has been completely rebuilt within a six-level (three stories above ground, three below) facility constructed behind and adjacent to the restored façade, including two grand, columned porticos, and front reception rooms of the old Hasty Pudding Theatre. The redesign, which retains the façade to ensure the new facility echoes its historical significance, was orchestrated by architects Leers Weinzapfel Associates and Fisher Dachs Associates, with construction management by Shawmut Design and Construction.
“It is no secret that we have incredibly talented students who have gone on to make their mark in the performing arts. I am very pleased that, with this building, we now have a magnificent new launching pad for the next generation of Harvard performing artists,” said Smith. “A building like this does not get built without a great deal of effort and hard work by many, many people, architects, designers, construction workers, and even deans. Bravo to my predecessor, Bill Kirby, former Harvard College Dean Benedict Gross, FAS Associate Dean Linda Snyder and her physical resources team, and Leers Weinzapfel and Shawmut Construction for overcoming some significant challenges to get the job done, and done so well.”
Office for the Arts Director Jack Megan noted, “The past few years have been an extraordinary time for the arts at Harvard with the opening of the Harvard College Dance Center; the proliferation of curricular courses in music, drama, and dance that bridge the study and practice of the arts; the creation of artist development fellowships; and now the opening of the New College Theatre. This facility will raise the bar for our theater community at Harvard. We are excited about the possibilities that the space provides for collaborative work, and we are committed to nurturing work that fosters connectedness within a community of students, faculty, and professional artists.”