The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission signed off January 25 on The Public Theater's plans to revitalize The Delacorte Theater in Central Park, home to the Off-Broadway company's long-running Shakespeare in the Park series. First announced in 2018, the plans will update the venue both backstage and in front of the house, including refurbishments that will increase its accessibility for those living with disabilities. Work is expected to begin on the plan this fall.
The refurbishment will provide accessible and comfortable space for audiences and artists living with disabilities, newly making the theatre in-line with current codes. The venue currently has just one access point for those with disabilities and one row of seating. The new designs will make two entry gates wheelchair accessible, add stage accessibility interventions for performing artists with disabilities, and create a wheelchair-accessible cross aisle in the audience area.
The proposed designs also include an overhaul of the theatre's backstage, allowing for more efficient load-ins and load-outs, better dressing rooms, bigger hallways, and climate control in enclosed spaces. Plans also include new lighting towers for improved theatrical lighting and additional safety for production crew members. The Public hopes these improvements will make it possible for the Shakespeare in the Park season to include more productions.
Outside the theatre, a new exterior wall will slant outward with a textured wood façade designed to complement the venue's park setting. A new covered canopy and widened bluestone pathway will improve crowd flow along with creating shelter from rain and sun.
The revitalization will be the open-air venue's first after more than six decades of operation, over which time it has become a New York City cultural landmark and home to a host of star-studded productions, mostly offered free of charge on a first-come-first-serve basis. The brainchild of Public Theater Founder Joseph Papp, Shakespeare in the Park presents a season of Shakespeare works every summer in the Central Park theatre and offers them free to the public. The series has also been known to include non-Shakespeare plays and musicals, including a revival of Hair that later transferred to Broadway, a world premiere stage adaptation of the Disney animated film Hercules, and a revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods.
“The Delacorte is a beacon of inclusion, diversity, and democracy," says Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. "For 60 years now, it has served as a monument to our city’s cultural possibilities. Now this historic space will undergo a renovation that will not only cement its place for the next 60 years and beyond, but ensure it’s more accessible to audience members and artists. The spirit of The Delacorte will thrive thanks to those who came together to make this investment possible, and now, with these thoughtful improvements to boost accessibility, more people than ever before will be able to enjoy the wonders of this magical theatre.”
The project has been designed by Ennead Architects, who were also behind the revitalization of the façade and public spaces of The Public's main complex downtown on Lafayette Street in 2012, along with the recent renovation of their Rehearsal Annex, both part of a five-phase master plan for the Off-Broadway company. Beyond the Public, Ennead is also behind revitalization projects for such NYC institutions as the Brooklyn Museum, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, Carnegie Hall, and the American Museum of Natural History.