Point Park unveils new Pittsburgh Playhouse
Point Park University blended old Pittsburgh with state-of-art theatrical and film technology into its new $60 million Pittsburgh Playhouse, Downtown.
The facility opens in October with a gala celebration followed by its first student play of the season, “Cabaret.”
University officials Wednesday offered tours of the playhouse on Forbes Avenue between Wood and Smithfield streets. The building takes up an entire city block encompassing 1.5 acres, according to university President Paul Hennigan. The public entrance is on Forbes.
The playhouse, now open for classes, will open to the public for a first time on Oct. 13 during a gala celebration. “Cabaret” is scheduled to open on Oct. 24.
“We consider this building to be very broadly speaking an entertainment management center for TV, film and live audiences,” Hennigan said. “When you think about that industry and what it takes to create, produce and distribute all of that – TV, film, live audience – we do it all in this building. The playhouse is the laboratory.”
It’s also part of Pittsburgh’s history.
Three terra cotta facades from buildings demolished at at 320, 322 and 330 Forbes Avenue were reconstructed in an outdoor public courtyard and seating area. Workers removed 685 pieces of tile, cleaned each piece and reconstructed them on three exterior walls.
Point Park rehabbed the former Pittsburgh stock exchange building on Fourth Avenue dating to 1903 and restored a stained glass ceiling that had been covered for years and was deteriorating. The stock exchange is connected on three floors to the new playhouse along with the University Center and Library, a former bank complex.
The ground floor of the playhouse includes the main stage, PNC Theater with 550 seats, and the Highmark Theater with 200 seats, which can accommodate live shows and film. The Highmark can open to a courtyard on Forbes for outdoor viewing in good weather. A black box theater on the third floor can seat 100 and is named in honor of Richard E. Rauh, who donated $1 million for playhouse construction.
A large sound stage in the basement is designed for TV and film production.
Throughout the 91-room building are shops for painting, set and costume design and construction with easy access to the theaters. It includes separate space for performers to dress and shower, rehearse and have their hair and makeup done. Two “green rooms” can accommodate guests while they wait to be called.
“It’s been designed to become a national artistic laboratory,” said Ronald Allan-Lindblom, artistic director of the playhouse and Point Park’s Conservatory of Performing Arts. “I’ve been saying for years my hope is this can become to the arts nationally what the (Carnegie Mellon University) robotics institute is to the scientific community. That’s the intent.”
Allan-Lindblom said the new building is a major cultural shift from the old playhouse in Oakland.
“For example, our paint shop in the old playhouse was a sink,” he said. “In the old playhouse we did not have a rehearsal room that could accommodate stage sizes, so you were always rehearsing in a space and then coming to the stage and having to restage that, re-block that for the appropriate size of the space you’re working in.”
The old building on Craft Avenue in Oakland held its finale on June 1 after 85 years of performances. Point Park is in the process of moving out of the building and plans to sell the property, according to Hennigan.
Students and staff were impressed.
“Everything is new,” said Melina O’Donnell, a junior majoring in stage management, who was working in the paint shop. “It’s built more for theater. Our other playhouse was just a hodge-podge…, but we made it work. Here there’s a designated paint shop. There, we just had a wall.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer.