Point Park University has done it right. It has finished a substantial expansion to its Downtown campus — the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, a theater complex just across from the Tower at PNC Plaza that will add to Pittsburgh’s already vibrant growth.
Through the new Playhouse, PPU is embracing the future while it pays homage to the past. The new building features three facades from the buildings that it replaced. Sections of palladium windows from the Stock Exchange peek into the prop shop. The tops extend into the costume shop, while department heads share an office that once belonged to the president, separated by a rich wood partition. There are marble staircases to discover, stained glass ceilings and a quirky elevator to ponder, all of it making for an intriguing, yet seamless construction.
Three theaters dominate the premises. The crown jewel is the PNC Theatre, seating 500 with golden curtain and seats and warm wooden tones that undoubtedly will impress visitors. I was likewise impressed by the sight lines and the fact that dancers will be visible from head to toe, even from the front row.
The Highmark Theatre is just across the lobby, which features the box office and a bar. A black box theater that holds 200, the Highmark has flexible seating and a hangar door that connects with the lobby. Another heavy folding door opens the theater into the street, allowing for more flexibility.
The Rauh Theatre is the third, a black box with 99 seats in its flexible plan. It has mesh catwalks, allowing stagehands to hang the lighting. Using new technology, the mesh doesn’t interfere with the lighting design. It will also be the first to house a production, Cabaret, beginning Oct. 26.
During the course of the year the Playhouse will have a “soft” opening, so to speak. The Cabaret production will be followed by the Highmark (Coram Boy, Nov. 16, another relevant Tomé Cousin production), then the PNC Theater (Winter Dance, an all-star line-up on Dec. 7) to allow staff time to acquaint themselves with their new environment.
Transparency will be key in the new building. Presumably taking a cue from the windows of the George Rowland White Performance Center that open onto the street and the world beyond, the scenery department will offer a similar experience for Pittsburgh pedestrians. But there will also be internal windows that allow visitors to view the theaters and studios when there are no performances in progress. The old box office in the Oakland facility felt cramped, but the new lobby/box office is spacious and also has its own window to the street.
There is a cafe on the second floor. While the hours have yet to be decided, one of numerous details that still must be settled, it will eventually open onto its own patio. And the students/performers have a lounge, complete with wireless connections and televisions that enable them to keep track of the rehearsal process.
A real plus will be the addition of a sound stage, the only one Downtown, that extends off the indoor loading dock, big enough for a car.
But locals will have to hold their horses, so to speak, if they want to use the facilities. PPU already has an extremely busy schedule and the powers-that-be will have to see how this 90,000 square foot expansion will respond to its growing reputation.