The Shakespeare Theatre Company is about to make a big move up, but it doesn’t require traveling a great distance.
After five years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the 21-year-old theater company is taking up residence in a second home: Sidney Harman Hall. Located at 6th and F Streets NW—just around the corner from the Lansburgh Theatre, the Shakespeare’s current residence in Penn Quarter—the 775-seat Harman Hall comprises the first five-and-a-half floors of an 11-story office building. Together, Harman Hall and the Lansburgh Theatre are known as the Harman Center for the Arts. The building, designed by Washington-based architectural firm SmithGroup Inc., features a three-story glass curtain wall that faces F Street and a stage that can be adapted to meet a variety of productions’ different seating and acoustic requirements.
“It is the realization of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s quest to transform itself into a national destination theater,” Managing Director Nick Goldsborough says of Harman Hall. “In 1999, [Artistic Director] Michael Kahn challenged the board.…What he said in effect was, ‘We have achieved national, even international, recognition. But we can never consider ourselves a national theater with just one 450-seat theater.’”
Keeping with the theme of new beginnings, the Shakespeare Theatre Company opens its new venue with productions of Tamburlaine and Edward II, widely accepted as the first and last works of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. As for the Lansburgh Theatre, Goldsborough insists that the venue will remain “a vital and integral part” of the company’s operation. “We do not consider it our second stage,” Goldsborough says. “We consider both the Langsburgh and the Sidney Harman Hall to be of equal importance.” The company will produce three plays at the Lansburgh next season: William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Mary Zimmerman’s Argonautika, and Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company isn’t the only organization that will be taking advantage of the new hall, however. “I think it will prove to be a great resource for other performing arts groups in Washington,” says Goldsborough. “We have over 200 performance events other than Shakespeare Theatre Company productions that have been booked for the first year alone.”
On Sept. 15, just more than two weeks before the venue’s Oct. 1 opening gala, the Shakespeare Theatre Company is hosting an open house for Harman Hall featuring tours and free theatrical performances; the event runs in conjunction with Penn Quarter’s annual “Arts on Foot” festival.
“You really have to take a tour,” Goldsborough says. “You’re not going to fully appreciate or understand what has been accomplished here unless you see it.”