Polonsky Shakespeare Center - NYC

Theatre For a New Audience (TFANA) - Brooklyn

The Facade - Polonsky Shakespeare Center
The Facade - Polonsky Shakespeare Center
The Theatre for a New Audience is a New York theatre company devoted to Shakespeare and classical drama. Noted for the quality of their productions, they have been staging dramatic performances since their founding in 1979. At the close of 2013 they inhabited their own space at The Polonsky Shakespeare Center - a stand alone courtyard theatre in the heart of the BAM district in Brooklyn. To kick-off their first season in their permanent home they pulled out the stops with a haltingly beautiful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream  - directed by Tony award winner Julie Taymor. I had the priveledge to be in attendance for this performance - and also to explore inside the Polonsky before it opened. I have been to many performance venues, and everyone will have their own personal preference; but to me, The Polonsky is as close to a perfect venue as I have encountered. In this article I'll explain why.

In my early twenties I occasionally stood in as a saxophone player for various local bands. I got a call one night asking if I could stop by a coffee shop and jam for an hour. I was already scheduled for a shift delivering pizzas, but I arranged to deliver one near to my house so I could grab my sax and then another one near to the coffee shop so I could stop in to play. When I arrived, there were about 40 audience members circled around two musicians; one was playing an electric violin, the other - my friend Clayton - was on the floor with dozens of guitar pedals hooked between one another and all cycling through a sine wave input - so his instrument for the night was the guitar pedals! Needless to say, the music they produced was surreal - but so was the environment.

I had no idea how I would manage to improv with them, but I stepped into the circle anyways and brought the reed to my tongue and began to play. It wasn't long before our now trio was in sync. The energy of the room compelled me on. The encircled audience stood two or three rows deep - with the back rows standing on chairs so that their faces were seemingly overhead. As I growled a B flat to a low F the crowd reacted and they egged me on. They clapped, and laughed, and yelled, and hooted - all within a few arms length away. I felt for the first time that sense of jazz energy described famously by Jack Kerouac "Go! Go! Go!". I have performed for much larger audiences - solo pieces in sprawling iso-acoustic auditoriums. But, this one ... in those tight quarters ... was my most memorable performance of all.

Last year I stepped onto the stage at Theatre for a New Audience when the building was still in the final stages of construction and not yet named The Polonsky. And ... shivers once again ran up my spine in the same way they did as I stepped into the encircled audience at the coffee shop so many years prior. Even without an audience in the seats I could feel the energy of this room. The courtyard configuration with its two balconies that wrap around the performance space - the interior staircases - the low railings - the tight floor to floor heights - all of this comes together to form the most intimate of venues. The interior space plan of this room acts like a prism directing energy towards the performers when the audience reacts to exciting or emotional moments on stage.

When I heard that the first performance in this space would be A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Julie Taymor - renowned for her visually creative and immersive playmaking - I had to get tickets immediately. If there was anyone who could make maximum use of The Polonsky's three dimensional flexibility it would be Taymor. 

Taymor is no stranger to A Midsummer's Night and neither is TFANA. She collaborated on it with TFANA in 1984 at the Public Theatre - their breakthrough production. It is probably not a coincidence that this director and this play were chosen for the opening of TFANA's first permanent home in 2013.

A view into the traproom from stage
A view into the traproom from stage
The entire seating floor at the orchestra level is trapped so that the room can be reconfigured, but also so that the staging area can be trapped as well. Taymor and her design team put these traps to use - setting up a deep thrust configuration and trapping the stage with elevators that swallow cast members and with scenery that appeared to grow from the floor plane.

She used the full height of the space as well - to suspend a wedding tent which brought the audience into the private confines of the wedding along with the characters on stage. The children sat on extensions built into the balcony fronts and moved through the levels of the space by using the interior staircases so that their candlelit choir entrances came from behind seated audience.

With a budget of several million, the show sparkled with seamlessly transitioning scenery built by Hudson Scenic. And, all before a limited nightly audience of no more than 250. To be able to host a spectacle of such grandeur with an audience of such intimate proportions is the magic of this purely dramatic space. No microphones needed. At Polonsky you as the audience are so close to the action that you are a part of it. That's the way drama is supposed to be. It's the way Shakespeare is supposed to be. This space will transform itself into as yet unimagined figures making each production that TFANA stages fresh and all the more exciting.

It's not a surprise that Michael Bloomberg's first act after handing over the keys of The City to DeBlasio ... was to head over to Brooklyn for a show at Theatre for a New Audience. The more people that experience drama in this theatre, the harder it will be to score tickets, so if you plan to attend - buy your tickets in advance. The best seats are on the first balcony.


Address for your GPs: 262 Ashland Place Brooklyn NYC
| Coordinates: N40.687574,W073.978407 |

From Bridgeport1.5 Hours
From New Haven1.5 Hours
From Hartford2 Hours
From New London2.5 Hours
From Providence3 Hours
From New Yorkn/a

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Polonsky Shakespeare Center - Theatre For a New Audience A Midsummer Night's Dream Review - Huffington Post


Lobby Views

Front of House Catwalks over stage

View from Lobby