Bushnell Theatre Expands in Hartford


The Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, CT, has unveiled plans for a new second stage. The 950-seat venue will be built adjacent to the existing Bushnell Memorial Hall to help broaden the civic performing arts center's programming. "This new facility will greatly enhance the Bushnell's ability to fulfill its community and cultural missions," said Bushnell executive director Douglas C. Evans. "The current hall is booked to capacity, but this expansion will help us bring new arts and entertainment options to the region and better accommodate local arts organizations in both performance halls. It will also give an economic boost to the region and bring more people to downtown Hartford."

The new wing will be named the Maxwell and Ruth Belding Theatre, in honor of patrons who recently donated $4 million. The project team for the $30 million expansion includes design architect Wilson Butler Lodge (Boston), associate design architect Schoenhardt Architects (Simsbury, CT), theatre consultant Fisher/Dachs Associates (New York), acoustical consultant Jaffe Holden Scarbrough Acoustics (Norwalk, CT), audiovisual consultant Boyce Nemec Designs (Norfolk, CT), architectural lighting consultant Fisher Marantz Stone (New York), and construction manager Turner Construction (Shelton, CT). Groundbreaking is scheduled for this spring, with completion slated for the fall of 2001.

The design of the new facility meshes with the historic 1930 Bushnell Hall and the National Register Historic District which surrounds it. The addition will connect to the east wall of the Bushnell beyond the portico and marquee, preserving its appearance. An entryway between the two structures will be enhanced with a landscaped garden and courtyard. The design of the new wing's facade will reinterpret elements of the existing Georgian Revival structure through the use of brick, stone, and copper, but will be "openly transparent and deliberately extroverted," according to the architects. A key component of the new building will be a three-story-high Grand Stair Hall enclosed in glass to serve as a connecting public space between the new and existing venues. A new box office, gift shop, concierge, and 50-seat cafe will be added at street level.

The interior design of the new theatre was inspired by the Art Deco decor of the original Bushnell venue, designed by Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray, which also designed New York City's Radio City Music Hall. The auditorium will feature a decorative painted ceiling, generous use of wood, and a rich palette of colors still in design development.

The theatre's proscenium will measure 45' wide by 32' high, with a 90'-wide by 42'-deep stagehouse to accommodate ballet, opera, and musical theatre as well as film projection and public lectures. A stage trap will measure 32' by 12'. There will be a full orchestra pit seating 42 musicians. Administrative offices and classrooms will be located at various levels in both the existing and new buildings. Office space behind the existing stagehouse will be improved for the Bushnell's administrative and operational facilities. In addition, a variety of classrooms and other facilities will accommodate an expanded educational program. More than 50 community groups have expressed interest in using the new facility, and a rental subsidy fund will assist non-profit arts and community groups in renting the new and existing theatres.