Edward Norton Joins Frank Gehry at Theater Opening in Hell's Kitchen

By Mathew Katz on January 31, 2012 1:08pm 

Edward Norton chats with Frank Gehry at the opening of the Pershing Square Signature Center on Jan. 31, 2012.
Edward Norton chats with Frank Gehry at the opening of the Pershing Square Signature Center on Jan. 31, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

HELL'S KITCHEN — Superstars descended on the Far West Side on Tuesday for the opening of the Pershing Square Signature Center, a new 70,000 square foot theater complex designed by Frank Gehry at 480 W. 42nd St.

Actor Edward Norton was among the celebrities on hand to ring in the new center — which will house the 20-year-old Signature Theatre Company's writer-in-residence program, and will put on affordable shows in three theaters, along with a studio theater and a rehearsal studio.

The new $66 million space, funded as a public-private partnership, is the biggest theater center to be built in Manhattan since Lincoln Center was built in the 1960s.

Norton, a Signature Theatre trustee, praised the new space as a great institutional theater for American playwrights, and thanked the city for putting $27.5 million towards the space.

"I think that beyond the success of the campaign to gather the support to build this project, to me the really exciting thing is that the people who came together around it are actually the kind of people who give me optimism about this city," he said.

"In an economic environment when the arts is being cut all across the country, the City is New York is committed to continue investing in the arts understanding that it helps the backbone of the New York economy."

Along with the opening of the theater, the Signature Center also received a $25 million donation from the Pershing Square Foundation to keep tickets affordable for the next 20 years. Tickets for the theater's inaugural season will all be $25.

"That is a landmark moment in the history of American theater," Norton said. "It's going to change the demographic of who's in the audience, not just what's on the stage."

On hand for the theater's grand opening, Mayor Michael Bloomberg — sporting a New York Giants-blue tie — praised the Signature Center as another step towards his plan for a revitalization of the Far West Side.

"It's opening really illustrates a remarkable, ongoing renaissance of Manhattan's Far West Side," he said.

"The theater community's creativity and its economic vitality drives, really, New York's future."

The complex is housed at the bottom of the Related Company's MiMa condominium building, and Gehry took the lead in designing the center, featuring wooden columns and large, open spaces.

"It's the right place for this group," Gehry said. "It feels perfect, the design is forgiving. They can knock down walls if they want. There's nothing precious about it. It sort of fits the artistic temperment of the people who work here and play here and make magic here."

Signature Theatre is well-known for its programs that celebrate a playwright's whole body of work, and alumni include Tony Kushner, Romulus Linney, and Paula Vogel. The company will put on nine plays per season, and serve as a home to as many as 11 writers — both starting out and experienced — at a time.

"It will be those writers that will shape our common, united story. In just five years, to give you a birds eye-view," said James Houghton, Signature Theatre's Founding Artistic Director.

"You will see 45 works in this center by these treasured writers of this full spectrum, at least 35 of which will be new works, premiere works."

The complex's inaugural season kick offs on Jan. 31, and will include production "Blood Knot" by Athol Fugard, "Hurt Village" by Katori Hall and "The Lady from Dubuque" by Edward Albee.

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