Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Arden Theatre Company announces expansion

A new space, three doors from the Arden Theatre Company in Old City, will become the focus of its programs for students and children, and will house an 80-seat theater, the Arden's third. Howard Shapiro reports.

Arden Theatre Company announces expansion


By Howard Shapiro

The Arden Theatre Company, one of Center City’s major stages, will expand into a building three doors from its current space on Second Street, just north of Market, where it will focus on its programs for students and children and install an 80-seat theater and a rehearsal hall.

The $5.8 million expansion into a 22,000-square feet building is “a huge step for the Arden,” said producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen at the announcement Thursday afternoon, attended by Mayor Nutter and the theater’s supporters.

Nolen made the announcement in the gutted new space, which was actually two buildings when it was constructed in the ’40s after a fire ruined the a previous structure. The two-story building with a full basement had housed several enterprises — most recently a lighting store but before that, an appliance warehouse.

The announcement comes as the theater company nails down the details of its 25th season, beginning in September, a roster of seven plays that include two family productions. The Arden, which has staged 34 new plays and many others since its founding, began in rented space on the small fifth-floor playing area at Walnut Street Theatre, then grew to fit the space called St. Stephen’s Theater on Tenth Street, where Lantern Theater now operates.

Seventeen years ago, the Arden moved into the building it constructed in Old City, where the company continues to thrive. “The Arden is a shining example of the transformational impact that the arts can have on a neighborhood and a city,” Mayor Nutter said Thursday. He cited the company’s “dedication to local actors, teachers, artists and playwrights” and said it is “especially committed to kids in the city.”

The current Arden location has two stages at 40 N. Second St., and will remain the company’s primary performance space, Nolen said. The new space will house the Arden’s theater education programs, which have grown exponentially in the four years since it began, to an enrollment of almost 2,000 students.

Programs for the students, aged three through 18, are now held in any space the Arden can find in its building, where the company often rehearses one show while another is on stage, or has two productions running at once. Students have met for classes and workshops — and in a summer camp — in the green room where actors lounge between scenes, in dressing rooms, even in a vestibule, and at nearby rented spaces. They are taught everything from stage makeup to musical theater to improvisation.

“These kids are what this building is about. This building is an investment in our future — their future,” Nolen said as about 30 students from various Arden projects surrounded him and his wife, Arden managing director Amy L. Murphy, both co-founders of the company.

The new space will be named the Hamilton Family Arts Center, for a $1 million gift philanthropist Dorrance H. “Dodo” Hamilton made. Her son, N. Peter Hamilton, and Lee van de Veldt head the expansion capital campaign, which has raised $3.5 million so far.

That sum includes $500,000 from Arden board members and $1 million from a Pennsylvania grant supported by Gov. Corbett, plus donations from foundations, corporations and people.

The Hamilton Center, which the Arden hopes to open a year from now, will also house space for the company’s new-play development work, particularly a project called The Writers’ Room, a playwright residency program. The space will contain an 80-seat flexible theater and a state-of-the-art shop for building sets and props, now constructed in an alleyway building Second behind the Arden, where it rents space.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, sapphire@phillynews.com, or philistine on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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