Hartford Stage Gets a Makeover

Latest Phase of Renovations Usher in the 2015/16 Season

By Theresa M. MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate

Exterior RenovationsThe theatrical performances at Hartford Stage won’t be the only thing to dazzle you this season. Upon your arrival to the theatre, you’ll see a stunning new glass-enclosed entrance and digital marquee. If you’re waiting for friends, you can sit in the lovely, new outdoor courtyard. Once inside, why not take the newly-installed elevator to the upper lobby to browse the current exhibition? Before you think you’ve ventured to the wrong place, the iconic Hartford Stage lettering alongside the theatre’s red brick walls will still be there to greet you – although the lights have been replaced with LEDs that can change color!

These exciting changes mark the completion of the third phase in a $13 million, multi-year plan to transform Hartford Stage’s functionality and appearance. The latest renovations, which began immediately after Kiss Me, Kate closed last June, include the new glass façade and digital marquee, remodeled box office and lower lobby/bar area, outdoor courtyard, roof repairs, and a new house manager’s office. Further improvements to the theatre’s electrical, plumbing and HVAC were also made. Most importantly, the addition of an elevator now brings Hartford Stage up-to-date with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

“Audiences will be able to continue to enjoy live performances in a comfortably elegant, ADA-accessible theatre,” said Mike Stotts, Managing Director of Hartford Stage. “All of the work we have done, starting in 2010, has been in an effort to create a state-of-the-art theatre that brings Hartford Stage up-to-date with its infrastructure, technology and amenities.”

Interior RenovationsStotts hopes the improvements will stimulate livelier conversations among patrons as they browse displays and relax in the lobby prior to shows and during intermissions. He notes that the improved functionality for entertaining will enable Hartford Stage to host more pre- and post-show events, in addition to rentals – with the goal of positioning itself as a premiere community gathering place.

Initial planning for the Hartford Stage renovation campaign began in 2006. However, due to the economic recession that began in 2008, the theatre was forced to downsize the original plan and phase construction over a six-year period. Stotts – along with Hartford Stage Production Manager Bryan Holcombe, General Manager Emily Van Scoy, and Bruce Simons, Hartford Stage Board Member and Facilities Committee Chair – has worked with contractor Barlett, Brainard and Eacott to oversee the multi-year project. In addition to the generous support of individual donors, Hartford Stage received a grant of $2.5 million from the Connecticut State Department of Economic and Community Development to assist with the costs of this phase of renovations.

Mitchell Kurtz Architects designed the first phase of renovations in 2010, which included expansions to the lower lobby and restrooms, in addition to improvements to the stage floor to allow for increased production design opportunities.

“Our goal with the renovations, artistically, was to create a space with tremendous flexibility for directors and designers. Artists are enjoying the new technological capabilities. With the creation of the trap space, and enhancements and upgrades to lighting and sound, we can achieve more than ever before,” Stotts explained. “The changes inside the theatre have also helped to increase the shared sense of intimacy between actors and audiences.”

Exterior Architect Rendering
Exterior Rendering from JCJ Architects.

In 2014, JCJ Architecture was hired to design and complete the project. The work done last summer included the replacement of all 484 seats (resulting in improved sightlines and the addition of more handicapped-accessible seating), the installation of new carpeting and handrails, and a complete redesign of the upper lobby – including the bar, kitchen and exhibition space.

JCJ Architecture also helmed the latest phase of renovations, which completes the sleek new look of the lower lobby and exterior of the theatre. These changes will provide patrons with “continued elegance and comfort,” according to Stotts. The tower of glass outside will allow passers-by and theatregoers to peer inside the theatre to glimpse the activity within, while the new seating and digital monitors in the lower lobby will help captivate patrons’ attention.

Stotts indicated that the final phase of renovations will be completed next summer. Those renovations will include new guest artist dressing rooms, a fully-remodeled green room and satellite staff offices, and a state-of-the-art costume shop.

While the face of Hartford Stage has changed, its legacy of providing high-caliber theatre remains the same. Stotts feels that the enhancements to both artistic capabilities and patron experience will ensure Hartford Stage’s reputation as a “go-to” arts destination in Hartford for years to come.