History Of The Vivian Beaumont Theater On Broadway

History Of The Vivian Beaumont Theater On Broadway

Feature Photo: Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

New York City’s current Theater District came into existence in the early 20th century. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that most Broadway Theaters were built at some point in the period from the 1900s through the 1920s. The Vivian Beaumont Theater stands out because it was built in the 1960s. That meant it was the first Broadway Theater built after the Great Depression, which had a very negative effect on New York City’s current Theater District, to say the least. Currently, the Vivian Beaumont Theater is run by a nonprofit called Lincoln Center Theater.

Part of the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts

The Vivian Beaumont Theater is a part of the building complex called the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts. For those unfamiliar, the Lincoln Square neighborhood was seen in a negative light in the 1940s. Due to this, New York City leadership decided to build the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts in the 1950s and 1960s, which was meant as an anchor for the area’s transformation. The plan was successful, as shown by how the building complex has become the center of a cultural hub. However, it should be mentioned that the area didn’t have anywhere near the same amount of low-cost housing after the transformation, meaning the process had a very noticeable impact on its previous inhabitants.

As for Vivian Beaumont, she can be considered a theatrical personality in her own right. However, she is much better known for being an heiress who provided financial support to a wide range of causes. That included a sizable donation to the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts, which was meant to fund the building of the venue that now bears her name.

Designed By Eero Saarinen

It is interesting to note that the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts wasn’t designed by a single architect. Instead, different architects were responsible for different buildings. Eero Saarinen was the one who came up with the concept for the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Saarinen was a very accomplished individual. For proof, look no further than the fact that he was responsible for designing several well-known structures from the mid-20th century. One excellent example would be St.Louis’s Gateway to the West. Saarinen defeated a considerable number of competitors to secure the honor. Those competitors included his father, Eliel Saarinen because the two had each submitted a design rather than collaborate. Other examples range from the GM Technical Center in Warren, MI to Washington Dulles International Airport in the state of Virginia. Besides this, Saarinen also came up with Tulip chairs. Interested individuals might recognize those as the pedestal swivel chairs with a single curved fiberglass piece that serves as the base, backrest, and armrests. Sadly, the man died at an early age in 1961. As a result, he never saw the completion of the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

For what it is worth, Saarinen was well-suited for working on the venue in a way that few architects can claim. One of the criticisms directed at him during his lifetime was that he didn’t have a distinctive style of his own. Instead, he went from style to style because he always tailored his work to fit each of his projects. That made Saarinen an excellent choice for the venue because it needed to look good while remaining compatible with the rest of the building complex.

From the 1960s Through the 1970s

The Vivian Beaumont Theater was ready to open its doors by October 1965. In those days, it was run by the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. The latter met with some initial success. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to sustain that trend in the long run, with the result that it had become something of an embarrassment for the building complex by the late 1960s and early 1970s. Eventually, the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center gave up altogether.

Subsequently, the New York Shakespeare Festival took over with similar results. It could convince interested individuals to buy tickets. The issue was that the Vivian Beaumont Theater had higher-than-normal operating costs, which constituted a major hurdle to any attempt at achieving profitability. By the late 1970s, the venue was empty, which was extremely noticeable because Broadway was suffering from insufficient venues at the time.

From the 1980s Through the 1990s

Naturally, the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts scrambled to find a replacement for the New York Shakespeare Festival. It succeeded. Unfortunately, its leadership and the Vivian Beaumont Theater’s new leadership soon started fighting over the future of the venue, particularly since the 1980-1981 season proved to be another failure. One side wanted to reopen as soon as possible, while the other side wanted to renovate the venue before reopening. The fight wouldn’t be settled until the mid-1980s, which saw the formation of Lincoln Center Theater.

This time around, the venue proved to be more successful. Some changes were made here and there. However, more extensive renovations weren’t made until the mid-1990s. By that point, the venue was making a profit, which was quite a turnaround considering its results in earlier decades. Those renovations started in late 1995 and continued until late 1996. Subsequently, the venue returned to its routine operations with minimal issues.

Ever Since the Turn of the Millennium

The Vivian Beaumont Theater received another round of renovations in the mid-2000s. One can argue that was another sign of how far it had come because the money for renovations doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Indeed, financing had been one of the biggest causes of the venue’s paralysis in the early 1980s. Other than this, the Vivian Beaumont Theater’s other hiccup in recent decades would be its COVID-19-related closure from March 2020 to November 2021. Of course, that wasn’t specific to it. Instead, that was common to Broadway plus a wide range of other industries in other countries. Currently, there is every reason to believe that the Vivian Beaumont Theater will continue serving as one of the few non-profit Broadway Theaters for the foreseeable future.

References:

http://www.aboutlincolncenter.org/about/history/archive-today

https://www.lct.org/about/beaumont-theater/

https://www.playbill.com/venue/view-more?venue=00000150-aacd-d8be-af71-ffef18930000

https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/case-studies/a4188-vivian-beaumont-theater-by-eero-saarinen-within-the-frames/

Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Haskell, David. The Encyclopedia of New York. New York: Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2020.

Bloom, Ken. Broadway: Its History, People, and Places: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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