Central Park’s Delacorte Theater to undergo a redesign to bring life back to the stage

Rendering courtesy of the Public Theater

From “Hamlet” to “King Lear”, the beloved Delacorte Theater has been providing entertainment and culture to millions of Shakespeare enthusiasts for the last 60 years. Thanks to the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park, the Delacorte, or its epithet “Shakespeare’s Home in Central Park,” has become a widespread Summer tradition, and finally, after The Public announced its intent for revitalization of the theater in 2018, the plans to bring life back to The Bard’s stage has arrived.

Since the project’s inception, The Public had been working tirelessly, and in 2020, following the stay at home order forced in place by the pandemic, the team optimized their moment of leisure by meeting with stakeholders and community members, to not only deliberate about the restoration of the Delacorte, but also how to improve it.

“As our city’s cultural institutions rebound from their most challenging year on record, these crucial improvements to The Delacorte signify that New York is back and ready to meaningfully invest in our culturals once again,” said Public Theater Board Chair, Arielle Tepper. 

The official proposal for the redesign of the Delacorte was unveiled on Wednesday, by The Public Theater, in collaboration with the Central Park Conservancy and the NYC Parks Department. The plans feature a major focus on adapting the theater’s accessibility and functionality to ensure its long-term survival, and in a recent press release The Public asserted that renovation “is not optional,” referring to its “deteriorating structure,” lack of  “modern back-of-house theatrical operations,” and inequitable “access for those living with disabilities.”

The designs for the project were undertaken by Ennead Architects, who are no strangers to the restoration of iconic New York City landmarks. 

Ennead directed the reconstruction of sections of the Brooklyn Museum, as well as the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center. Additionally, in 2012, Ennead supervised the revitalization of parts of the Public’s flagship on Lafayette Street, as well as the latest renovation at their Rehearsal Annex, according to The Public. 

“This continued relationship is based on shared commitments to creating spaces that center radical welcome and equity,” The Public remarked in a recent press release.

According to The Public, the redesign of the theater will cost a total of $77 million, with contributions of $41 million coming from City Council, Manhattan Borough President, the Mayor, and the remainder being donated privately. 

As part of its “post-pandemic investment” in New York City’s cultural infrastructure, the development team has plans to put a strong emphasis on diversity hiring. In keeping with The Public’s anti-racism and cultural transformation plan, they have committed to surpassing the City and State’s minimum requirements for contracting Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises and Locally-based Business Enterprises (MWBEs and LBEs), including “at 40% MWBE/LBE subcontracting and 30% construction participation from underserved communities.”

Proposals for the redesign will be presented to community boards ahead of the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on December 9.

Now, pending the reconstruction’s approval, the Delacorte Theater, and its indelible reputation, will live on for future thespians to enjoy.

“Thanks to The Public Theater’s vision and significant funding from Mayor de Blasio and elected officials, this redesign will completely modernize the venue with a focus on diversity, sustainability, and access,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff, “ensuring that Shakespeare in the Park continues to connect all New Yorkers with free outdoor theater for generations to come.”