A World of Culture Under One Roof - Bushnell Theatre

November 21, 2001
For more than seven decades, The Bushnell, Connecticut's premier non-profit presenter of the performing arts, has played a leading role in the state's cultural life. New York City-based theater consultants, Fisher Dachs Associates worked in collaboration with Boston architects Wilson Butler Lodge and Connecticut-based acousticians, Jaffe Holden Acoustics, to evolve seamless, innovative and technologically advanced design solutions for the Bushnell's new second stage, The Belding Theatre which will open in time for the 2001 Holiday season.

Renowned for its community programs, and recognized as a leading educator and advocate of the arts, The Bushnell Theater will complete a $38 million expansion and open a second theater in November.

As the theater consultants for this project, FDA was responsible for the technical design solutions involved in creating the centerpiece of the new 90,000 square foot facility, the new 900-seat theater intended to augment the existing 2,800 seat hall and offer a more intimate setting for performances.

According to David R. Fay, Bushnell Executive Director, "This expansion will help us bring new arts and entertainment options to the region and better accommodate local arts organizations in both performance halls. It will also give an economic boost to the region and bring more people to downtown Hartford."

Based on studies and subsequent recommendations by FDA, the new space, the Maxwell M. and Ruth R. Belding Theater, will also feature such amenities as a cafe, a gift shop, classroom space and more restrooms. In addition, there are private dining and entertainment suites as well as reception spaces. Joe Mobilia, Associate Principal, FDA, observes, "The Bushnell will now be able to provide local organizations with a high-quality yet more intimately-scaled facility, a significant asset for smaller performing arts groups. FDA's role was to interface with the architect and the acoustician to put in place state-of-the-art stage and lighting systems at the second venue to allow for the transfer of programming to the smaller hall. FDA's exclusive 3-dimensional software was critical in developing outstanding sightlines in this jewelbox of a theater. With the opening of this intimate yet technologically advanced new space as many as 25 performance dates will now be open in the larger hall. Hartford will indeed be rewarded by these new cultural opportunities."

Since 1930, the Bushnell's mission has been to be "a center for the benefit of the public in educational and cultural activities...to encourage public appreciation of music, art, science and all benevolent religious and other public activities." (Act of Incorporation, 1919). With this mission in mind, FDA has significantly contributed to the design for this theater which relates to the original Art Deco style (designed by Corbett, Harrison and McMurray, the designers of Radio City Music Hall) but exhibits a warmth and vibrancy all its own. The auditorium will feature a decorative painted ceiling, generous use of wood, and a rich palette of colors.

Legendary artists including Luciano Pavarotti, Mikhail Barishnikov, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland and countless others have performed at The Bushnell's historic Mortensen Hall which typically hosts more than 300 events. Annually The Bushnell's audience has exceeded 400,000. That is expected to rise by 50% with the opening of The Belding Theater.

FDA's expertise in multi-purpose theater design was critical in the design of the new facility, The Belding Theater, and its mission of hosting diverse entertainment opportunities. The firm's sole focus is to plan and design performance spaces: concert halls, multipurpose theaters, repertory theaters, amphitheaters and arenas. FDA designed the new theater's proscenium to measure 45' wide by 32' high, with a 90' by 42' deep stagehouse to accommodate ballet, opera and musical theatre as well as film projection and public lectures. A stage trap will measure 32' x 12'. There will be a full orchestra pit seating up to 50 musicians which through innovative technology can drop to a level below the stage (when not in use) in order to create additional seating. Office space behind the existing stagehouse will be improved for the Bushnell's administrative and operational facilities. The educational program will be expanded and a variety of new classrooms will be available to accommodate students.

Fisher Dachs Associates, Inc. (FDA) is one of the nation's leading theater planning and design consulting firms, practicing throughout the United States, Mexico and the Far East. FDA has completed over 400 performing arts projects including such notable spaces as Radio City Music Hall (1999 renovation), the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts (emblem of Times Square redevelopment). FDA projects in New England currently underway include the Huntington Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts, Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theater, and a new theater at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Joseph Mobilia, Associate Principal, Stage Rigging and Machinery
Douglas Stebbins, Associate, Project Manager
Richard Hoyes, Associate, Stage Lighting and Controls

Photos and interviews with FDA Team available.