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  • Writer's pictureIlona Oltuski

PAC Perelman Performing Arts Center – Something for Everyone?

After its long buildup of abandoned planning and difficult construction phase, the Perelman Performing Arts Center, or PAC NYC, is set to open its doors in September.

The final missing architectural addition to complete the 9/11 site reconstruction based on the 2003 World Trade Center masterplan by Daniel Libeskind, the center, designed by Joshua Ramus (REX) and Davis Brody (Bond), will feature 129,000 sf square feet across three floors. *

In his speech for the center's inaugural season announcement, Mayor Bloomberg, then New York City major and now chair of PAC's board of directors, expressed his enthusiasm for its programs' ability to offer "something for everyone, adding joy and entertainment to Manhattan's downtown."

But not all was catering towards the excitement of the up-and-coming, as he pointed to the center's meaningful responsibilities of a memorial site:" adding light and hope to the site in a manner that respects its role as a place of reflection."

Known for his longstanding championship of the arts and his belief in the arts' elevating power to enhance communities, as evidenced in his Bloomberg Philanthropies, he also emphasized the site-specific relevance of the arts' "restorative power." He highlighted that arts and culture lay at the core of the city's essence and what made New York, New York.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy, Executive Director Khady Kamaras

Executive Director Khady Kamaras stated the center's goal of bringing NYC's diverse communities from all five boroughs together through shared experiences: "We believe the arts can inspire and unite us, and we are honored to fulfill this important role as the cultural cornerstone of the World Trade Center site, creative" she said. Through accessible programming that will include free performances available at the center’s public entrance level and its intimate performance space, coined “living room," and its restaurant, the center will seek to ease existing entrance barriers.

While most public New York City performance arts venues strive towards similarly inclusive communal objectives, the building's complex architectural design and brilliant engineering bring a unique concept to the creative open-endedness of its future productions. What has been achieved here is an outstanding architectural responsiveness devoted to the building's function as an extension of its artistic mission.

There is an element of luxury in the new, beginning-to-end developed endeavor, affording to solve all challenges of theatrical production design with novel technology-driven solutions. That does not minimize the design's impressive solution of using large, movable steel walls between the three existing halls. Combined or transformed through adjacent scene docks into varying proportions and multiple configurations, they can accommodate different-sized productions, as well as enable the simultaneous use of different acoustic spaces for audiences ranging from 50 to 950 people.

Modestly, Joshua Ramus, who led press members through the theater level, explained his installation of the intricate system, with an adjustable grid of corridors and acoustics supported by different-sized crown moldings. The façade's lucid marble panes are sandwiched between two glass layers. The veined stone gives the outer layer of the building a dual quality of standing out as an individual entity "doing its own thing" within the memorial complex. At the same time, when lit from the inside, its lucidness allows its inner glow to project into the surrounding darkness. "It also fosters curiosity as to what is

offered inside," he shared, with a symbolic nod to the (en)-lightning and shining appeal of the arts.

During our brief elevator conversation, he also shared that his inspiration stems from his past work in Dallas, where he operated independently but in affiliation with Rem Koolhaas, his former mentor and then partner at OMA. The Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, with its multi-use Potter Rose Performance Hall, is among the first performance arts venues, with a versatile space that can be shaped into several configurations, including thrust, proscenium, or flat floor.

This kind of scalability seems the answer to all prayers for an art space that does not specialize in any one art medium but seeks to accommodate a diversity of artistic disciplines, create interdisciplinary collaborative experiences, and cater to different size audiences. With all these physical and acoustic staging options given to creative programming, Bill Rauch, the institution's Artistic Director, is undoubtedly a lucky man.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy - Bill Rauch, Artistic Director of PAC NYC

In anticipation of PAC's inaugural season program, he said: "We have invited some of the most compelling talents in theater, opera, music, and dance to work with us and with each other to create and present new works that bring PAC NYC to life here in the world capital of performing arts."

This season's highlights will include the World Premieres of Laurence Fishburne's one-man-tour-de-force play Like They Do In The Movies and a re-imagined CATS, set in the competitions of New York City's Ballroom culture, to new multi-disciplinary work, Watch Night, from the artistic team of Tony Award winner Bill T.Jones, poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph, composer Tamar-kali, and dramaturg Lauren Whitehead.

Not limited to performances, PAC has also partnered with Creative Artist Agency (CAA) to present conversations with celebrities, with this season's planned hosting of Herbie Hancock and Kerry Washington.

While these present all great choices, they offer a glimpse into a program with a concentration on the theatrical, musical/theatrical field, which, given Rauch's background and expertise in theater, is perhaps not that astonishing. As a highly accomplished creative in the world of theater, Rauch has not only produced an extensive body of theatrical works that have gained national and international recognition, like his production of the Tony Award-winning All the Way, and its sequel The Great Society, by Robert Schenkkan but has also proven his ability to produce low-income community center productions.

Between 2007 and 2019, he was the artistic director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. During his time there, he persistently showcased innovative plays, including many world premieres, with a particular interest in unique productions of classic musicals. One notable example was a re-imagining of Oklahoma with a queer perspective.

Committed to bringing social and historical context to the foreground and onto the stage, he has commissioned 37 new plays to dramatize moments of change in American history, including Lynn Nottage's Sweat (winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize). He is also a co-founder of the Cornerstone Theater Company, serving as artistic director from 1986-2006, during which time he directed more than 40 productions. Next to many awards, his commitment to diversity in casting and producing has been acknowledged with multiple awards, including the 2018 Ivy Bethune Award from the Actors' Equity Association, among many others.

Looking at PAC's Artistic Advisory, it is astonishing to find a relatively small group of artists representing each of their respective disciplines. Though each of these artists is inspiring in their own right, and some are most accomplished in their fields, this usually provides a space for arts nonprofits to boost their representational reach. Considering that their advisory on artistic choices within a broad center's landscape would enhance their sector's outlook, the small and select circle seems surprising.

Whether this is a matter of time or a conscious move to keep a coherent vibe among its creatives, it may pose questions about keeping PAC's close team spirit versus promoting a broader artistic input. What about varied choices in new and classical music presentations or international collaborations? Time will tell whether PAC's programming will push boundaries that will help re-imagine New York City's current creative industries right in its home, equipped for excellence.

That day, Mayor Bloomberg's final comment was: "This is so great – now don't mess it up!


*Public level: lobby, entrance stage, and a Marcus Samuelsson restaurant (designed by the Rockwell Group) bar and exterior terrace.

Artist level: artist support areas and dressing rooms, trap-housing mechanical lifts beneath and serving the Zuccotti Theater.

Theater level: three performance spaces—the John E. Zuccotti Theater (seating up to 450 people), the Mike Nichols Theater (seating up to 250), the Doris Duke Foundation Theater (seating up to 99), two scene docks, and a rehearsal lounge.


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