A conversation with Artistic Director Todd Haimes about the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
1) What does the opportunity of renaming a theatre provide the artists associated with a not-for-profit theatre company?
The support that we are receiving through this renaming will specifically go to Roundabout’s Musical Production Fund, which means that it enables us to continue and enhance our commitment to musical productions. For artists like Stephen Sondheim himself, this translates into having the support to continue to revive his classic work at the highest level of quality possible. And Steve certainly isn’t done writing. I hope that we’ll be producing his newest work alongside the work of the next generation of musical theatre artists. Steve himself is so supportive of younger writers, and the opportunity provided by this renaming will allow us to give more of those artists the same kind of productions and exposure that gave Steve his chance to break through.
2) Of all the artists Roundabout has worked with, from Shaw and Ibsen to Williams and Miller, why rename the theatre the Stephen Sondheim Theatre?
There is something incredibly special about being able to honor an artist like Stephen Sondheim in his lifetime. He’s here as an active collaborator, still at work and still creating. Unlike many of the playwrights whose classic work we have revived with frequency, Steve is an American artist working in that most quintessentially American form – musical theatre. It seems fitting to honor an artist whose name is so synonymous with modern Broadway by having his name on a Broadway theatre. I also think it’s fair to say that Stephen Sondheim’s name fits beautifully in a pantheon that includes Richard Rodgers, Neil Simon, Eugene O’Neill, and August Wilson, among others. For Roundabout in particular, Steve’s musicals have meant a great deal. He is among our most-produced writers overall and is certainly our most frequently produced writer of musical theatre. What’s amazing to me is the approach that Steve has taken to revivals of his shows. He is absolutely fearless, never hesitating to let new artists reinterpret his work. Thinking about Sam Buntrock’s multimedia spin on Sunday in the Park with George or James Lapine’s vision of creating an intimate evening with the man himself through Sondheim on Sondheim, it’s easy to see that Steve is a generous artist who is as eager to see what a fresh pair of eyes can find in his work as we, his audience, are. It’s this aspect of Steve that makes me believe that his shows will have long, varied lives, creating a legacy that will live on as his name will now live on with this theatre.
3) Will Henry Miller’s name be removed from the theatre and forgotten?
Henry Miller, the actor and theater-manager who built this theatre in 1918, will always be a part of the theatre in many ways. His name is literally chiseled into the façade, so his association with the building certainly won’t be vanishing in a physical sense. On a different level, the principles that were important to Henry Miller when the theatre was constructed were a major part of the rebuilding work. His emphasis on a direct and intimate relationship between audience and artists is reflected in the new design, and the original façade, a historical landmark, remains intact. It was also important to us to preserve many artifacts from the original building. One of these is a neon sign for the “Henry Miller’s Theatre,” which we plan to continue to display by the stage door entrance. Throughout the building, numerous other artifacts of the original building have been incorporated into the design, including pieces of the original proscenium. While they may not bear the name of Henry Miller, these pieces are a reflection of his work. In addition to these elements within the theatre, the through-block outside also features a historical piece with an image of Henry Miller himself and text that recounts the history of the building. This, too, will remain in place. Obviously, we have no intention of letting Henry Miller disappear, but while I think that remembering artists of past generations is important, it’s also essential that we continue to identify the individuals whose legacies should be recognized in this way. It’s certainly not unprecedented to rename a theatre for an individual who comes from the more recent era. Martin Beck built his theatre in 1924, six years after the Henry Miller’s Theatre was originally constructed, and his theatre was renamed for the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld in 2003.
From Todd Haimes, Sondheim on Sondheim