History of The Public
Joan Apt, Margaret Rieck and Ben Shaktman founded Pittsburgh Public Theater. It was chartered in 1974 and opened in September 1975 after a decade in which the city had become known nationally as an unenthusiastic theater town. Once a major stop on the pre-Broadway circuit, there was no longer a suitable venue for road shows after the city lost the beautiful "Old" Nixon Theatre. Even worse, a similar fate was anticipated for the "New" Nixon. The Pittsburgh Playhouse, once the flagship of American community theaters, had also closed, leaving only smaller community theaters, colleges and universities to keep the art form alive.
The broad-based efforts of many private and public individuals throughout the community contributed to the successful launch of Pittsburgh Public Theater. Commitments to ensure full funding of the first season were made before it's opening. A strong volunteer organization was developed, community outreach programs were created, and 7,100 subscriptions sold (twice as many subscribers as the Theater Guild had in its heyday) before The Public opened in 1975.
The inaugural season was an enormous success, bringing great audience and critical acclaim for the three productions. The Glass Menagerie, directed by Ben Shaktman, was reviewed by Pittsburgh Press drama critic Ed Blank with the headline "Pittsburgh Public Theater triumphs with Glass Menagerie." One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (one year before the film version), directed by John Going and starring Tom Atkins, was described by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette drama critic George Anderson as "thunderously engrossing theater." Twelfth Night, directed by Ben Shaktman, was praised by Ed Blank as "a Shakespearean production capable of turning heads and changing minds," with a special mention of Leonard Nimoy's Malvolio as "one of the funniest stage performances in memory." As stated by Martin Gottfried, author of A Theater Divided, a highly praised survey of American theater, "The Pittsburgh Public Theater has gotten off to an excellent start — as excellent a start as I've yet to see a regional theater get off to." With strong ticket sales and many sold-out performances, the season expanded to four productions the following year, which quickly grew to six in the following years.
The Public enjoyed 24 years on the North Side before moving to its current home — the O'Reilly Theater — in the heart of the Downtown Cultural District. The new performing space, which was built by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, opened with the world premiere of August Wilson's King Hedley II in December 1999.
The Public has a proud tradition of producing new work. In addition to August Wilson's King Hedley II, another of his masterworks, Jitney, received its professional premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater. The pre-Broadway run of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn's By Jeeves was also first staged at The Public before moving to New York's Helen Hayes Theatre.
Some of the other plays which received their world premieres on The Public's stage include Horton Foote's The Habitation of Dragons, Jonathon Bolt and Thomas Tierney's Eleanor, Michael Cristofer's Amazing Grace, Mark Hampton and Barbara J. Zitwer's Paper Doll, Rob Zellers and Gene Collier's The Chief, Naomi Wallace's Things of Dry Hours, Mark Hampton and Michael Sharp's The Secret Letters of Jackie and Marilyn and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's brand-new musical, The Glorious Ones.
Learn more about Pittsburgh Public Theater's production history.
The Public's Current Home: O'Reilly Theater
The O'Reilly Theater, designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves, is the home of Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Located in the heart of Pittsburgh's Cultural District at 621 Penn Avenue, the intimate and state-of-the-art performance facility boasts 650 seats in the unique thrust stage configuration which allows the audience to be seated on three sides — offering an up-close and exciting experience for audience and actors alike.
One of the few U.S. theaters built from the ground up in the last decade, The Public's new home is a $20 million project of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Principal Architect: Michael Graves
Structural: DeSimone, Chaplin & Dobryn
Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing/Fire Protection: Jaros Baum & Bolles
Theater Design Consultant: Fisher/Dachs Associates
Acoustical/Audio Visual Consultant: The Talaske Group, Inc.
The Public's First Home: Hazlett Theater
The Hazlett Theater on the North Side was The Public's first home from 1974 to 1999. Its unique configuration and intimate seating area made it a favorite with audiences and actors alike.
Housed in the Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, a historic Richardson Romanesque landmark that survived the razing of many of the North Side's most impressive buildings, the Hazlett was a logical choice as The Public's home back in 1975. Completed at a cost of over $240,000, and dedicated by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889, the facility was the first of its kind in the world, and hosted a variety of events, including free Sunday organ recitals, union rallies and radio broadcasts by local evangelist/faith healer Katherine Kuhlman.
In 1967, when it was virtually closed to the public because of general deterioration, community pressure prevented its demolition. With funding from the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust and an agreement with the City that the space be used as a theater, the architectural firm of Damianos and Pedone took charge of the renovation of the Music Hall and its traditional proscenium stage in 1972.
After rejecting two theater proposals, including one from Carnegie Mellon University, the City offered the facility — rent-free — in 1974 to Pittsburgh Public Theater. The renovation was completed with a grant from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and a design by Peter Wexler, featuring a flexible stage and audience space with movable scaffold seating, created one of the more interesting and intimate performance spaces in the country.
Pittsburgh Public Theater is no longer affiliated with the Hazlett Theater. The space reopened in Fall 2006 as the New Hazlett Theater. For information on the New Hazlett Theater, visit www.newhazletttheater.org.