The Bard’s New Digs

William Shakespeare may be a big part of the future of Downtown Las Vegas. How do you build a fresh home for a timeless classic?


The decades-long effort to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas (it didn’t start with Zappos, kids) has had its Shakespearean twists: good intentions gone awry, virtue unrewarded, high hopes, deep funks and soaring ambitions. So the area is an appropriate new home for the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company, which moved to the erstwhile Reed Whipple Cultural Center and is spearheading its $45 million expansion. In the refurbished building, the Shakespeare Company will become a part of the newly formed Nevada Repertory, though the Bard will still be prominent in its playbills.

The LVSC won the lease for the building from the Las Vegas City Council in September 2011 and began a capital campaign last year to fund the renovation. The project will help the company in its efforts to join the prestigious League of Resident Theatres, and will keep Downtown’s Cultural Corridor—roughly the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard between U.S. 95 and Cashman Field—vibrant after the departure of the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum to Symphony Park (and before the potential departure of the Las Vegas 51s to Summerlin).

The design by Gensler & Associates calls for a 35,000-square-foot complex with a 499-seat theater, a Bard Lounge, Gallery OV Opportunity Village Fine Art gallery and the return of Rosemary’s restaurant—long a locals favorite.

Project architects J.F. Finn and Brett Robillard shared their vision for the project with Vegas Seven. “There’s excitement about this particular pocket and extension of the Cultural Corridor,” Robillard says. “If you look at the Cultural Corridor, it’s really a catalyst or two away from being really extraordinary.”

The Connection

“We asked ourselves, ‘How does the Shakespearean tradition represent itself in this building?’ One thing we decided is that we’re not going to just plaster the place with Tudor features and make it look like the [London’s] Globe Theatre. There may be a place for that, but this wasn’t the place, so we looked for subtle cues from the pattern of the existing building and the idea of iambic pentameter and the Shakespearean rhythm. … The [Nevada Repertory] doesn’t just do Shakespeare; they do all kinds of things, and they have different outreach programs, so we asked ourselves how that translates into architecture that’s representative not only of them but the broader context of the city. It’s really exciting to try to draw from the influences of the desert. Vegas is a place that has a lot of mimicry, but here it seemed more aesthetically appropriate to use a natural palette.”

The Facade

“The mid-century modern facade of the existing building is very iconic. Everybody recognizes it, and it sits right on the street front. We decided to let that continue to be the star and take everything else as a backdrop. It’s simple and straightforward. It has simple, clean, direct forms with a highlight moment, and the renovation maintains that.”

The Building

“We surrounded the existing box with simple forms. The fly loft [the tall area above the stage] is very, very visible. It’s a simple iconic form that will act as a backdrop and complement the facade. The facade maintains its own presence. Don’t violate it, don’t tear it down, but also don’t try to match it. We’re saying, ‘Here’s a nice new layer,’ almost like a new set of clothes.”

The Theater

“Right now, it’s flexible removable seating; it’s a nice black-box style, something you might see off Broadway. The stage will become longer, wider and deeper. We’ll increase the length of the seating and add a new fly loft.”

The Timeline

Construction will begin when funding reaches 85 percent (it’s at 60 percent now, with a $20 million naming donor to be announced by year’s end) and is expected to take 18 months. If all goes as planned, the theater will host its first production on September 8, 2015.