An Incubator Space to Engage with Theatre History: Presenting the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab

By Alex Teplitzky, Senior Communications Manager, Library for the Performing Arts Communications
March 29, 2022
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Rendering of the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab.

Credit: LAB at Rockwell Group

Can a library be more than a space to check out and read books? At the Library for the Performing Arts, we think so! The Library is already home to many items besides books—vinyl records, set designs, recordings of Broadway productions, oral interviews with dancers, photos, manuscripts, sheet music, and much more. All of these items mean that the Library has become a go-to place for artists and performers to research past work, and be inspired to create anew. 

Now, to build upon that legacy, we are underway in the development of the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab—made possible thanks to a generous donation by Harvey Fierstein, cultural icon, gay rights activist, and four-time Tony Award-winning actor, and playwright. Inspired in part by the experimental scene Fierstein experienced in downtown New York, which allowed him the safe space to find his voice, the Theatre Lab will be a place for new generations of performers, dancers, actors, producers, and performing arts makers of all kinds to likewise find their voices.

This incubator space is merely one part in the Library’s larger strategic initiative to create space for creatives and makers to use and physically engage with our archives and resources in new ways to create new work. “We are always working to make our collection more accessible so that the creative process continues to foment organically at the Library,” explained Jen Schantz, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

"Live theater is live theater—you do it and that’s it," Fierstein told The New York Times when his gift to the library was made public. "Without a library collecting this stuff, our whole history disappears." The Theatre Lab will act as a bridge between the ephemerality of theatre and the more stolid space of the Library archive. A key part of the Library for the Performing Arts centers on the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, which has been preserving theatrical productions and documenting the creative process of theatre since 1970. The lab will act as a flexible workshop and rehearsal space where theatre makers can view and interact with the historical record that lives at the Library for the Performing Arts.

David Rockwell speaks about the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab

NYPL/Jonathan Blanc

Continuing on his more than 20-year partnership with Fierstein, award-winning architect and scenic designer David Rockwell and the LAB at Rockwell Group, Rockwell Group’s experience design and technology studio, have been tasked to design and build the Theatre Lab. "When we began to dream about what this space could be," Rockwell explained recently, "we knew we needed to maintain everything that has made the standard black box a ubiquitous fixture around the world, and then amp up its dynamism with all those Harvey hallmarks."

The Theatre Lab is a fully functional, responsive theater space designed to contain a series of elements that can pop out, roll away, expand, and collapse depending on the user's needs. A "play wall" will feature a central LCD screen on a mobile wall surrounded by shelving for storing acting blocks, stackable chairs, and flexible work surfaces. Design visualization tools will also provide interactive mechanisms for previewing lighting, scenic, video, or blocking to recreate various scenes for educational and rehearsal purposes.

With a space that can be arranged by the user in a variety of ways, the Lab will be a place where creatives—no matter their intention, performing arts discipline, or background—can experience total and complete flexibility. We’re so excited to welcome you to the Harvey Fierstein Theatre Lab. Stay tuned for more updates!