Cornish Playhouse from southeast. Photo: Mark Bocek.
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Cornish Playhouse, courtyard.
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Cornish Playhouse, view lobby. Photo: Mark Bocek.
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Cornish Playhouse, view of backstage and house. Photo: Mark Bocek.
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The Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center is a vibrant theatrical and educational facility, a landmark of modern architecture built for the World’s Fair of 1962. Operated by Cornish College of the Arts as its most high-profile venue, the playhouse presents to the public a full range of professional and student performing arts productions. In its 440-seat main auditorium, its black-box theater and its generous forecourt and lobby, Cornish and its professional partners offer rich experiences not only in theater but also in dance, music and the visual arts. In keeping with the College’s mission, the Cornish Playhouse provides students aspiring to become practicing artists with educational opportunities of the highest possible quality, preparing them to contribute to society as artists, citizens and innovators.
With the signing of a long-term lease on the Playhouse, the College has fulfilled Nellie Cornish's vision, to have a performance venue placed in the city's theater district.
Built with epic rapidity for the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 as the “Century 21 Playhouse,” the auditorium originally was nevertheless an enduring structure, a classic of the spare, Modern style. A contemporary architectural reviewer stated, "For me, the element of the [World’s] fair likely to emerge as the most admirable after all the tumult and hosannas for the more 'spectacular' structures have died down, is the complex designed by Kirk, Wallace & McKinley to house the playhouse, exhibition center, and remodeled opera house and arena.” The reviewer called the design of the Playhouse “beautifully restrained” with a “delightful series of exterior and interior spaces …” One of these delightful, exterior spaces is the courtyard with its illuminated fountain with four-piece bronze sculpture James Fitzgerald.
The Playhouse was originally designed to seat 895 patrons in an end-stage configuration. As such, it became home to the newly christened Seattle Repertory Theatre the year after the fair, in 1963. When the Rep built its Bagley Wright Theatre next door to the Playhouse in 1982, its original home was abandoned. In 1987, the Playhouse was extensively remodeled to become the home of Intiman Theatre Company. The seating was halved to around 440 (with some variation) with a thrust stage and twin vomitoria for under-the-audience access to the stage. The redesigned Playhouse featured far better acoustics, and, with its curved audience seating, a much improved experience for patrons. Though the auditorium was reduced in size, the Playhouse still features a full fly tower and backstage area, and a voluminous lobby.
In 2013, Cornish assumed a long-term lease on the Playhouse freeing Intiman from its obligation to upkeep on the structure. Intiman remains a valued partner at the Playhouse, with a three-play summer season.