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Bucks County Playhouse

Mills + Schnoering Architects

Project Description

The 439-seat Bucks County Playhouse was developed on the remains of a 19th century grist mill located at the intersection of the Aquetong Creek and Delaware River in the heart of the Borough of New Hope, PA. It has had a distinguished history as a pre-Broadway premiere venue since opening in 1939, and has hosted a variety of production types. While the building had fallen into disrepair and been closed for two years, new owners were committed to returning the Playhouse to its original stature, attracting new audiences, saving an important local landmark, and galvanizing community involvement.

Master planning for the building and site was undertaken with an initial goal of opening the Playhouse in time for its summer season. Construction Documents for $2 million worth of construction were developed in six weeks, including review by the New Hope Borough Historic Architectural Review Board, Zoning Office, and construction officials. The project was designed to respect the building’s historic status and character.

Accessibility was improved, including a new wood entry stair and ramp and replacement of the existing auditorium seating. Interior lighting was vastly improved and all finishes were upgraded, including refinishing of the original pine flooring. The theater’s original fire curtain, painted by folk artist Charles Child and depicting a whimsical scene of New Hope, was restored to its original luster.

Significant structural improvements were also undertaken, including the insertion of new bent steel beams in the auditorium roof to provide stabilization of the stone mill walls as well as hanging points for a new catwalk. The building’s exterior was stabilized and repaired, and new roof, siding, and door upgrades were incorporated. Life safety improvements, including new smoke vents for the stage and new automatic fire protection and fire alarm systems, and new exterior lighting and HVAC system upgrades were provided. Stage, technical, and performance systems were brought up to modern standards, and included a new counterweight rigging system as well as stage lighting and audio systems.

The project is ongoing with future phases to include: new porch; new bar and deck addition adjoining new promenade; new lobby, box office and toilet rooms; administrative offices; and dressing rooms and other back-of-house spaces.

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