The Public Theater & Shakespeare Machine

Multimedia sculpture by Ben Rubin in the lobby of the renovated Public Theater, NYC, typography aboundsPaula Scher and Pentragram design/posters in the lobby of the renovated Public Theater, NYC, typography aboundsPentragram, Paula Scher, Ben Rubin, Multimedia installation and typography in architecture
Click to enlarge

I signed up to see Ben Rubin present his Shakespeare Machine (previously here) at the newly renovated Public Theater last night and was surprised by a number of things: the beautiful lobby; the impressive and perfectly displayed multimedia sculpture in the center; the spectacular collage of Paula Scher-designed Public Theater posters on the wall behind the ticket booths (I’ve been wanting to do something like this at home forever); all this with an amazing party including a open bar and tasty food, to boot!

The Public has created what they describe as a “welcoming piazza” with extended steps out front that lure you in to the new lobby. The bar at the entrance is very striking with the chandelier-like Shakespeare Machine above it. And, in Pentragram partner Paula Scher’s signature style, it’s a typography lover’s delight. The bar, the information booth, the archways, the staff t-shirts all play with the Public’s chunky variants on the Akzidenz Grotesk typeface. Talking with someone at the party, I learned that the sunken type on the arches was particularly challenging. The asymmetric positioning of the signage type adds to the uplifting quality of it all.

Oh, and we can’t forget the Shakespeare Machine, which was the main reason for my visit. A couple of technical glitches in the beginning were quickly ironed out and the sculpture played with the Shakespeare text as humorously and cleverly as the space that surrounds it. Close to a million words are shuffled by statistician Mark Hansen’s algorithms that choreograph the text into situations such as a series of “To be or’s” that are followed by unexpected, alternative, and smile-inducing, Shakespearean text rather than the expected “not to be” which also makes an appearance later. The cycle runs roughly 5 to 10 minutes with variations in visual effects, from inverted type to such high-speed text that it becomes abstract. The Shakespeare Machine will be on full-time during the theater’s hours of operation.

Kudos to all involved in the revitalization: Ennead Architects, Paula Scher and her team at Pentagram, Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, as well as many, many more, I’m sure.

You can see a snippet of the sculpture in action below. The voices are not part of the sculpture, but, rather, actors for the event:

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