Our story Since our start in 1957, we’ve worked on more than 1,500 projects in 80 countries—performing arts centers, concert halls, corporate auditoriums, museums, and opera houses, to name a few. No matter the project type, we put our experience to work creating innovative, flexible, hardworking, and efficient spaces.
We’ve always worked hard to stay at the leading edge of theatre design—listening to artists and craftspeople, exploring new technologies, and advocating for great audience experiences. And that’s what our future holds.
Oslo Opera House | Credit: Allover Norway / Rex Features
Early days In 1957, up-and-coming lighting designer Richard Pilbrow founded Theatre Projects as a lighting design and rental company in London. But he had much bigger plans.
Working with David Collison, he started Theatre Projects Sound, and together they pioneered the professions of lighting and sound design in the UK, working across the West End and at the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the then-emerging National Theatre.
Their innovative designs took the company to Broadway where they met legendary producer Hal Prince. This connection led to the creation of Theatre Projects Associates to produce shows in the West End. For 25 years, Theatre Projects Associates produced over 30 productions, including history-making productions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Edward II, Richard II, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret.
The Theatre Projects group didn’t stop there, growing to 20 companies and offering record production, book publishing, architectural lighting, and film, television, and video production. The group even included a company that provided stunt artists and police portrayers from Victorian age to present day—uniforms, vehicles, horses, and dogs included!
Everything changed one day in 1963 when Sir Laurence Olivier asked Richard to be the lighting designer for the National Theatre of Great Britain. That put Richard in the right place at the right time to join the building committee for the National’s iconic new theatre complex on London’s South Bank. Later, he would resign from the committee to become the full-time theatre consultant to the project at Sir Laurence’s invitation. That appointment marked the start of today’s Theatre Projects. Within 10 years, the company had 30 theatre consultants working on projects in 20 countries!
Establishment of the consulting company As the 1970s progressed, we realized that something was missing from the rooms we were equipping. We needed to be thinking bigger—both about the design of the rooms themselves and about how these buildings would operate. Inspired, our team grew to include producers, managers, and architects to work alongside our live production experts, expanding our mission beyond technical design to include feasibility and management studies, theatre planning, and auditorium and stage design.
That auditorium and stage design work would make us the company we are today.
Our design philosophy developed from two major projects in that era. The first was the Cottesloe Theatre, a modern courtyard theatre born from historical models. The second was our first substantial renovation project, the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. From both, we learned that wrapping people around the room so they could interact directly with the performer and with each other resulted in dynamic, energy-charged performances. In drawing from the past, our path for future designs became clear. Wrapping the audience around the playing area on multiple levels creates engagement, connection, and intimacy—in our opinion, the perfect recipe for great performance.
In the era that followed, we focused on having a real effect on the experience of live performance through a clear vision of theatre design and the actor-audience relationship.
Theatre Royal, Nottingham | Credit: Theatre Projects
Growth and change The 1980s and 1990s brought explosive growth to Theatre Projects as architects and theatre owners began to take notice of our new design philosophy.
In the early 1980s, we opened the Tricycle Theatre—one of the most intimate and popular theatres in London—and Derngate, the world’s first multipurpose, multiform theatre. By the mid-1980s, we had extended our reach to the US, opening our first US consulting office in 1982, followed quickly by our first North American project, the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts (now Arts Commons, Calgary), and then our first major US project, the Portland (Oregon) Center for the Performing Arts.
As we entered the 1990s, US-based operations quickly gained speed, matching our UK success step-for-step.
Steppenwolf Theatre, inspired by the rich traditions of Broadway theatre architecture, opened in 1991. Following its success, we created drama theatres for other US regional repertory theatres including San Jose Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and Baltimore’s Center Stage. In 1994 we opened Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, the first indoor/outdoor concert hall to be inspired by the classic “shoe box” concert hall tradition.
On the other side of the Atlantic, we restored the historic Art Deco 1929 Savoy Theatre in London’s West End after it suffered extensive fire damage. We also worked with Glyndebourne to build a contemporary interpretation of a traditional opera house, which is now recognized globally as one of the world’s great opera houses. The new space was exactly the right fit for a world-class institution aiming to "balance the expected with the unexpected."
Operations in Southeast Asia were expanding too. We’d been working in the region since we designed the Hong Kong Arts Center in the mid-1970s. In 1996 we opened an office in Singapore to service work in the region, including one of the most important performing arts complexes in Asia, Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay.
In 1997, New Amsterdam Theatre—home to Disney Theatrical Productions’ The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Aladdin—opened as part of New York City’s 42nd Street redevelopment. While in the thick of the renovation, our focus was on protecting the building’s exceptional Art Nouveau details. But once the project opened, the true impact of this project became clear—the revitalization of Times Square was the start of a movement that would change the face of New York City.
Industry leadership The new century found Theatre Projects firmly established as an experienced international design firm, able to tap our expanded team for its depth of expertise and our own history for valuable lessons learned. We were ready to lead our industry with thorough, thoughtful design innovations that would keep pace with technical advances on every front.
We found ourselves working on iconic projects from Hollywood to Oslo. The Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) opened in 2001, becoming the first permanent home of the Academy Awards®. On Oscar night, one billion viewers around the world experience a Theatre Projects space. One of the world's most famous modern concert halls, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, opened shortly after. In 2008, the new home of the Norwegian National Opera, the Oslo Opera House, opened and quickly became a cultural landmark for Norway.
And after more than 25 years of planning, the Dallas Arts District got two new, world-class facilities: the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
At the same time, we continued our legacy of working with repertory theatre companies across the US and the UK, among them the Goodman Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, South Coast Repertory, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Everyman Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, English Stage Company, the Young Vic, and the Unicorn Theatre.
In the mid-2000s, we entered a new and exciting market. With the opening of City of Dreams, The House of Dancing Water Theater in Macau and The Han Show Theater in China, our portfolio expanded to include major, circus-based entertainment projects.
Never content to stay on the sidelines, our business continued to grow and change. In 2006, we reorganized and transferred ownership of the firm to a new generation of leaders. In 2008, we opened a regional office in Shanghai. In 2015, we opened a Paris studio as home to our acoustics team, servicing projects throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Today, we have 50 employees in four offices worldwide. From theatre designers to finance gurus, acousticians to marketing specialists, we’re passionate about making performing arts buildings work for audiences, performers, and technicians alike. What’s coming next for Theatre Projects? We're excited to find out!
AT&T Performing Arts Center | Credit: Iwan Baan