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April 27, 2000

Theatre Intime facility to be renovated

Princeton, N.J. -- Princeton's venerable Theatre Intime will close the weekend of May 20 for the most extensive renovation of its home in Murray Theater since the building was gutted by fire in June 1933.

The Intime 2000 project will restore the splendor of this late 19th century building located in the heart of the upper campus and extend its tradition as a leading center for independent student theater into the 21st century. The renovation is expected to cost approximately $750,000 and will be completed in time for the beginning of the fall semester.


Intime 2000 is being co-sponsored by the University and the Friends of Theatre Intime in connection with the 250th Anniversary Campaign for Princeton. Founded in 1988 by a small core of Intime graduates, the Friends of Theatre Intime has focused the generosity of Intime supporters on certain of the theater's specific capital needs such as lighting and sound system upgrades. A guiding principle of this support has been to maintain the unique educational challenge Intime has presented to generations of Princeton students -- the management by students of every aspect of an artistic institution, independent of the programmatic support of the University. While these targeted technology improvements have provided the students with some of the basic tools of a modern production facility, the public spaces of Murray Theater have declined into a state of elegant shabbiness and much of the back-stage infrastructure remains primitive. For example, the dressing room used most often by the women in the cast lacks even running water.

Intime 2000 will renew every corner of the facility including both the public spaces and behind-the-scenes production support areas. Some of the most important improvements include:

Extension of the lobby to enclose both entrances to the auditorium, addition of a second audience restroom, relocation of the box office, air-conditioning of the lobby areas, general and emergency lighting, and restoration of the hardwood floors and magnificent wood paneling in the public spaces.

Refurbishment of the house, proscenium and stage and replacement of the audience seating.

Reconfiguration of the lower level to provide improved production, storage and administrative areas. Work will encompass significant changes in space utilization including complete reconstruction of both dressing rooms into adjacent locations, creation of dedicated storage for building materials, sets and props, and overhauls of the business and production offices, theater shop, green room and costume room.

Replacement of the narrow wooden stairway from the lobby to the basement with a fire rated stair tower and construction of a new fire exit from the theater shop toward McCosh Walk, which will also provide improved delivery access for building materials and set pieces.

Further upgrades to the lighting and sound systems that include digitizing the dimmers sound effects systems and increasing the equipment stock to permit a semi-permanent repertory lighting plot.

Modernization of safety systems and improvements in accessibility.

Endowment of a fund to ensure maintenance of the improved facility so that this unique Princeton institution will continue to flourish.


In February 1920 an eager audience of four watched an intrepid cast of five perform a parody of Nijinsky and the Ballet Russe. Their theater was a Witherspoon Hall dormitory room, their curtain a blanket hung over a string. Theatre Intime was born. Since then it has produced over 500 plays and involved some 10,000 people. It has always been run entirely by students, independent of University supervision. The experience gained in being responsible for every aspect of running a theater is often cited as the reason for the unusual number of Intime graduates who have had outstanding careers in the professional theater.

In 1921 Theatre Intime moved into the chapel in Murray-Dodge Hall under the leadership of Louis Laflin '24 and became a "legitimate" campus organization. Intime takes its name from the French word for intimate, an apt description of the 200-seat theater. The emphasis at first was on original student authored plays. Some 150 student-written plays have been put on, a tradition which continues today with the annual Student Playwrights production in the spring term.

Originally run along the lines of a private club, whose audiences were admitted by invitation only, Intime quickly developed into a more open stage company. But like most organizations which depend on the energy and commitment of a constantly changing membership, Intime has experienced alternating periods of creativity and growth and times when interest and participation sagged. The period before World War II saw the company's focus shift from student playwriting to acting and directing a more conventional repertoire. This new focus first emerged in the years 1929-1933, when James Stewart, Joshua Logan, Myron McCormick, Norris Houghton, Bretaigne Windust, Erik Barnouw and others were student members. Mr. Barnouw, Class of 1929, and his classmate Lou Kemp are the most senior members of the Friends of Theatre Intime.

The 1933 fire proved only a temporary setback and Intime was back in action after a summer reconstruction that gave the facility roughly its present configuration. Notable productions of the early years include Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor Ivanovitch (1929), Toller's Man and the Masses (played in the new McCarter Theatre in 1931), Time of Their Lives (a play about Princeton by Robert Nail '33), and The Great God Brown (1936), which earned a telegram of congratulation from Eugene O'Neill.

World War II posed a more serious crisis as Murray Theater was given over to Navy lecturers and Intime's activities were suspended. After the war a group of former Intime and Triangle Club members re-established the organization reaching new dramatic heights in 1948 with a memorable production of Richard II. During the years 1947-1954, the group began experimenting with new playwrights and artists. Works by Sartre, Cocteau and Giradoux appeared during these years, soon to be followed by Albee, Ionesco, Pirandello, Beckett, Camus and Brecht.

Other Intimers who have enjoyed distinguished careers in professional theater include Robert Chapman '41, Thomas Barbour '43, Philip Minor '50, Roger Berlind '52, Charles Schultz, Hugh Hardy and Daniel Seltzer '54, Clark Gessner '60, William Hootkins '70 and Winnie Holzman '76. Geoff Peterson '69, one of the most dedicated Intimers both as an undergraduate and as a Friends board member, served for many years as Managing Director of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and is currently completing a computerized performance history of the Met.

In addition, over the years several plays have enjoyed their world or American premiers at Intime beginning with John Milton's Samson Agonistes in the spring of 1921, followed by Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor Ivanovitch (1929), Jules Romains Give Earth a Little Longer (1942), Jean Cocteau's The Typewriter (1949), John O'hara's Age of Anxiety (1960) and Lawrence Durrell's An Irish Faustus (1969).

The greatest turning point in Intime's recent history occurred during the late 1960s and 1970s as Princeton University's new programmatic commitment to the performing arts began to be felt. While the Program in Theater and Dance did not impact Intime directly, student enthusiasm for theater in general increased markedly, reflecting in part the cultural turbulence and changes of these years. And the advent of coeducation in 1970 provided a great deal of new dramatic, technical and management talent as well as a self-reliance for the full ranging of casting that Intime had never before enjoyed. Membership rules were loosened further, and an atmosphere of creativity and openness inspired not only experimental and avant-garde performances, but also an expanded season of up to ten plays, compared to the four-or-five play seasons of the previous decade.


Recent years have reflected the same varied performance program that has been a feature of Intime since its inception. Students have tackled a full range of pieces in all areas of the repertoire from Greek tragedy to contemporary Asian-American plays, from Shakespeare to French avant-garde and modern British works. Landmark productions of the 90s have included Amadeus (Spring 1991), Noises Off (Spring 1993), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Spring 1995) and Arcadia (Spring 1999). The discipline of financial independence engenders a season balanced between box office appeal and artistic experimentation. And in addition to its regular season, Intime provides facilities for several other campus performance and dance groups during the academic year.

Murray Theater is also home to Princeton Summer Theater, which began as Summer Intime in 1968 and operates as a separate non-profit organization run by a mix of Intimers and other student theater groups. The tradition of community-focused summer theater reaches back to Intime's first decade when some of its leading spirits helped form the original University Players at Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1928. This company, which developed into one of the most distinguished summer stock companies on the east coast, reincarnated after World War II based on the creative drive of the same group of undergraduates who reorganized Intime itself. PST is hence the third summer theater company to sprout from Intime's rich soil.

Intime graduates continue to seed fresh creative energy into the world of professional theater and dance. Mark Feuerstein '93 has forged a successful film and television career that includes the role as Sandra Bullock's ill-fated husband in Practical Magic. And Jordan Roth '97 recently opened his innovative original production The Donkey Show, A Midsummernight's Disco in New York to enthusiastic reviews.

Intime also enjoyed a very successful 75th anniversary celebration in the fall of 1995, which brought together seven decades of Intime participants and began the process from which Intime 2000 was born. When it became clear that the project was gaining both financial and architectural momentum, President Shapiro designated University Vice- President and Secretary, Thomas H. Wright '62, to oversee its execution. Wright, who himself has recently appeared on the Intime stage, is an enthusiastic advocate of the renovation, although it is relatively small in the portfolio of capital projects he manages, which also includes construction of the new Berlind Theater. "The greatest aspect of Intime as an educational experience is that the students own it completely," he recently stated in a project review with Friends of Intime President J. William Charrier '69. This sentiment is echoed by Adam Friedman '01, Intime's current undergraduate General Manager.

"The experience of managing a theater and producing shows independently is invaluable for undergraduates," Friedman says. "While teaching the core values and processes of theater and theatrical production both artistically and technically, Intime also teaches undergraduates the nuances of peer management, leadership, group dynamics, and most importantly, the thrill of complete artistic freedom."

Amen to that, says Charrier, who considers staying completely out of anything to do with Intime's operation the prime directive of the Friends. "Intime is from year to year, exactly what the students make of it." Charrier also regards the present undergraduate management of Intime as one of the most focused and energetic he has seen. "This group is committed not only to putting on excellent theater but also to leaving a legacy for future Princeton students. Friends board member Jonathan Dyer '67 and University Project Manager Steve Virostko have overseen the design process as the project moved from concept to detailed drawings," Charrier notes. "But many of the ideas and details that we will see when Intime reopens next September came from the students."

Dyer also gives high marks to Erin Pratt and her firm, Myers Associates, the project architects. "We had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done going in," says Dyer, "but Erin really showed us how to squeeze the last square inch of utility out of the theater's dungeon-like basement."

Funding for the Intime 2000 renovation is a relatively late arising part of the 250th Anniversary Campaign for Princeton. But like everything to do with Intime, it's a little different. In May 1999 the board of the Friends of Intime approached President Shapiro with a full set of conceptual drawings developed by Dyer's architecture firm and a commitment to raise a minimum of $250,000, if the University would match fund the project. President Shapiro quickly agreed based on the importance of Intime in the University's cultural life and history, the high return on a relatively modest investment and the significant safety improvements encompassed in the plan.

"Intime 2000 is a wonderful example of the spirit of voluntarism that makes Princeton such a special place," observed Marvin Cheiten H65, *71, one of the major contributors to the project. Charrier agrees. "We hit the University with this at a time when the last thing it needed was another new capital project to manage. But we were encouraged to work within a broad set of policy guidelines and make it happen without a lot of institutional support. And that's what has made it so rewarding. Intime 2000 mirrors Intime itself."

Intime has even inspired one senior thesis by John Kendall '74 which describes in detail the history and development of the institution. It is entitled, appropriately enough, I Also Swept the Floor: Theatre Intime from 1920 to 1974.