The Circle in the Square Theatre is a legitimate Broadway playhouse located in the Paramount Plaza building. Paul Libin, Theodore Mann, and Jose Quintero established the original Circle in the Square in 1951. This occurrence was known as the birth of the off-Broadway theatre movement. The original Circle in the Square, which was located at 5 Sheridan Square (a brownstone) in Greenwich Village, was such a unique venture that the founders could not get a theatre license, but Quintero was able to obtain a cabaret license. If anyone desired food or beverages, the production staff and actors served as waiters. Circle in the Square was a unique company as many of the theatre staff lived on site.
History of the Circle
The Circle in the Square was home to not only theatrical productions, but also to classical performances. In January 1953, pianist Grete Sultan, a close friend of John Cage and a renowned interpreter of New Music, performed Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach. The establishment moved to the Circle in the Square Downtown in 1960 to a historic building. The building first served as a movie house and then as the original Amato Opera House before it became the Circle in the Square Theatre.
The original Circle in the Square foreshadowed the “adaptive reuse” movement. This act of constructing theatres from other types of existing buildings was common in the South Village during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Circle in the Square also exemplified the South Village’s exceptional contributions to the theatre community and architecture. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation fought plans to tear down the theatre in 2004, but they lost the battle and another building was constructed in its place.
The Circle in the Square’s first performance on Broadway was on November 15, 1972, with the revival of Mourning Becomes Electra. Stars that have graced the Circle in the Square stage include Vanessa Redgrave, Kevin Kline, Lillian Gish, Julie Christie, Joanne Woodward, John Malkovich, and numerous others in both classics and contemporary plays. Noteworthy performances here include Hughie starring Al Pacino, Tennessee William’s play Not About Nightingales, True West with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, a wild revival of The Rocky Horror Show, the highly-praised play Frozen, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
In the Round
Architect Alan Sayles designed the Circle in the Square Theatre, and it presently shares a home with the Gershwin Theatre in the Paramount Plaza office tower. The two theatres were constructed by the Uris Brothers in 1970 when they demolished the Capitol Theatre to build the tower. The new theatre, which is located below street level and accessible by escalator, was initially used as the uptown home to the Circle-in-the-Square repertory company. The venue is one of the very rare Broadway theatres to be designed in the round. The playhouse includes a 680-seat main theatre auditorium, rehearsal studios and classrooms. The lounge, similar to the auditorium, is not artistically inspiring, but it is spacious, clean and contemporary. The lobby and lounge areas are ornamented with many snapshots of the company’s prominent production history.
25 Years of Stimulating Productions
In 1976, the Circle in the Square Theatre received a Special Tony Award for twenty-five years of quality shows. Since the venue was designed in the round, it is highly suitable for eccentric performances. Over the years, Circle in the Square has given some of America’s most exceptional actors the opportunity to play the most challenging roles while providing an environment free of pressure from the industry. Circle in the Square acknowledges the actors’ yearnings to explore less popular shows, therefore allowing audiences to see stimulating plays that would otherwise be unavailable to them.