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The exterior of the Perelman Performing Arts Center.
Photograph: By Iwan Baan

A first look inside the dynamic, beautiful theater opening near the World Trade Center

"Out of the ashes, something new, something wonderful has risen."

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

It's impossible not to hear the echoes of 9/11 at the Perelman Performing Arts Center. The sound of water rushing into the memorial pools fills the air as guests walk up the front steps to the theater in the shadow of One World Trade Center.

The performing arts center, which was unveiled today and will open to the public next week, marks the final piece in the puzzle of the World Trade Center site. Twenty-two years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, officials say the site offers hope at the sacred ground.

RECOMMENDED: A powerful new 9/11 exhibit is now on view at the NYC Fire Museum

When it opens to the public on September 19, the Perelman will become the only major performing arts venue in Lower Manhattan. Its opening, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, adds to the vibrancy and growth of Lower Manhattan.

"After 9/11, many people thought New York's best days were behind us. I remember those days. And 'Lower Manhattan would never recover' was the zeitgeist," he said. "Today it's where you want to be. Just think about the renaissance of Lower Manhattan and of New York in general."

The exterior of the Perelman with Lower Manhattan's skyline in the background.
Photograph: By Iwan Baan

The eye-catching building, a feat of design and engineering, is sure to become a landmark in Lower Manhattan. As the city's mayor two decades ago, Bloomberg vowed to include a performing arts center in the plans to rebuild the World Trade Center site.

Out of the ashes, something new, something wonderful has risen.

"It's taken a long time for this day to come, but honestly, I'm not sure it could've happened nor should've happened any sooner," said Paula Grant Berry, who lost her husband David during the terrorist attacks. "Now I feel while we're always going to remember what happened here in the past, it's time to build some new memories. That's what this performing arts center will do. It will make this site not just a reminder of where our loved ones died but why they lived. ... Out of the ashes, something new, something wonderful has risen. It's a symbol of our strength and love and faith in the human spirit.

The performing arts center joins with the 9/11 Memorial and 9/11 Museum, she said—“three essential monuments to make sure the world never forgets."  

The stage at the Perelman Performing Arts Center.
Photograph: By Iwan Baan

An engineering marvel

The building glows both inside and outside thanks to translucent marble tiles covering the exterior of the 138-foot-tall cube-shaped facade. Even though the venue's covered in stone, it feels bright and welcoming inside.

Three theaters comprise the venue, and the trio can be rearranged into different configurations—62 different configurations, in fact. Those different iterations will provide artists in theater, music, dance, film and opera with the creative space to determine the exact stage arrangement to complement their work. Walls, floors and even seats can be shuffled into a variety of layouts, including theater-in-the-round, end stage, thrust and traverse configurations.

The interior walls at the Perelman.
Photograph: By Iwan Baan

Heavy walls ensure sound quality. Even if there’s a loud rock concert in one theater and a quietly spoken word show in the next, there’s “no acoustic bleed,” Bill Rauch, the venue’s artistic director explained. 

Each time visitors come for a show, they'll experience a different theater configuration, Perelman Performing Arts Center's Executive Director Khady Kamara said. Artists, she added, will gain unparalleled flexibility.

When you think about the audience, you have an element of surprise and delight. 

"They have the ability to really think about the best way for audience members to engage with their work," she said. "And then when you think about the audience, you have an element of surprise and delight."

Another design feat: The Perelman Performing Arts Center sits atop 13 train lines and underground delivery services, so it is carefully insulated against vibration. 

The interior of the restaurant.
Photograph: By Iwan Baan

Performances, free events and a promising restaurant

A five-night global music series called "Refuge: A Concert Series to Welcome the World" will kick off the season. The first night's show on September 19 is called "NYC Tapestry: Home as Refuge" and will feature artists who have come from other parts of the world to make New York their home—particularly poignant amidst the backdrop of the humanitarian migrant crisis unfolding in the city.

Other upcoming performances include a reimagining of the musical Cats set in NYC’s Ballroom culture, an all-Native stand-up show, a street dance festival and a speaker series. Tickets to performances in the building’s theaters begin at $39. Here’s the full show lineup

As for free events, there's an Open House: Arts Community Day on September 27 and Open House: Five Borough Family Day on September 30.

In addition to performances, the Perelman Performing Arts Center will include a restaurant called Metropolis by renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. The lobby restaurant is open to all, not just theater patrons, with an open kitchen, bar and outdoor terrace.  

The lobby itself is also open for anyone to visit, with free performances hosted often. The performing arts center, also known as PAC NYC, is located at 251 Fulton Street and will be open to the public seven days a week from 8am to 11pm.

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