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$10 Million Gift Names New CFA Theater

The Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre rises on Comm Ave

When leading global financier and self-described sports zealot Steve Zide stepped up with a $10 million naming gift for the BU theater complex under construction on the Charles River Campus, he suspected the decision might surprise a few people. A theater? But as BU trustee Zide tells it, the gift is a fitting and poetic tribute to his theater-loving wife, Janet Zide, and his in-laws, who brought the joy of stage performance into his life and the lives of the Zides’ four children.

Rising from a former parking lot at the edge of 808 Comm Ave in what will eventually be an arts campus within West Campus, the theater will bear the names of Janet Zide’s parents: the Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre. Edgar Booth passed away recently, but Zide’s mother-in-law, Joan Booth, remains an active patron of the arts and a Broadway aficionado, says Zide (LAW’86).

“It’s not an area that I would normally have thought of, but it struck me as the perfect thing to honor Jan’s parents and to give back in a way that’s meaningful to Jan and to me,” says Zide, senior advisor of private equity at the New York offices of international private equity and investment capital firm Bain Capital. He believes that exposure to the arts is an essential part of the mission of all great universities and in the development of full and productive members of society.

“BU is ascendant in so many disciplines since President Brown became part of the community, and we really feel that performing arts are a critical piece of a great urban university,” Zide says. “We wanted to make sure that students interested in performing arts have the opportunity to pursue their passion, the way, for example, medical, law, and business students have the facilities to pursue theirs.”

The lobby of Boston University's Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre Complex

A rendering of the lobby of the Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre complex.

President Robert A. Brown says he believes that the arts should be part of every student’s experience at Boston University. “When we open the Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre, we will have at the heart of our campus a state-of-the-art theater as the centerpiece for the role that the students and faculty of the School of Theatre play in fulfilling this goal,” says Brown. “We are deeply grateful to the very generous gift from Steve and Jan Zide—honoring Jan’s parents—that made it possible for us to make this project a reality.”

Designed by the Boston architectural firm Elkus Manfredi, the 75,000-square-foot theater complex will include the 250-seat Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre, production and costume shops, design labs, classrooms, and a landscaped plaza. When the complex opens, it will be the first time in decades that College of Fine Arts performance and production students have been housed in the same dedicated location. The theater will be the centerpiece, funded in part by monies from the 2016 sale of the BU Theatre, the longtime home of the Huntington Theatre Company.

Lynne Allen, CFA dean ad interim, says the gift from the Zides highlights how important theater and the arts are to our culture. “The naming of the theater is an incredible gift to the College of Fine Arts community,” Allen says. “It is also a gift to every BU student and faculty and staff member. The theater will be accessible and central to every BU student’s life.”

Boston University's Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre Complex

Designed by the Boston architectural firm Elkus Manfredi, the theater complex will include a 250-seat theater, as well as production and costume shops, design labs, classrooms, and a landscaped plaza.

Jim Petosa, director of the School of Theatre, hopes that a unified home for CFA’s performances and performing students at the heart of the Charles River Campus will spark cross-disciplinary collaborations and encourage more students, staff, and faculty to attend performances.

“What was most exciting about our project was participating in the design of a new purpose-built 21st-century cultural facility from the ground up,” says Petosa, who was part of a faculty team that collaborated with the architects. “We arrived at this extraordinary space that provides a performance venue that encourages innovation, teaching spaces that are appealing and a joy to inhabit, studio spaces that give students a wonderful environment in which to work, and production shop spaces that are fully dedicated to the productions we undertake.”

For Zide, the theater is not just a way of showing his appreciation for his wife’s family. It’s a way of showing his appreciation for all of those who have invested in the future of the University. “We all benefit from those who came before us who took the time and interest to make investments and commitments in the future,” he says. “We wanted to be part of that same cycle, and we’ve been very fortunate to have the ability to invest in the BU community and current and future students.”


29 Comments on $10 Million Gift Names New CFA Theater

  • Mark on 03.13.2017 at 7:48 am

    Good thing for BU. I hope a main library is in the works. Mugar is terrible; the roof leaks, weather control systems are outdated (in the summer its freezing in some parts of the library). It’s a real shame. The President and Trustees should think seriously about a new library. After all it is the most important place on campus.

    • Paul on 03.13.2017 at 10:53 am

      BU DOES need to address the problem with the library. It’s simply terrible, uncomfortable, ugly.

      • Suzie on 11.30.2017 at 1:04 pm

        Agree 100%!!!

    • Mike on 03.13.2017 at 4:33 pm

      Hands up for this.

      • Mike on 03.13.2017 at 4:34 pm

        BU needs a new library as landmark.

    • Mike on 03.13.2017 at 4:36 pm

      I’m still very excited to see the generous gift from Mr. Zide though.

    • Carly Rose on 03.13.2017 at 7:25 pm

      I 100% agree with this

  • Benjamin on 03.13.2017 at 9:29 am

    How wonderful – another overly angular monstrosity built from glass and steel to make the BU campus look even more appealing to wealthy foreign investors and their college-aged children.

    How incredible would it be if the school administration took one of these massive donations and built something in harmony with the rest of campus? Or better yet, used the funds to repair any of the numerous existing buildings currently in disrepair? For shame.

    • Jeffrey Petersen on 03.13.2017 at 11:14 am

      To describe the facade of our new BU theater as an “Overly angular monstrosity” overlooks the deliberate architectural intent of this carefully considered addition to commonwealth ave. I suggest a more careful reading of the structure once it’s complete. You might also consider an architectural survey course or even an introduction to theater class while here at BU. A structure devoted to the discipline of theater study should, in my opinion, be anything but pedestrian. I’m proud of the commitment BU has made to the CFA and welcome the generosity of these alumni.

      • Jemimah Stambaugh on 03.13.2017 at 11:43 am

        I’m curious, Jeffrey – what do you consider the “deliberate architectural intent” to be? I’d be interested in knowing your opinion, even though it doesn’t jibe with Benjamin’s or mine. I do agree that any building, especially one devoted to creativity, should reflect the philosophy it hopes to embody, but it’s also a matter of taste and, I have to argue, environment. That building would look just fine in the Seaport district, but it just doesn’t play well with the ones around it.

      • Benjamin on 03.13.2017 at 2:10 pm

        Jeffrey – thank you for your comment! I agree that the commitment BU has made to the continuing success of CFA is something to be proud of.

        However, ‘deliberate architectural intent’ alone does not make a good building. What would count as a truly good building in this context would be one that is beautiful on its own in addition to furthering the cohesive and timeless collegiate aesthetic that BU has (for the most part) cultivated along Comm Ave. As Jemimah accurately noted, this new structure would look more at home as a bank in the Seaport than anywhere on BU’s campus.

        A final note – I had the pleasure of taking several theatre classes during my years at BU. CFA deserves a world-class venue for performance, but unfortunately, what they have received is a visually grating morass of wasted potential.

        • Jeffrey Petersen on 03.13.2017 at 4:06 pm

          The intent of the facade is to provide a mirror to those who might encounter the building on the plaza level. The plaza is a new public gathering space along comm ave. and a much needed green buffer to the freeway directly across the street. Architects often use spaces such as these to calm frenetic street activity and prepare or condition patrons heading into performing arts venues. What you are not seeing in this rendering are the future building that will eventually occupy the parcels towards the west.

          “The purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” -Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

          • Benjamin on 03.13.2017 at 5:25 pm

            What does the facade hope to mirror, rusting Green Line trolleys groaning back and forth across six lanes of traffic? Greenery and environmental features are obviously a smart move in any new design, yet I am skeptical that the chosen plan is the only one that could include these elements. There are endless possibilities, and yet BU has selected the one that most closely resembles a futurist self-storage warehouse.

    • Edward on 03.14.2017 at 6:38 pm

      BU has the ugliest architecture of any college campus anywhere. This building looks great for a change.

  • Gary Vrotsos on 03.13.2017 at 10:19 am

    Hi. I think this is exciting and just one
    More wonderful thing that BU had done and how the campus has changed so much since I graduated in 1972 from the then college of business administration . I am very proud to say I am an alumni and happy to see all the many new things that exist along Comm

    • kitty on 03.13.2017 at 2:20 pm

      You are an alumnus, not “an alumni.”

      Alumni is plural.

  • James Iffland on 03.13.2017 at 10:29 am

    This is great news for BU!! Many thanks to the Zide family for this wonderful gift. It will enhance the cultural life of BU immensely.

  • Jemimah Stambaugh on 03.13.2017 at 10:56 am

    I have to second the motion of Benjamin. Couldn’t it be a modern structure while still fitting into the surrounding architecture?? The rendering looks something out of Epcot Center or maybe an airport. And seems neither inviting nor unique. Sorry, I have to give it a thumbs down.

  • Pat on 03.13.2017 at 11:50 am

    Just awesome! You’d be hard-pressed to overstate how great a development this is BU, CFA, SoT and the arts at BU in general or how wonderful/generous this gift is. Thanks so much to the Zide family!!

  • Gabriella Campozano on 03.13.2017 at 12:44 pm

    Any plans for above ground parking or indoor parking?

  • Mark K on 03.13.2017 at 5:43 pm

    Just wondering — are the Booth’s any relation to Edwin Booth (assassin’s brother) for whom the Booth Theater is named in New York.

  • Ann on 03.14.2017 at 9:03 am

    This is great news. But only 250 seats? Will they be regretting that decision later?

    • Philippe Bloch on 11.30.2017 at 8:36 am

      True, the theatre looks more of a “black-box” type than typical proscenium, the building has a large footprint, and although I understand the need for production and teaching facilities, 250 seats devoted to a performance space does seem low capacity.

  • Mrs. Boyce on 03.14.2017 at 9:04 am

    Although my graduating senior will not have the opportunity to “play” at the new facility, I am looking forward to attending many performances here in the future! I am often asked about the BU SOT program by potential students and parents, and the one issue that constantly concerns them is the classroom division between the design/production students (at the Huntington) and the performance students (855 Comm Ave). This new facility will allow students to build a more close-knit “theatre company” – an environment that potential SOT students will want to embrace.

    So, so grateful for the generous gift from the Zide family! The theatre will be a gorgeous addition to Comm Ave.

  • Gregg Ward on 03.14.2017 at 9:48 am

    As a graduate of CFA (Acting ’82), I’m more than delighted by this development and the decision to build a world class performance space literally across the street from CFA. I performed numerous times at the old BU theater while in college and had the good fortune to work in regional theater across the US and direct tours in Europe. To say that theater and its performance spaces have changed since my time would be an understatement. This new facility will provide an exceptional and flexible opportunity to BU’s performing artists to stretch far beyond what the old space could permit. Thank you to all who made this happen!!!

  • Jim on 03.14.2017 at 2:00 pm

    First, what a tremendous, thoughtful gesture to attach the name of Jan’s parents to an important, long awaited addition to the BU campus. Thank you.

    However, the glass and steel face this building exposes to passersby screams that the inside promises to deliver the more modern cinematic art of Hollywood or the goings on of a convention – think Javits Center – than a theatre.

    The exterior design simply stands in stark contrast and even presents an odd juxtaposition to the more appropriate art deco-ish styling of its next door neighbor, 808 Comm. Ave., and that building’s cross-street companion, 855 Comm Ave.

    Even the out front plaza shows more masonry than greenery. With a more art deco-ish building facade I can only imagine the type of green space that could have been used to carve pathways from the street that lead at angles with twists and turns past artful fountains/statuary and ultimately intersect at a grand entrance. What a mood changing experience that would have been, to come a few steps from the hustle and bustle of a city street into the warm, welcoming arms of a facility where the trans formative magic of theater is learned and displayed by a new generation.

    On the plus side, from the designs and descriptions of the interior, this facility promises to be truly state-of-the art, exposing students and faculty to a wider variety of options. Not to mention it will enable the many theatre disciplines to intermingle and experiment more easily than they can today.

  • TRC on 03.18.2017 at 2:14 pm

    Nice gift to Boston University and surrounding communities!

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