But Where Are We Gonna Do It?

Theatre Spaces in NYC

by David Johnston, Program Director, NYC Performing Arts Spaces
March 25, 2008

You’re in New York and dammit, you’re not going to wait for someone to just hand you an opportunity. You’re going to make one for yourself. You wrote a script, cast it with your friends from acting school, and found a designer on Craig’s List who’s hungry to work. You’ve formed your own company, filled out the 501c3 paperwork with the help of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, done up a My Space page and declared yourself open for business. You’re going to make yourself a part of Off-Off-Broadway, Indie Theatre, the cultural landscape of New York City, laying claim to the proud traditions of Civic Rep, The Group Theatre and the Provincetown Players.

Now all you need is a space.

How about the Actors Playhouse on Seventh? Gone. The Bouwerie Lane Theatre, legendary home of Jean Cocteau Rep? It’s a storage facility. The 50 seat Independent Theatre on MacDougal? Couldn’t keep up with the taxes. Perry Street Theatre, The Lambs, the Century Center for the Performing Arts, the Houseman, the Fairbanks? Gone the way of vaudeville and the Hippodrome. Welcome to New York in 2008, home of the vanishing venue.

Change is a constant here, of course. And let’s face it, it’s every New Yorker’s God-given right to complain that things aren’t what they used to be. And there are new venues – venues with concession stands, lounges for pre-show cocktails, green rooms for the performers; venues such as New World Stages, 37 Arts, and 59E59. But with weekly rental rates upwards of five figures, what struggling kids out of school can afford that?

NYC Performing Arts Spaces operates three websites; one for Music, one for Dance, and one for Theatre. On NYC Theatre Spaces, there are a hundred and forty listed spaces in New York City available for performance rentals. There are four with per performance rental rates starting at $150 or less. (The Red Room, Under St. Mark’s Theatre, Not an Alternative, the Change You Want to See Gallery in Brooklyn, and Theatrelab.) Some, like the WOW Café on East Fourth, can be rented for a cut of the door.

Here’s a radical notion: how about performing in a venue outside of Manhattan? The 50-seat Bushwick Starr rents for $400 a week for rehearsal, a steal by Manhattan standards. It’s only $200 per performance at the Battle Ranch on Conselyea Street, home of the Vampire Cowboys. Green Space, a dance studio in Long Island City, offers affordable two- and three-night performance packages.

There’s a lot of theatre in New York City happening in spaces that weren’t meant to be theatres. Embrace this. NYC Theatre Spaces lists community centers, churches and dance schools, available for theatrical performance rental. The Point Community Development Corporation in the Bronx is a lively cultural and neighborhood center. It also has a theatre. How about the Actors Temple in midtown, a working synagogue that doubles as a performance space? Or head down to Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, rent their gym, and soak up all that spirit of sixties innovation.

There are ways to make theatre in New York on a budget. Many do it, every day. But it requires flexibility, agility and creative problem-solving. In the immortal words of noted philosopher Elizabeth Taylor, “Now is the time for guts and guile.”

And if you don’t care for the modest proposals above? Think that funders, government and your unions should be doing more? Feel that public support for the arts in New York City – hell, in the USA – is a shame and a disgrace? Good for you. Don’t sit around bitching in a coffee shop all day – do something about it. If you have a nonprofit theatre group, join the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, the leading advocacy and services organization for nonprofit theatres in New York City. Check out the League for Independent Theater, which is advocating for reform of the Actors Equity 99 Seat Code. Or the Innovative Theatre Awards, a peer evaluation system that provides opportunities for Off-Off-Broadway artists to share their work with one another, free of charge. Look at NYTheatre.com, run by the indefatigable Martin Denton, and learn what’s happening with your peers. Keep in touch with your elected officials and let them know what you think they should be doing. There’s strength in numbers. Now get to work.

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NYC Theatre Spaces


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