The show must go on, even at … Ground Zero

Off B'Way theaters looking to hang on financially

NEW YORK — They are now called the Ground Zero theaters.

While Broadway’s gyrating B.O. grabs the headlines, several small theater companies located in the immediate vicinity of the terrorist attacks, like the Worth Street theater above, are fighting to survive. Three Legged Dog lost its offices when 7 World Trade Center collapsed onto 30 West Broadway. On Sept. 10, the non-profit theater company had signed a lease to rent performance space at nearby 9 Debrosses Street to stage its new multi-media production of Kevin Cunningham’s “Campuchea/Loisaida,” currently in rehearsals for a Nov. 1 premiere.

“This event will not stop us from doing what we do,” said Cunningham, who is artistic director at TLD. “Canceling the show is an unacceptable loss. It is not an option.”

“Campuchea/Loisaida” will probably be presented free of charge, even though a patron recently rescinded an $80,000 contribution, half the show’s budget.

Hope from Europe

Three Legged Dog now looks to Europe as part of its immediate survival plan. Giordana Vnuk at Hamburg’s Kampengel Theater has already expressed interest in presenting the company there. “She did theater in Sarajevo,” said Cunningham, “so she is used to these kinds of situations.”

While Off Broadway venues in lower Manhattan slowly return to business, one theater has yet to reopen.

“There is still no direct access to our street,” said Jeff Cohen, artistic director at the Worth Street Theater Co., which operates out of the Tribeca Playhouse, just five blocks north of the WTC site. Worth Street continues to plan for its commercial transfer of Christopher Shinn’s play “Four” this fall. But with no reopening set for its Tribeca space, expected revenue has not materialized.

“We rented the playhouse through the end of the year,” said Cohen. “And when the World Trade Center got hit, those rentals obviously dried up, leaving us to wonder what the next step is.”

Eight blocks north of WTC, SoHo Rep and the Flea Theater reopened for business this week. Except there is no business.

Daunting picture

“We are losing $800 a day in lost rentals, with every booking canceled through Thanksgiving,” said Erik Sniedze, associate producer at Flea. “If you walk out the door, you can still smell the devastation. No one wants to come down here.” Still, the company will proceed with its own production of Lillian Mortimer’s “No Mother to Guide Her,” to open Oct. 10 at the company’s 41 White Street space.

SoHo Rep’s Daniel Aukin estimated that rentals — all canceled for the time being — make up 30% of the company’s annual operating budget. “We also depend on patrons for between 20% and 30% of our budget,” said the artistic director. “And we can’t count on them now.”

Somehow, business continued this week with SoHo Rep’s workshop of Joshua Carlebach’s “Signals of Distress,” and there are plans for a full production of Melissa James Gibson’s “Sic” in mid-November.

Looking for grants

Access Theater at 380 Broadway missed few performances in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Artistic director Jacqueline Christy made reservation lists available to police checkpoints so theatergoers could pass through the barricades. “Not that many people came,” she recalled. “Recently, I’ve just been going to a lot of meetings on how to get grant money.” Christy mentioned this week’s confab sponsored by Theater Resources Unlimited in which company directors gathered to discuss sharing Xerox machines and phone lines.

Charitable contributions remain problematic for all arts orgs after the terrorist attacks. The HERE Arts Center, located two blocks north of Canal on 6th Avenue, has postponed its annual fundraising appeal this fall. “People are giving to the rescue and recovery efforts,” said executive director Kristin Marting.

The stories are no less dire at small not-for-profit companies farther uptown. At Cap21, every renter of its West 28 Street space through May 2002 has threatened to pull out. The company’s artistic director, Frank Ventura, plans to appeal to theater companies outside New York. “They can adopt us,” he said. “Either they can co-produce with us or pick up shows we can’t continue to develop.”

Loans forthcoming

This week, the Alliance of Resident Theaters New York made a loan available to the Worth Street Company, with applications from other companies either received or expected soon. Executive director Virginia Louloudes said ARTNY was in the process of conducting a survey to quantify the post-Sept. 11 losses for all nonprofit Gotham theaters, big and small.

“We will then make the funding community aware of the levels and layers of loss,” she said.

Financially, most Ground Zero theaters fall into the 50-to-99-seat category, with their annual budgets ranging anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million, depending on the number of productions staged in a year. Unlike the large, not-for-profit theaters, few have endowment funds they can dip into in an emergency situation. However, in many ways, they are merely the microcosm to possible cancellations and plunging revenues at New York’s premiere institutions.

According to Louloudes, one mid-size theater company located nearly three miles north of Ground Zero estimated its loss of subscribers since Sept. 11 at over 1,000.

And top of the list, will corporate and private benefactors now pony up the $1.5 billion for Lincoln Center’s 10-year reconstruction plan?

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