Downtown theaters assess damage after Sandy

We went around to see how venues below 34th Street have been coping with the aftereffects of the hurricane.

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The Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO, after Sandy

The Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO, after Sandy


There aren't very many places darker than a theater with the lights turned off—and right now in Lower Manhattan, that's a pretty fierce competition. While Broadway has managed to largely return to business, downtown theater is—well—downtown. For those with power out, shows have been pushed to next week, technical rehearsals have been canceled, the rescheduling has begun. Most places like the New Ohio (located on Christopher Street), the Public and the Vineyard are simply waiting for the power to resume. The main message to emerge, though, was a hopeful one. Some shows actually seemed more intensely themselves in the wake of Sandy: the Wednesday night performance of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (at Ars Nova) was a sold-out, explosively joyful experience. Composer Dave Malloy credited the extraordinary sense of communal embrace to “cabin fever.”

Time Out New York talked to a few of the theaters affected by the hurricane.

Samara Naeymi, the Producing Director at Incubator Arts Project, which has had to cancel the last weekend of the Tenement Street Workshop's Rough Approximations:

“We are powered down with some tree damage but no major flooding. Our biggest concern is of course the artist. Due to the nature of how we program so many artists we don't have the ability to extend their run or give them more chances to perform. Also, the type of work we support has long development periods so it is particularly difficult when we have to shorten the length of a run.”
 So many artists are being financially hit hard as they depend on ticket sales and many technicians are also being hit as they rely on hourly pay gigs that have also been cancelled. Our best suggestion is to support the artists directly by buying tickets to their shows as soon as they are back up on their feet. If you can't make it to a show please find these artists and support them via a matching donation. These types of outages affect small businesses like theaters below 14th street hardest.”

Caleb Hammons, Producer, at Soho Rep, which was about to go into tech on Jackie Sibblies Drury's We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915:

“Our theater (on Walker Street) is still without power, so we're just waiting for power to come back on. The news from Con Ed was that it would be today or tomorrow, but now the latest news is power “by Saturday.” Jon Dembrow (our Board Chair) and our facilities manager were able to get there Tuesday late in the day to check it out—they said there was an inch of water in the basement. They were in there with flashlights, so we don't know anything else—it may be moldy and musty. In a weird way, we're lucky. We had a freak incident in July when we flooded really badly, and the repairs we made after that saved us.

Sure, it's disappointing—we have lost our entire tech week. But in many ways it's been easier than dealing with canceling a week of performances (as we did with Uncle Vanya this summer), because there's fewer people to deal with!

Right now the cast is rehearsing at Jack, Alec Duffy and Mimi Lien's space in Brooklyn. People are taking cars; one cast member from Queens person took the bus-bridge shuttle. Coming into Brooklyn was easier than getting across in the other direction. We're looking forward to starting our season next week—we're expecting to be up by the end of next week.”

Kristin Marting, artistic director of HERE, which had several shows already in production:

 “As of today, we have cancelled two performances of one show, lost three tech days and one performance for another. This is a financial loss of approximately $7,000. Looking forward, we fear that we will end up canceling an additional three to five performances of our show How to Break, which was a limited engagement of three weeks; this means we would lose the final week of an already short engagement. We also fear that we will lose the first three performances of Talking Band's Obskene, which is a much-anticipated guest production in our mainstage. If we lose the rest of this week of performances, our losses will exceed $20,000.

Artistically, it is especially devastating for How to Break as we had very full houses for this final week, and the artists lose the opportunity to share their work with a third of the planned audiences.

For Obskene, artists and technicians are being paid, but unable to complete their tech work. This will pressurize and rush what is always already a...compressed process. The real challenge will be not to compromise the show artistically, not to mention the loss of momentum in building their audience caused by losing their first weekend of performances.”

St. Ann's Warehouse recently relocated to 29 Jay Street, and their first show in the new building, Mies Julie, is scheduled to still start on time on November 8. We spoke with executive director Andrew Hamingson, who was waiting for a crate of sets and costumes to clear Customs:

“You don't think about these things. Our crate came in, but Customs isn't working—they have other things to think about right now. We think it has been released, but it's still a bit of an adventure. I won't relax until I hear about that crate. [15 minutes later, he got word that the crate had cleared.]

We didn't get flooded: all we had was a puddle. It's shocking how fortunate we were—across the street at 20 Jay there is a parking garage with three-and-a-half-million gallons of water in the basement. There were difficulties: getting our crew in has been difficult; our lights and sound package were in Jersey City, but they all arrived yesterday afternoon. We're behind but we think we can catch up enough to get the show up next Thursday. How? It's the magic of theater! It's that, or it's the fact that this team has worked 20 hours a day.

There's the audience—we were doing well in terms of ticket sales. Now we just need everyone to know that Dumbo is operating, there are services. We're right by the bridge, walk on over! There's a bus system going to Jay Street–Metrotech, from there it's a ten-minute walk.

We feel very obligated to have a performance next Thursday, for Dumbo, to show that the Brooklyn waterfront is coming back. We walked down to the old site on Water Street—the businesses there are totally flooded out. The Tobacco Warehouse, our future home, would have flooded. Our sense is, talking to people there, the height of it was a good three to four feet that would have come into 38 Water [St. Ann's old home, now demolished]. We spent so long, we were so unwilling to leave 38 Water, and now—thank God.”

Not every theater was in the danger zone: The Pearl Theatre Company, recently relocated as well, is now at 555 West 42nd Street after several years at City Center. Artistic director J.R. Sullivan talked about the difficulties hitting their recently opened production of Charles Morey's Figaro, despite having never lost power:

“We're doing everything we can, we've taken the kind of hit on audience attendance. This is the week we have press coming in, we were in a good rhythm with good momentum. We lost Tuesday and the Wednesday matinee, but we got onstage on Wedndesday night—there were 30 hardy, happy folks there having a wonderful time. We had a bit more this last night. We have a subscriber audience, we've put out deeply discounted tickets. We're soldiering on.

The schedule's a challenge for us, because we are a repertory company, and so an extension might prove tricky. We have planned putting them into a workshop for a Terrence McNally play in December, but we're waiting to make that call. We'll have to see how the show is received! Despite these scheduling difficulties, it's better having a repertory company—this is a team, we'll solve it together. Cue the music for 'The Show Must Go On'! In order to bolster audiences, we've been papering our neighborhood. The far West Side has been developing of late, so we're trying to put the word out to our actual neighbors. In a way, it's an opportunity.”


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Thea Murray
Thea Murray

Do not let the streets and seats stay empty! Especially NOW. It is the civilising impulse within the living theater that holds our tension in its aesthetic forms, opening us to empathetic encounters with strangers within the unexpected Sandy moments, that help reveal what we have in common as we see and understand new possibilitites that can turn fear into a source of growth and renewal. There is a community of Spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise. -- RUMI, "A Community of Spirit"