C.B. 2 raises the curtain on a new cultural alliance

A volunteer pointed out historical sites as the CB 2 Cult Happy Hour Theatre Crawl wended its way between the playhouses. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY BETSY KIM  |  “I feel like the city is dominated by real estate, that all the politicians are beholden to the developers, that Mr. Bloomberg has never seen a development that he doesn’t like,” said Soho resident Carol Stein.

On Wed., Sept. 5, Stein responded, along with 70 other people, by joining a night out in support of preserving Downtown local arts.

Instead of a bar crawl, participants in the Community Board 2 Happy Hour Theatre Crawl imbibed local culture. Tour guides led the group on historic neighborhood walks to four Downtown theaters, where the community enjoyed wine and snacks and met artistic leaders.

At the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, at 224 Waverly Place, a crew was finalizing the set of a bombed-out, dilapidated East Village apartment. A dirty bathtub surrounded by plaster chips took center stage, with lights pouring through windows, creating a twilight haze. Adam Rapp’s play “Through the Yellow Hour,” re-creates the aftermath of a war, which the U.S. has lost.

Robin Rothstein, a C.B. 2 member, spearheaded the event, organizing the crawl with fellow board members Chenault Spence and Susan Wittenberg and people who work in theater. It’s part of a new community board-arts alliance that Rothstein has dubbed “CB 2 Cult.”

“We all wanted you to come and see these theaters,” Rothstein told the group. “We just wanted you all to hang out with each other.  Maybe you’ll meet some new people. It’s all about a great community and these wonderful spaces that we should honor and respect and be thankful that they are still here because so many of these smaller theaters are going away.”

Spence reminded crawlers of historic Downtown playhouses that have closed, including the Sullivan Street Playhouse, Circle in the Square and the Bowery Lane Theatre.

Villager Janis Brody, at the Cherry Lane Theatre, was drinking in the pleasures of the dramatic tour.

“I know there’s a lot of theater I haven’t seen and I thought it was a good way to meet some of the creatives and eccentrics in the neighborhood,” said David Kaye, a Sullivan St. resident. “I feel like some of the fiber of the neighborhood is endangered, so I wanted to come out, show my support and get involved.”

Sayar Lonial, N.Y.U.’s director of community affairs, who joined the tour, stressed that the university is a partner in the community.

When asked how New York University’s plans to develop about 2 million square feet of additional space in the Village fit in with the event’s theme of preserving the neighborhood’s character, Lonial answered, “I’m not really interested in having that conversation.” He said, for questions of that nature, it would be better to call John Beckman, the university’s spokesperson.

“I’m here to partake in a cultural walk that’s sponsored by the community board and I think is open and free to the public,” Lonial said. “We’re members of the public and we’re going to partake in it and celebrate the culture that exists in the Village and see what we can do in the future to continue to support culture and support the community that we live in.”

For her part, Stein said, “It’s the heart of Downtown Manhattan, which has been overrun by real estate interests and big-time money and our cultural soul is being bought out from under us. So, I am thrilled to have something positive happen for a change.”

The Cherry Lane Theatre, at 38 Commerce St., provided a backstage tour. Its artistic director, Angelina Fiordellisi, said Downtown theater is about “creating art and offering artists venues to express themselves, especially now, when our world is so tripping upside down.”

The theater almost shut down in 2010, due to financial pressures. But Fiordellisi slashed programs, eliminated staff, took in rentals and after two years paid the theater’s quarter-million-dollar debt. She hoped the crawl would introduce people to the Cherry Lane.

HERE, at 145 Sixth Ave., is presenting master puppeteer Hanne Tierney’s adaptation of a Chinese fable, “Strange Tales of Liaozhai.” Kristin Martin, HERE’s artistic director, said the venue offers high-quality, hybrid work at an affordable ticket.

“We’re not Broadway once a year,” she said. “We’re somewhere that there’s interesting things happening and you can come by and there’s something exciting to see and you can afford to do it.”

At the New Ohio Theatre, at 154 Christopher St., artistic director Robert Lyons explained after his playhouse lost its lease in Soho in 2010, it reopened at The Archive last year. It now enjoys a below-market-rate rent of $3,800 per month, with a 10-year lease. The city had negotiated a deal with Rockrose, the building’s developer, to dedicate this space to community use in perpetuity.

Lyons pointed out that the New Ohio showcases plays that would otherwise probably never be seen in New York, including its current production of “The Eyes of Others,” by Bulgarian playwright Ivan Dimitrov.

“I’m never surprised with Robin and her ability to organize people,” said Sarah Malloy-Good, state Assemblymember Deborah Glick’s community liaison, commenting on the event’s success. “I hope that they are able to continue the momentum and bring forward more tours in the future.”

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