What with Broadway losing five shows in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attack on the World Trade Center, it stood to reason that Off-Broadway — with several of its theatres situated much closer to Ground Zero — would be in even worse shape. But as of this writing, most of the shows and companies Playbill On-Line has checked in on seem to be holding up.
In fact, thirty or so members of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers met in an emergency meeting (Sept. 20), coordinated by President Marc Routh, and came up with a special offer: any patron who presents a ticket stub from one participating Off-Broadway show to another participating Off-Broadway show, will get the latter ticket at 50 percent off, now through Oct. 31. A list of participating shows is being compiled by the League, according to spokesperson Terry Byrne, who noted that producers/shows who aren't even League members have been encouraged to take part in the discount offer. "The idea is for it to be a short-term help to people," she said. Members of the League include theatre operators, producers and general managers, and Off-Broadway houses are generally those that have 100-499 seats.
Shows on the list so far (several more are expected to be added) include:
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change
The Vagina Monologues
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
The Shape of Things
Havana Is Waiting
Naked Boys Singing
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh
Where's My Money?
So yes, Eat the Runt and Bat Boy are shuttering this weekend (though rumor has it both shows' producers are hoping for a big audience turnaround this weekend to save the show at the last minute), and that former Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson won't be doing his promised solo show this fall. And yes, Tony n' Tina's Wedding is taking a five-week hiatus, and a number of OB and OOB productions postponed their previews or opening nights by a week, including the campy Kinsey Sicks comedy Dragapella (now starting Oct. 17 and opening Oct. 24) and the Atlantic Theatre Company's Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, now beginning Sept. 29. The Off-Off-Broadway comedy Paradox Lust delayed its start from Sept 28 to Oct. 4 and, though all the way up on West 65th Street, Lincoln Center Theater also saw fit to delay its dates for the new Richard Greenberg play Everett Beekin, from an Oct. 11 start and Nov. 4 opening to an Oct. 19 launch and a Nov. 14 debut.
But unlike such struggling Broadway efforts as If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You, A Thousand Clowns and the long-running Kiss Me, Kate, Off-Broadway shows weren't so quick to throw in the towel following last weeks calamity. For example, the Allan Sherman revue revival, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, is staying put and "just fine and dandy," according to a press office spokesperson. "It was selling out prior to this [tragedy], so we're holding tight." Repertorio Espanol postponed its "Nuestra Voces" ("New Voices") playwriting award but is otherwise sticking to its regular schedule. Similar resolve came from spokespersons for I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, De La Guarda and from the Love, Janis camp, where a spokesperson noted that after closing Tuesday-Thursday following the attack, it was "not a great weekend" for the musical at the Village Theatre on Bleecker Street. "But nothing did well down there [in the Village]. For now, nothing's changed. I haven't heard anything different." In perhaps the gutsiest move, New York Theatre Workshop has no plans to cancel the upcoming Tony Kushner play, Homebody/Kabul, which deals with a woman who's a fanatic about Afghanistan.
Press agent David Gersten has seen both sides of the Off-Broadway coin this week. One show he reps, Tony n' Tina's Wedding, is taking a five-week hiatus and reopening Nov. 1. Another, Rattlestick Theatre Company's comedy, Down South, just announced yet another extension, to Oct. 14. Why the seemingly contradictory signals about Off-Broadway's health? "Well, Tony n' Tina is heavily reliant on tourists and group sales, whereas Down South is still getting the New York and local audiences," Gersten told PBOL (Sept. 20).
Ironically, The Fantasticks, New York's longest-runner, which looked like it would never close, announced two weeks before the disaster that it would shutter Jan. 13, 2002. Until then, however, the show goes on. After canceling performances Sept. 11 and 12, the cast and crew were all set to resume performances Thursday night, Sept. 13, but, according to spokesperson David Salidor, "the plug had to be pulled as word came down from the Mayor's office and the Governor's office." Producer Lore Noto said in a statement, "Part of returning to normalcy is having The Fantasticks running." As of Friday, it was — and even saw "a dramatic upswing in business," Salidor notes. The company is planning on a benefit performance for NYC police, firefighters and EMS workers in the near future.
Pro-active approaches are also being taken towards helping the recovery effort, including a Sept. 22 benefit concert at Joe's Pub in the Public Theatre, and two VisionIntoArts concerts held at the Clark Studio Theatre last week, with the $3,500 collected going to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Too, audiences were invited to attend the Sept. 17 performance of Lauren Weedman's solo, Homecoming, for free at the Westside Theatre.
Eastward, on First Avenue, Theatre for the New City tried to go on with business as usual while still recognizing the uniqueness of the situation. Gary Heidt, the theatre's administrator, told Playbill On-Line, "the box office last weekend was abysmal. But also we were continuing doing our summer street theatre, which tours different parks in the area. This weekend after the disaster, we converted the show into a community sing. It was a really wonderful thing. People came out in big numbers. I think it's a good thing to do when people are confused and fearful."
Asked about plans for the weeks ahead, Heidt said, "We're keeping our schedule the same and hoping this weekend people will want to get out and go to the theatre. One show will open tonight, a rental — Breakaway Theatre Company's Babes in America. Two of our shows play this week, Howling Wilderness by John Chodes and The Hat Left Behind by Todd Lepre. They both went up last weekend as well, although they didn't open on Thursday because 14th Street was cordoned off till Thursday midnight."
Police barricades have also proved a hardship for Soho Repertory. "We're in the land of the unknown in a very big way," artistic director Daniel Aukin told Playbill On-Line. " We're two blocks south of Canal Street, between Church and Broadway. Church is one of main arteries. Pedestrian traffic is not allowed in unless you live or work in the area. There are still barricades at Canal Street; I don't think a lot of people realize how much of the city is still shut down. Some cops I've spoken to think these restrictions could be in place months from now, since it's still essential to the crime scene."
Asked how their current roster is affected by the madness, Aukin replied, "Right now we have a rental company in the space. Monday we load in a fully-staged workshop of the Flying Machine, which is a LeCoq-trained commedia ensemble. They're doing Signals of Distress, an adaptation of novel by English writer Jim Crace. It's supposed to be performing Thursday-Sunday. I suppose we can load in and may be able to escort audience to the theatre, but we've had no final okay from the police on that. This will obviously restrict the number of people who come in.
"We're not that much dependent on walk-in traffic, however," Aukin continued. "We have an incredibly loyal and devoted following. We sell upwards of 70 percent capacity for our season, half of which is developmental. We discovered through questionnaires that our core audience isn't interested in subscriptions (possibly because our prices are so low). Even so, we're not getting the usual amount of interest. People are still in shock. As such, we're talking to a couple of different theaters to move this workshop if we can' t perform it at Soho Rep next week. We've got a larger show coming in in mid-November, and we're putting feelers out in case we can't perform it at Soho Rep."
According to Aukin, Soho Rep derives 60 percent of its budget from earned revenue from rentals and ticket sales, both of which could take "a heavy hit" from the calamity. The company has been in the black during Aukin's tenure, with a budget that's grown by 42 percent in those three years. "We're just taking every day 24 hours at a time," Aukin said. "Nobody knows."
Things are a bit calmer at the Pearl Theatre, where artistic director Shepard Sobel assured PBOL the company had "no personal direct hits in the immediate circle of friends and family." As for production delays, he noted that Exit the King had just begun its first week of previews and "attendance probably would have been low anyway. Obviously we didn't pick up any business. We've had very few calls; the phone is not ringing. People are not coming out to the theatre as much as they might have been otherwise. But the jury's still out. We don't know how it'll be in a week, but we don't feel like we've been irrevocably hurt." Asked if the political nature of Exit the King and such upcoming shows as Romeo and Juliet and Iphigenia in Aulis might make them too risky to produce in this climate, Sobel said, "those plays are terribly pertinent, but that's not an argument to change our programming; it's an argument to do it."
— By David Lefkowitz