Drama Dept. Gets $1.5 Million Matching Grant Toward Renovation

News   Drama Dept. Gets $1.5 Million Matching Grant Toward Renovation With the exception of one show, every production presented by the nearly five-year-old Drama Dept. theatre company has been staged in The Greenwich House, a 100-year-old community center located on Barrow Street just off Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. (June Moon was first seen at the Ohio Theatre.) Now, the troupe hopes to spruce up the building and make it its permanent home.

With the exception of one show, every production presented by the nearly five-year-old Drama Dept. theatre company has been staged in The Greenwich House, a 100-year-old community center located on Barrow Street just off Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. (June Moon was first seen at the Ohio Theatre.) Now, the troupe hopes to spruce up the building and make it its permanent home.

The company received a big push towards completing their goal recently, with Denver-based financier and film producer Robert B. Sturm's pledge of a three-year, $1.5 million matching grant. The donation was made in conjunction with the start of Sturm's new company, Catch 23, which will produce films in the $5-$15 range.

Sturm's commitment will begin with a $500,000 grant. More money will be forthcoming contingent of the Drama Dept.'s success in finding the matching funds. The company hopes to raise a total of $3 million.

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Drama Dept. managing director Mike Rosenberg told Playbill On-Line in February that the company has entered into an agreement with the Greenwich House in which the theatre will relocate its offices to the center in March and initiate a $3 million dollar renovation of the 1916 building's theatre, lobby and edifice. "When The Torch-Bearers closes, we will move our offices down to the Greenwich House," said Rosenberg, referring to the Drama Dept. revival of the George Kelly play which closed in March. The company will set up temporary headquarters in the lobby, while work is done on the auditorium. A complete restoration of the lobby and then the exterior will follow.

"We're creating a pretty neat partnership with the Greenwich House," said Rosenberg. As the Drama Dept. was casting about for a permanent theatre, they learned that Greenwich House was hoping to redo their home base in anticipation of the organization's centenary in 2002. In exchange for residence in the building and a break on the rent, the ensemble offered to take over fund-raising efforts for the renovation. Greenwich House agreed.

Among the planned improvements to the theatre will be a higher ceiling to better accommodate production design elements, new chairs (though they will remain unfixed) and a new, quieter air-conditioning system. Ancient dimmer boards will be brought up to code to eliminate the blown circuits which have sometimes halted performances. And the present single dressing room will be replaced by two changing rooms, one for men and one for women. Each will feature showers and bathrooms, bringing them up to Equity standards.

As for the lobby and exterior, the Drama Dept. hopes to return the building to its 1916 glory. The lobby will be opened up, removing office space near the entrance. This will, in turn, reclaim the street view into the lobby through the outside windows, which will also be restored. The new lobby will, furthermore, feature a bar area, an improved box office and a coat check.

The dark, easily missable facade of the Greenwich House will be highlighted by exterior lights and banners.

Rosenberg said he hopes the renovation takes no more than six months, so that the company can be up and producing again in the fall.

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The Drama Dept. has on its agenda new plays by Douglas Carter Beane, Richard Greenberg and Amy and David Sedaris. Except for David Sedaris, all are company members.

Two plays by Beane, who is the troupe's artistic director, have been Drama Dept. Productions: As Bees in Honey Drown and The Country Club. His new work, Music from a Sparkling Planet, concerns three pals who seek out the retired host of a local television kids show. Mark Brokaw is slated to direct. As with all the company's future offerings, no dates have been set, but logic dictates that no shows will be mounted until after the summer renovation of the ensemble's home, The Greenwich House.

Greenberg's new work, The Dazzle, will be directed by David Warren. Greenberg, an original member of the Dept., has yet to provide the company with a new play, although his one-act, The Author's Voice, was revived last season as part of a double bill. The new work is expected to get a reading this summer.

Amy Sedaris recently appeared in the troupe's production of Beane's The Country Club. Brother David, meanwhile, is the comic author of such volumes as "Barrel Fever" and "Naked." Together, they operate as The Talent Family and have presented a series of satirical, sketch-like comedies such as One Woman Shoe and The Little Frieda Mysteries. Most of these shows were seen at La MaMa, but the Sedaris siblings appear to have found a new home at the Drama Dept. No title has been attached to their upcoming endeavor.

The company has stressed, in a brochure, that "we aren't exactly sure when these plays will hit the beaches (October 2000-ish) -- and we aren't exactly sure we'll get to do these three in this order" [Italics theirs].

-- By Robert Simonson