"After 15 years, serving 2,500 artists and countless audiences, I am leaving Cherry Lane," Fiordellisi wrote in a Dec. 22 message to supporters. "A fertile time of creativity has come to a natural conclusion: from reviving the spirit of this venerable institution, to preserving the building as well as its detailed history, founding the Cherry Lane Alternative, launching Mentor Project and Master Class series, the Celebrating Women Playwrights and Black Playwrights programs, Tongues reading series, Late-Nite series, SoloFest, to creating the Studio Theatre and founding the Cherry Pit. From Rajiv Joseph, Katori Hall, Anton Dudley, Deirdre O'Conner, Irene O'Garden and producing their first Off-Broadway plays, to mounting revivals by Amiri Baraka, Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee...and everything in-between...it has been glorious! I am forever grateful for your generous hearts and substantial contributions. I will keep you posted about what evolves on Cherry Lane and hope to announce the next generation of leadership, as well as the new landlord in early 2011."
Fiordellisi is in discussions to find someone to take over the leadership of Cherry Lane Alternative, perhaps best known for its Mentor Project that pairs veteran playwrights with newcomers toward mounting new works.
The news of the coming changes at Cherry Lane were first reported in the New York Times on Dec. 21.
Fiordellisi bought the dormant theatre — once a flashpoint for the Off-Broadway movement, offering O'Neill, Beckett, Pinter, Albee, Sam Shepard and more — for $1.7 million in 1996 and renovated it for $3 million. The asking price is expected to be about $12 million. The space includes a 179-seat main stage and a 60-seat studio.
The Times reported that financial struggles, including a $250,000 deficit due to a dropoff in foundation and government support, led to the producer's decision to separate from the two-venue building at 38 Commerce Street. Responding to the deficit, Cherry Lane stopped producing its own shows in the mainstage in September and has been renting it to other companies.
Fiordellisi told the Times, "It's frightening to me, what's happened to Off-Broadway theatre. I feel that we can longer do theatre for the sake of the art form. We have to adhere to the formula of having a film star in our productions to sell tickets because it's so financially prohibitive. I don't want to do theatre like that."
She plans to step down by June. For more information, visit cherrylanetheatre.org.
According to history notes on the Cherry Lane website, "Cherry Lane Theatre was originally the site of a silo on the Gomez Farm in 1817. The building that now stands was erected in 1836 as a brewery, and later served as a tobacco warehouse and eventually box factory.
"In 1924, a group of artists, all colleagues of Edna St. Vincent Millay, commissioned famed scenic designer Cleon Throckmorton to convert the box factory into the theatre called Cherry Lane Playhouse. It fueled some of the most courageous experiments in the chronicles of the American stage. The Downtown Theater movement, The Living Theatre, and Theatre of the Absurd all took root at the lively Playhouse, and it proved fertile ground for scores of the 20th century's seminal theatrical voices.
"A staggering succession of plays have streamed out of the small edifice. Works by a decades-spanning parade of writers whose names have lent brilliance and distinction to the American and international literary and theatrical treasuries. They include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dos Passo, and Elmer Rice in the '20s; O'Neill, O'Casey, Odets, Auden, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, Picasso and William Saroyan in the '40s and '50s; Beckett, Albee, Pinter, Ionesco and LeRoi Jones in the '60s; and Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Joe Orton and Mamet in the '70s and '80s.
Playhouse productions featured an equally illustrious group of actors and directors, including John Malkovich, Barbra Streisand, Geraldine Fitzgerald, James Earl Jones, Tony Curtis, Ruby Dee, Gene Hackman, Bea Arthur (making her stage debut), Fritz Weaver, Judith Malina, Burl Ives, Colleen Dewhurst, Harvey Keitel, Cicely Tyson, Jerry Stiller, James Coco, Dolores Sutton, Shami Chaikin, James Broderick, Lee Strasberg, Roger Bart, Francot Tone, Roscoe Lee Browne, Alan Schneider, Claudia Shear, Anne Revere, Theodore Bikel, Peter Falk, Estelle Parsons, Judd Hirsch, Judith Ivey, Robert Wilson, Maxwell Caulfield, Adolf Green and Betty Comden, Alvin Epstein, Rue McClanahan, Shirley Knight, John Tillinger, Lewis Black, Sudie Bond, Tom Bosley (who also worked in the theatre's box office), Frances Sternhagen, Roy Scheider, James Noble, Geraldine Page, Mark Setlock, Gene Saks, Bob Dylan, F. Murray Abraham, Kiki & Herb, Jo Ann Worley, Joan Micklin Silver, John Rando, Gary Sinise, Vincent Gardenia, Micki Grant, Tony Musante, Rainn Wilson, Kevin Bacon, Kim Stanley, Frank Langella, Tyne Daly, John Epperson, Nancy Marchand, Robert Loggia, Dennis Quaid, Joan Cusack and Joseph Chaikin."
Cherry Lane Studio opened its doors in September 1998 "as a birthing room for new American work." Fiordellisi created the 60-seat black-box theatre, originally named the "Alternative Space," with Samuel Anderson Architects. At that time, "CLT Studio benefited from the generosity of our community, including theatre-operator and producer Carolyn Copeland, who donated 60 chairs from The Lamb's Theater basement, as well as artist and producing board member Jack Gindi, who donated our technical booth, sound and lighting boards."
The seating was upgraded and made retractable in 2006 with a grant provided by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Currently, the studio "is a safe haven for the development of new plays." Programs there "allow playwrights to hone their work without the pressure of reviews, before sophisticated, thrill-seeking audiences, who want to discover the bold new voices of today." David Adjmi, Courtney Baron, Sheila Callaghan, Julia Cho, Bathsheba Doran, Anton Dudley, Sam Forman, Katori Hall, Eliam Kraiem, Deborah Zoe Laufer, Rogelio Martinez, Christopher Shinn, Beau Willimon and numerous others have all developed new ideas and plays at the CLT Studio.