The so-called "Mayor of Manhattan," Michael R. Bloomberg, has been spending a lot of time in Brooklyn lately.
Oct. 31, under cloudy skies and just a stone's throw from the East River, Bloomberg and other city and stage officials officially broke ground at the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO's Brooklyn Bridge Park, the future home of the theatre organization St. Ann's Warehouse. Just last week, the Mayor was in nearby Fort Greene to dedicate the opening of the new home of Theatre for a New Audience.
"This is about the 100th dedication this fall," joked Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. "We're packing them in in these final days." (Mayor Bloomberg will leave office Jan. 12, 2014, after 12 years in City Hall.)
As with Theatre for a New Audience's new Hugh Hardy-designed theatre, the Civil War-era Tobacco Warehouse, when complete, will represent St. Ann's first permanent home. The innovative company, known for its experimental works (it is currently hosting a praised all-female production of Julius Caesar) got its name from its first home, Church of St. Ann's and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights, where it performed for twenty years. Since 2001, it has been performing in DUMBO at 38 Water Street. That structure was demolished in 2012; since then, St. Ann's has worked out a temporary residence at 29 Jay Street.
The $27 million project, which is part of the riverside Brooklyn Bridge Park and sits just beside the eastern reaches of the Brooklyn Bridge, is expected to be completed in fall 2015. St. Ann's will receive $10 million from the City. "We have reconnected with the natural beauty of the city," Bloomberg said of the theatre's location next to the park and river. "And we have reclaimed parts of our city's industrial past." The Mayor pointed out that the shell of the old brick, two-story warehouse had served as the location of many cultural events over the past few years. "It had so much potential as a permanent venue that we worked toward that."
Part of the building's interior will be left roofless and function as a public space. The other, larger section will be converted into a stage, auditorium and lobby by Marvel Architects PLLC. The original brick walls of the building, with their many arched doorways and windows, will be preserved and be visible from various points within the new theatre.
Markowitz, recalling the company's days at St. Ann's church, said, "It's been a long journey, but wherever you went, your fans followed you." He joked that the new theatre would "bring Manhattanites looking for a little culture."
Susan Feldman, the founder and artistic director of St. Ann's Warehouse, thanked the various officials who stood with her on the podium, commending their dedication to helping the arts in New York City. "What I will miss most about this combination of state and city official is everything," she said.
Following the speeches, members of the company of Julius Caesar performed Shakespeare's "O for a Muse of Fire" soliloquy from Henry V.
The ground-breaking for St. Ann's is just the latest chapter in a theatre construction boom such as the city has not seen in generations. In addition to Theatre For a New Audience, recent years have seen the Signature Theatre Company open a new multi-theatre center, Lincoln Center Theater add a new, third theatre to its Upper West Side complex and the Public Theatre renovate the lobby and offices of its East Village home.