Lawyers for the Present Company and Brookshire Equities, L.L.C. are meeting today, Feb. 3, to consider Present Company's settlement offer on back rent and late fees owed on its lease for the Theatorium space in Soho. The Present Company group runs the Theatorium (where it is based) as well as the popular New York International Fringe Festival.
On Jan. 8, Present Company initiated a $100,000 fundraising campaign to satisfy its landlord and to provide money for operational costs leading up to this year's Fringe.
"If they're looking for money and to just move forward from there, we expect that they'll accept the settlement," said Present Company board member John Clancy.
If there is no settlement, Clancy said, then both parties will be in State Supreme Court Feb. 4 for a hearing to determine several things, including a timetable for actions with the landlord that will allow the theatre group to plan for the future. Clancy compared the wait for news on the matter to the anxiety one feels at the final hour before curtain on opening night.
"It's like you've done everything you can do, and now it's up to the audience," he said. Clancy told Playbill On-Line that the fundraising campaign has made progress and that the theatre group believes it can solve the issue of arrears. What remains, he explained, is the challenge of raising enough money to operate the Theatorium before the Fringe Festival actually gets underway this summer. The annual festival is a major event and a cash cow for Present Company.
Brookshire Equities originally filed a tenant claim but Present Company's attorney took it to the State Supreme Court when an injunction action known as the "yellowstone" was filed on the theatre groups' behalf.
"We're still committed to the building," Clancy said. "If we have to leave here to do the Fringe Festival, we'll still have our festival season. The Theatrorium itself is not the Present Company or the Fringe Festival."
Clancy said the Present Company is strong and that the festival could be re-based at a donated or rented theatre if necessary. However, he pointed out, the festival is larger in scope than just a single theatre space and has grown to involve 20 theatres all over the Lower East Side.
"We would find another anchor space," Clancy predicted, "but this is the year where I feel we're set to take another large step." While the additional administrative strain of rerouting the Fringe Festival to another location would not impede the festival, Clancy said it would make it difficult to take the steps that the event organizers are ready for.
One of the key steps Clancy sees ahead is to organize so that Present Company can avail itself of various grants and the other fundraising support for which it is eligible.
As reported earlier, Present Company is headquartered at the Theatorium, which is located at 196-198 Stanton Street on New York's Lower East Side. The company is headed by producing director Elena K. Holy and Clancy, who serves as artistic director.
Present Company's Fringe NYC has presented the works of five hundred theatre/performing arts companies to an estimated 75,000 audience members in its first three years. The Theatorium employs two full time staff and an "army of enthusiastic, heroic volunteers" who are said to have staged the works of 200 companies over the past 18 months.
Last month, Clancy said the deadline for fringe festival applications is Feb. 28.
"So if we don't have an office, and if we don't have a home, and if that situation stretches on into the spring," Clancy had said, "we may have to enter a period of hibernation for the foreseeable future."
Either way, the company's strategy appears to hinge on the legal moves made Feb. 3-4, which will help determine whether the theatre group stays put or moves its base of operations.
New York City is the seventh major U.S. city to host a fringe festival. Gotham joined Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Orlando and San Francisco as a fringe festival host city in 1997. For performance information, festival applications or details on becoming a volunteer, call (212) 420-8877 or visit www.fringenyc.org.
-- By Murdoch McBride