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Off-Broadway Theaters Hit Hard by Sandy, But Artists Hit Harder

When the lights came on, off-Broadway theaters discovered the most damage was done to artists in the aftermath of Sandy. logo
The blacked-out skyline following Hurricane Sandy.
(© Hannah Miet)

The lights were bright again on Broadway by Thursday, but many theaters below 34th Street sat in darkness until this weekend. Most announced their re-openings as soon as Con-Ed restored power downtown, once again proving the resilience of the off-Broadway community.

"Off-Broadway theaters in Lower Manhattan have long demonstrated their survival skills, as evidenced after 9-11, and once again, they are bouncing back," said George Forbes, Executive Director of the Lucille Lortel Foundation.

But bouncing back is not as simple for many of the small productions housed at off-Broadway theaters, who lost a large chunk of -- or even the entirety of -- their New York debuts.

Unlike Broadway, where limited commercials runs mean productions are all but guaranteed their three months on stage (with Broadway shows praying for much more), the deal for many downtown artists involves putting their effort into a run of one week or less –short enough to be eliminated by a week-long power outage.

Incubator Arts Project, an organization that showcases emerging artists, operates out of St. Marks Church on the Bowery, which had no power until Friday. Incubator's Producing Director Samara Naeymi said their canceled show (the Tenement Street Workshop's Rough Approximations, which lost nearly half of its week-long run), not the organization, was hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.

"Our biggest concern is the artist," Naeymi said on Thursday, when St. Mark's Church was still in darkness. "Theater has a certain level of infrastructure to fall back on, and can reach out to the community. But some of our performers spend a year developing a show for a short run. We program artists back to back, so when a whole week is canceled, their entire year's work is canceled."

Artists depend on ticket sales to recoup the cost of developing their shows, Naeymi noted, adding that crew members who rely on hourly wages also suffered in the storm's aftermath.

When power returned to most of the Lower East Side, Incubator announced they would reopen on Sunday, and posted this to their Facebook page: "If you are coming by to the shows tomorrow, bring hats, scarves gloves, jackets and blankets, as St. Mark's is collecting and distributing to those in need."

Speaking of hats, scarves and gloves, La MaMa on the Lower East side was still without heat as of Sunday, but Managing Director Mary Fulham was thrilled to have the power back on, and to resume performances on Monday, with heat expected to return.

"The tale of two cities is strange," Fulham said on Thursday, when she was working from home, unsure of what would happen. "Uptown, everything is fine. Downtown is in darkness."

With electricity up and running, Fulham said on Sunday that she was looking forward to working with the neighborhood's block association to make La MaMa a place where people without power can hang out.

As for lessons learned during Hurricane Sandy?

"Our Artistic Director was saying we should do more shows about climate change," Fulham said.