Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Know My Calculus: It Says NYC Plus Theater Equals Naught

So, Robin Pogrebin reports from the NYT today that Signature Theater will not be moving into the new Ground Zero Arts Center (which would make it the second theater in the neighborhood, right after the sleek, wave-of-the-future 3LD Performing Arts Center). The reason, according to Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff is "because of the cost and complicated logistics of having the two institutions share a confined space." That cost, by the way?
Estimates of the performing arts center’s cost were approaching $700 million, city officials said. Under the new plan, the center and a new Signature Theater are expected to come in at about $350 million combined.
I'm assuming the unspoken $350 million are going toward the Joyce Theater, a center for dance that will remain there. I'm happy for the Joyce Theater, though I'm not a dance enthusiast, but why is it okay to spend that much on one theater, and not that much for Signature? (And I won't even mention the other two companies that were dropped from the roster. Well, okay: one of which, the Drawing Center, seems to have been ousted for "controvserial programming," which sounds a lot like censorship to me.) I've got a better question: why do we need to spend $350 million dollars to build a theater? If you've already given up the dream for erecting a cultural mecca to counter the bleak terrorism of nineeleven, what does it matter? Certainly the artists themselves, who have worked in far nastier off-Broadway spaces than the current location of the Signature Theater, can deal with a less-than-perfect (and cheap) building.

Nor do they really need that much money to make a brilliant building. I mentioned 3LD earlier:
In August 2002, Three-Legged Dog committed to a 20-year lease on the space at 80 Greenwich Street from the building's owner, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. By last August, the group managed to raise $3.1 million toward the $4.6 million arts complex. The largest contributor has been the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs through the support of Alan J. Gerson, City Council Member, District 1. Other contributors have been the Luesther T. Mertz Advised Fund of the New York Community Trust, Booth Ferris Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Non-Profit Finance Fund. Critical financing has been provided by FJC, the Fund for the City of New York, and the Alliance of Resident Theaters, New York.
Their space looks phenomenal, the ticket prices are affordable, and they did it for $4.6M. You're telling me that it costs sixty times that to move three blocks north into what is more-and-more looking like just another high-rise office habitation? Hell, if the city is that bad at negotiating contracts, we should give all our property over to the MTA: they know how to contract things out (although their station-work on Cortland Street slips past their February 2006 deadline).

Here's an irony though:

[T]he city hopes to move the Signature to Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway, cater-corner to 7 World Trade Center. Fiterman, part of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, was heavily damaged by falling debris on 9/11.

This, of course, is the former residence of 3LD, so at least one theater company seems to have benefitted from the transition. In some ways, this may end up being a boon for Signature Theater, which needs to move out of their current Tenth Avenue theater by 2011 (a real loss for the neighborhood) -- it's not like this new cultural center will be ready in time, given the boondoggle of the last five years. Either way, someone should let them know: their website still has hope for the WTC district.

End note? Stop mistakenly equating theater with luxury: we don't need to hemmorage cash to put on a good show, and some of the most inventive work is made from its mother, necessity. On Broadway, producers don't seem to understand how to make a show for less than an ever-ballooning billion dollars (hyperbole, lest I get hate mail from equally snarky producers), so let's please cut the crap folks, and use some common business sense.

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