On the Stoop

For a little over a month now, the Tuesdays at Nine reading series (for which I’m co-Creative Director) has been meeting at the Kraine Theater.  We used to be at Theatre 80, but that space is no longer available as the result of a protracted struggle that is waaaaay too convoluted to summarize in this post.  (You can find the very latest details here if you’re so inclined.) So now, if I arrive at the reading early, instead of having a seltzer at the bar of the William Barnacle tavern in the few minutes before I’m “on duty,” I find myself sitting down on the stoop in front of 85 E. 4th Street, patiently waiting.  As Tuesdays at Nine had been based at Theater 80 since I’d started attending, this should be an unfamiliar sensation.

Instead, it feels incredibly familiar.

You see, when I first started auditioning in New York, a very long time ago, the Kraine theater was home to a theater company – or maybe several, I can’t tell – that effectively did community theater on Equity showcase contracts.  Extremely cheap revivals of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the like – nothing that was in the vanguard of the moment, nothing that got any kind of reviewers’ attention or producers’ interest, but New York stage credits nevertheless.  And so, every six weeks or so like clockwork, throngs of young actors would descend upon the Kraine, ragged copies of Backstage in hand, to audition for the latest vaguely disreputable showcase.  And since the Kraine has no lobby to speak of, that great throng would inevitably spill out onto the street, dozens upon dozens of young actors with black and white glossies and dog-eared Samuel French booklets, patiently waiting their turn while sitting on the Kraine Theater stoop.

If my references seem a tad obscure to young readers, that’s because this all happened back in 1997.  (There, I’ve gone and dated myself.  Dammit.) I stopped doing those particular auditions in very short order.  For one thing, I gradually found more productive uses for my time.  More importantly, in 1998, the FRIGID company took over as the main producers of that venue.  And over the past quarter-century, they’ve gradually attracted companies like the New York Neo Futurists to the place.  They’ve made it a hub for new writing, and reached out to energetic new companies specializing in new writing themselves.  They’ve made the Kraine an exciting place to be.

I can’t stress how extraordinary an achievement that is.  For all it seems like we have the short-term memories of gnats these days, when it comes to theaters here in New York, reputations last for a long, long time.  (Just ask a theater-going local about 154 Christopher Street, and you’ll see what I mean.) And honestly, the reputation of the Kraine back in the late 90s was less than stellar.  To successfully build up a reputation – to change how we feel about a place, to make it beloved – takes diligent work.  It takes imagination.  It goes against the odds.  But FRIGID did it.

But alas, that story is now coming to an end, and once again I’ve arrived at the Kraine at the tail end of an era.  The folks who run FRIGID have announced that effective at the end of this year, they will not renew their lease on the Kraine.

The reason?  That damn stoop.

You see, that building, as it stands now, does not conform to the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  If you’re in a wheelchair, or if your mobility is compromised, you can’t navigate those stairs up to the building.  That’s a huge issue with most of the young workshop companies that FRIGID has attracted to the Kraine over the years.  It’s an issue with the Kraine’s leadership themselves.  And so, the search is now on for a space that properly aligns with those values.

It’s a difficult situation; most of the buildings which house arts organizations in this city would love to be ADA compliant, but those buildings tend to be extremely old and run down and improvements would involve the sort of massive commitment of time and resources which arts organizations tend not to be able to make.  So I don’t know when more accessible spaces will become readily available for smaller, scrappier groups.  And I don’t know who’ll next be in residence at the Kraine.

But apparently, if I show up there again, I’ll be heralding the end of some new era or other.  Sorry about that. And congratulations to FRIGID on an incredible run.

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