The League of Independent Theater and IndieSpace to Hold Emergency Town Hall to Suspend Commercial Rents
Since the beginning of the PAUSE in New York, small arts venues have been at a standstill, unable to generate any revenue while public events remain on hold for the greater good. Meanwhile, rents are due each month with no relief. As theater space after theater space announces permanent closures, the League of Independent Theater and IndieSpace are calling on elected officials to take action and protect small businesses and performance venues throughout the city.
Independent theaters, defined as venues with 99 seats or less as well as non-traditional venues, produce the majority of live performance in NYC per year, including all of the productions outside of Lower Manhattan, according to a 2019 study by the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment. The study found that small theaters employ thousands of workers across the city and act as economic tent poles for surrounding small businesses.
The League is calling upon the New York State legislature and New York City Council to suspend commercial rent payments (currently introduced in the State Legislature as S8125A / A10224A) and provide long-term rent stabilization to give arts venues a fighting chance to survive this pause.
The events of Wednesday, May 6th should act as an alarm bell for all those with an interest in sustaining the vitality of our community. Shetler Studios & Theatres closed its doors permanently after 30 years. Located in the heart of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's district in midtown Manhattan, Shetler Studios represented a critical piece of theater infrastructure. A public notice from Shetler Studios explains "We have great pride in the facilities we built and the community we nurtured... The path to recovery is simply too steep for our small company."
Later that day, The Secret Theatre, one of only three small arts venues in western Queens, announced its closure in an emotional video from Artistic Director Richard Mazda. "The plain truth is that the entire theater business is in such deep trouble now that I expect that we will be only one of many small theaters that will close."
As the already limited number of rehearsal and performance spaces accessible to indie theater companies continues to dwindle, "the artists tasked with creating the innovation needed to revive our culture and refresh our economy are being forced into untenable financial circumstances," says the League's Acting Director Aimee Todoroff. "Our community stood up and made painful sacrifices for the health and safety of our beloved city. Now, this often overlooked sector is simply asking that, while we are reinventing the cultural landscape, we are not also burdened with a back-log of debt accrued during a period when our work was involuntarily interrupted."
Christina Perry, a co-founder of the Chain Theatre, says they are "home to a 65 seat Mainstage theatrical space and a 35 seat Studio Theatre. Our organization serves artists from underrepresented sectors who create and present in our space as well as the audiences who attend. We host approximately 150 theatre artists a month in our two theaters and 300 filmmakers annually. New York City is the theatre capital of the world. We aim to keep it that way. But if New York City is to continue to have not-for-profit theatre spaces in the five boroughs, Rent Relief must be granted."
"Wild Project might be considered a small venue with our 89 seats," say Ana Mari de Quesada Producing Artistic Director and Tom Escovar, Producing Director at the Wild Project "but to our artists and neighbors, we are an incredibly vital component to the economic heartbeat of the East Village. We are a place that nurtures growth in every aspect, by every metric, where artists and ideas come together to inspire the community and keep the neighborhood together and alive with the New York beat. Rent forgiveness will give us a chance to weather this great storm and remain a beacon and place that all artists and communities call home."
Terry Greiss, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Brooklyn based Irondale Ensemble Project, shares that "In the 11 years since Irondale turned the former Sunday school at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church into the Irondale Center, it has become a destination point for cutting edge theater, quality education and community engagement programs. But more than that, it has become a place where people gather to tell and hear stories that are important to them. It has become a center for people to come together-- a place to catalyze democratic activity through theater. Now is the time that we need our community to stand by us... Rent abatement, reduction and assistance will help us face the unknown we are about to enter and know that we are not in it alone."
"Since neither tenants nor landlords are to blame for this dilemma, why should the onus of solving it fall on tenants alone?" ask Carlo Altomere & Gia Lisa Krahne of Alchemical Studios. "The Alchemical and businesses like us employ thousands of people in NYC, and serve many thousands more... the closing of our businesses will have a considerable negative economic impact on NYC when the pandemic is over."
Randi Berry of IndieSpace agrees. "Without full rent cancellation we fear upwards of 25% of our indie venues will shutter for good post Covid19. A loss of that magnitude impacts the entire cultural makeup of the city and leaves thousands of artists without a home to do their work. No rent deferral. We must cancel rent."
"One thing that is painfully obvious during this pause is the desire for humans to connect face-to-face," says Guy Yedwab, president of the League's Board of Directors. "Even before the crisis, unregulated commercial rents over the last decade have closed dozens of venues. How the city responds to the looming threat of more closures will determine the future of our community for years to come."
"Thousands of households and small business people in NYC, good hard working New Yorkers, have their good name and credit, not to mention their homes and livelihoods, staked on leases that they are contractually obligated to make good. At this time when the government is instructing these people to stay home and close up shop, it is incumbent on the government to create a situation that allows them to do so without losing their home, livelihood, good name and credit and to make it possible for them to eventually leave their homes and continue working their 12 hour days on flat ground and not inside a big insurmountable hole," says Erez Ziv of FRIGID New York. "You must protect our homes, our businesses and our credit or this shining city, this island of hills built on credit, will crumble into the sea."
The League of Independent Theater was founded in 2008 out of an emergency town hall in response to the sudden closures prompted by the start of the Great Recession. The planned Emergency Town Hall on Independent Theater will be the launching point for independent theater to fight alongside the #cancelrent movement and advocate for protections for the community.
The Town Hall will be hosted on Thursday, May 28th at 1pm. Please register at EventCombo: https://www.eventcombo.com/e/small-venue-rent-forgiveness-town-hall---litindiespace-39242
State and local representatives are invited to answer questions about what they plan to do to protect our remaining independent arts organizations.
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