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Small Theaters
by: Michael Kuchwara

Published by: New York (AP)
on: Monday, December 3rd, 2001

They stood on a crowded platform in one corner of
Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village:

A trio of Andrews Sisters look-alikes from a holiday attraction called
"Christmas at the Crawfords."

The cast of "Naked Boys Singing!" -- half-dressed.

Actors and representatives from small, nonprofit theaters such as the
Vineyard, the Flea, the Jean Cocteau Rep, the Irondale Ensemble, the Aquila,
the Cherry Lane and more.

"Downtown," the crowd of about 200 sang, answering 1960s pop icon Petula
Clark as she warbled her signature tune _ a song that has become the
rallying cry of embattled downtown New York theaters, restaurants, galleries
and shops, most of them located in an area south of 14th Street on
Manhattan's West Side. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World
Trade Center, all have suffered.

"While I think there was a perception that through a sense of patriotism
and careful marketing, Broadway bounced back, I think the great unspoken
story until now is that the downtown nonprofit theaters did not," said Doug
Aibel, artistic director of the Vineyard Theatre.

A survey, released last week by the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New
York, confirmed Aibel's gloomy assessment.

ART/New York, which represents over 400 nonprofit theaters and
theater-related organizations, said the direct loss of income from
box-office revenues, space rentals, canceled bookings, fund-raising events
and appeals, totaled nearly $5 million by the end of October. And projected
losses for 2002 were estimated at $16.3 million.

"For theaters operating on very tight margins, without the safety net of
cash reserves and endowments, two days to two weeks of lost income can make
the paying of staff and rent difficult," the report said, adding ominously,
"The survival of several smaller downtown theaters, which were
disproportionately affected by the disaster, is in doubt."

Since Sept. 11, the umbrella organization has provided $255,000 in loans,
grants and lines of credit to help its members who need it the most.

Commercial off-Broadway producers are having an equally hard time, too.
"Bat Boy," a popular musical before the attacks, struggled to reopen in
October only to close again Dec. 2, after audiences never really returned.
"Tick, tick ... boom!", another musical, has started advertising "Last
Weeks," despite the recent addition of teen pop star Joey McIntyre to the

"There has to be a vigorous advocacy campaign to get the audience that
regularly goes to off-Broadway back in that regular habit," said Aibel.

The Washington Square Park extravaganza was the brainchild of a newly
formed group called Downtown NYC, which was started to do just that.

"We started with phone calls and faxes three weeks ago among theater
producers," said Scott Morfee, producer of the off-Broadway play "Underneath
the Lintel."

"We decided we could help each other if we got together. The first meeting
had 10 people, the second 85."

Out of their discussions came the idea for the rally, which was filmed for
possible use later on as a television commercial. And a Web site was born,
www.downtownnyc.info, to connect off-Broadway shows to discounts for
restaurants, shops and more.

"Broadway has an advantage over us," said Morfee. "Geographically, they
are self-contained. Off-Broadway and downtown theaters are scattered among
all the neighborhoods. Part of the problem has been the message to `come out
to a Broadway show.' I just wish someone would say, `Come see a show' and
that would include all the people you see up on stage today."

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