NEW YORK CITY: At 70 years old, Eric Krebs is no theatre newbie. He has worked on the professional stage for 40 years, has produced more than 100 shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway and off-Off-Broadway, and is the founder of two Off-Broadway houses, the John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks theatres.
Throughout his career, one of Krebs’s passions has been fostering a love of theatre in the next generation, and as the founder of studentrush.org, he’s been instrumental in providing tickets to students at prices they’re able to afford. But for Krebs, getting young people into a show alone is not enough.
Krebs’s newest venture is the new Masterworks Theatre Company, which he founded with his friend Christopher Scott, who serves as the new troupe’s artistic director. The company opened its inaugural show, The Glass Menagerie, on May 8 at the 47th Street Theatre. Masterworks has taken as its mission not only to introduce young people to the classics of the Western canon, but to show them instill the love of live performance for a lifetime.
“When I was 15, I went to Stratford, Conn., to see King Lear. That was around 1961, and I never forgot it,” Krebs said in a recent interview. “Everyone has that one show that started it all for them, and I want to recreate that experience for people.”
The idea for Masterworks has been in discussion for the past few years, as Scott worked with Krebs on different projects, including staged readings of different shows at Baruch College, where both teach.
“There was a young man I had in class who was not a theatre major, but who said that taking my class had changed his perspective because it taught him that not everything is black and white,” Scott said. “That’s what drives me—and told me we need to do this.”
After bringing the Masterworks idea to potential partners for years, Krebs and Scott finally reached the point where they reasoned it was now or never and decided to go it alone. Despite not having all the funding in place at the time of our interview, Krebs and Scott were forging ahead. Krebs said he’ll even be willing to provide the money if necessary, saying that the project is more important than any pension.
“Life has been good to me, so if we don’t get the money for this, I will fund it,” Krebs said. “I want this to be my legacy that I can leave behind.”
As with many companies aimed at younger audiences, Masterworks will attempt to forge connections on both educational and emotional levels. Students and teachers will be provided beforehand with background study guides before attending productions, and they then have the chance to participate in talkbacks and workshops around each show. And though its mission is to stage Western classics, the theatre’s staging of the classics will reflect the cultural diversity of its audiences.
“We want to be the new America—we want to do multiracial casting for The Glass Menagerie so the kids can see themselves onstage,“ Krebs said. “We want to recreate the classics with the faces we see now.”
Masterworks is also designed to reflect today’s economic realities: While Broadway shows have steep ticket prices and limited student availability, Masterworks will offer student prices of $33 per ticket (with full-price adult tickets priced at $65). Teens who attend with their families will also receive the student rate.
The troupe’s inaugural season includes the current production Glass Menagerie, which runs through May 30 and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, June 5–28. Krebs and Scott hope to increase the length of the season in the future, and to bring in well-known Broadway names to lead workshops. In five years, Krebs aspires to a 30-week run in a Broadway house—all in time for his 75th birthday, he said.
But even if that particular dream doesn’t come to pass, if the performances make a difference in the lives of its audiences, Masterworks will have done its job.
“There’s a whole world out there that is not touched with these shows, so I want us to be the go-to company for drama teachers who know the difference between Matilda and The Lion King and The Glass Menagerie,” Krebs said. “I want to create a love of theatre, and we want to help create the new generation of theatregoers.”