NEW YORK CITY: Soho Rep has announced that it will return to its longtime home at 46 Walker Street in the 2018 season. Last September, it was forced to move out of its longtime home because of building regulations. But then a city commissioner stepped in.
“When I heard that Soho Rep was closing its Walker Street theatre, I refused to believe that there was nothing that could be done,” says New York City’s media and entertainment commissioner, Julie Menin, in a statement. “I strongly believe that artistic institutions like Soho Rep are the lifeblood of New York City and that government can and does play a role in enabling them to survive and flourish. I called the Department of Buildings and arranged for Commissioner Rick Chandler to tour the Walker Street site with me to see what could be done. He issued a list of what they would have to do to be in compliance.”
Previously, Soho Rep had planned to purchase the storefront property known as Walkerspace, a 73-seat blackbox it had performed out of since 1991. But in exploring that option, the theatre’s leadership discovered previously unknown building regulations that would prevent the company from staging any productions at all. Those regulations included a maximum occupancy of 70 people, including cast and crew members, and forbade the use of scenic design. Accommodating these regulations would have proved too costly for the theatre, which has an annual budget of $1.6 million. Though it has made a name for itself in the downtown theatre scene of New York City—its roster includes the world premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon and Anne Washburn’s 10 Out of 12—its administrative wing is modest, boasting a full-time staff of just five.
“When we closed our space in the fall, the prospect of ever returning seemed impossible,” Soho Rep artistic director Sarah Benson said in a statement. “Given the anticipated legal, administrative, and construction costs for a company of our small size, the task felt Sisyphean.”
But with the guidance of the mayor’s office of media and entertainment and the department of buildings, Soho Rep has hammered out a plan to renovate the property and secure a certificate of occupancy. It has also launched a $500,000 fundraising campaign to support the renovations and to continue backing the company’s work off-site in the interim. So far $305, 000 has been raised through the company’s board of directors.
“Soho Rep’s staff and board are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from the community thus far,” said Benson. “We are eager to return to our home on Walker Street and continue producing the new work of extraordinary, adventurous playwrights, directors, and designers in a space that’s been such an important part of our work over the past 25 years.”
Soho Rep plans to sign a lease on the space through 2022, while continuing to search for a permanent home. In the meantime, says Menin, “I am so pleased to have played a role in a great theatre company’s new lease on life.”
Soho Rep is currently staging the world premiere of Samara by Richard Maxwell, through May 7, at the new A.R.T./New York Theatres.