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Manhattan Transfers

New uses for old buildings in New York, plus a performance archive on video and a study of artist’s mental health.

Manhattan’s 474-seat Joyce Theatre will become the home next summer of a 15-week festival of regional theatre work. Three companies, as yet unnamed, will bring productions to New York for the festival’s first season.

The Joyce is an elegantly renovated Art Deco theatre used in recent years primarily for dance. Through the festival, its management hopes to provide a non-commercial setting for regional productions, without the economic pressure of Broadway or the commercial arena. Were opening a door for quality, not for commercial prospects, said festival coordinator Terry Fitzpatrick. “It is an opportunity for theatres to perform their work in New York as they see it, retaining total artistic control.

Each of the first three companies will perform for a limited run of four-and-a-half weeks, between May 28 and Sept. 8. The theatres will mount the shows under their own auspices, as co-productions with the Joyce, and tickets will be sold in a subscription series. Fitzpatrick said contracts will be signed shortly, and the companies will be announced this month.

Cora Cahan, vice president of the board of the Joyce, said a great deal of interest has already been shown on the part of theatres across the country, and that the Joyce hopes to make it a yearly event.

Negotiations on another proposed New York showcase for resident theatres—the National Theatre Center, housed in the historic New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street—have slowed to a standstill. The 42nd Street Development Corporation, a nonprofit group, has proposed that the theatre, which is owned by the Nederlander Organization, be renovated for a combination of commercial and nonprofit uses. The project would include the restoration of the theatre’s famous Art Nouveau roof garden and the installation of a 700-seat theatre, where productions that might not otherwise get a chance to play in New York would be invited.

Fred Papert, president of the development group, said the negotiations have been complicated by opposition from community groups, but that upcoming meetings with Mayor Edward Koch will emphasize the “important public purpose of the project. “This will only get to the Board of Estimate if the mayor wants to bring it,” Papert said. The City’s Board of Estimate has the final say on the project, which has been under discussion for nearly five years.

Yet a third New York building was under consideration as a site for theatre and performance—but a consortium of arts groups has failed to convince a federal government agency that the U.S. Customs House, a Beaux-Arts landmark building in lower Manhattan, should become a downtown cultural center. The General Services Administration, which owns the building, decided instead to lease it to the New York City Holocaust Memorial Commission, which will install a museum devoted to the Holocaust and the history of Jewish civilization.

The decision, announced in October, ended a six-month competition between the Holocaust commission and the arts consortium, which represents such groups as the Theatre Development Fund, the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York and the performance space The Kitchen.

GSA regional administrator William J. Diamond, in announcing the agency’s decision, said the museum proposal was “the strongest and the best deal for the government.” The commission will provide $5 million toward restoration of the 77-year-old building, and a 20-year lease will be negotiated.

Next Move at the Beaumount

The appointment of former New York Mayor John V. Lindsay as chairman of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre board in September has been followed by other changes in the theatre’s administrative staff and structure. Richmond Crinkley, the Beaumont’s executive director since 1980, resigned Oct. 15, and the theatre board, at Lindsay’ suggestion, has been expanded by 13 members, to twice its previous size. “We have a fresh start,” Lindsay told The New York Times.

Crinkley had come under fire during the long controversy over the theatre’s proposed renovation and its failure to present more than a single season of theatre over the past several years. Crinkley contends that extensive renovations are necessary before programming can be planned at the theatre, but the parent Lincoln Center organization has resisted such a move. Crinkley’s departure does not indicate that a decision for or against the renovation plan has been made, according to board members and a statement from Lindsay.

“I’m not sold on renovation as it has been put forward, as a large-scale proposal, but that doesn’t mean I’m against it,” Lindsay noted. “We have to look at everything from scratch and that includes the physical configuration of the Beaumont.” Lindsay has been meeting with prominent theatre people from across the U.S. and Canada to discuss the development of a plan of action for the theatre.

Lincoln Center has also announced plans to erect a major new building as part of its Manhattan complex. The structure will house rehearsal space for the center’s constituent companies, a small film theatre, teaching rooms, office space and dormitories for several hundred students at the Juilliard School and the New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet.

The costs of constructing the building will be offset by the sale of development rights to build residential units above the new structure, in the manner of the Museum of Modern Art’s new Museum Tower. Other funding will raised from a $15-20 million fund drive.

The building will be located on a site between 65th and 66th streets, now occupied by the former Brandeis High School annex, which closed in 1983, and a vacant lot. Plans are not complete, but Lincoln Center chairman Martin E. Segal said he expects the structure to be finished “within two to four years.”


Theatre is an ephemeral art, and we can only speculate on how Edwin Booth played Hamlet or why Bernhardt’s audiences swooned. More recent theatre history, however, is becoming increasingly accessible on film and video. The New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape project (TOFT), begun in 1970, is the country’s most extensive collection of recorded live theatre productions.

Today TOFT has some 600 titles. more than half of which are plays and musicals recorded during performance. The remainder are theatre-related films, television programs and dialogues with notable stage personalities. The collection ranges from A Chorus Line to Alan Schneider’s staging of Samuel Beckett plays to a discussion with Ellen Stewart, founder of La Mama.

With a slender budget and the cooperation of the theatre guilds and unions, TOFT currently records selected performances of plays on and Off Broadway, as well as collecting and cataloging existing tapes. A recent four-year Ford Foundation grant of $195,000 is designed to enable TOFT to tape more work at theatres around the country, thus helping the collection to become a more comprehensive national archive.

Housed at the Lincoln Center library branch, the collection is open to students, theatre professionals and scholars, and actors, directors, designers, historians and critics are frequent viewers. The library’s agreement with the unions strictly regulates access to the archives to prevent unauthorized duplication or commercial use.

For information on the collection and its use, contact project director Betty Corwin, New York Public Library, 11 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10023.

Art and Madness

Artistic creativity and manic-depressive illnesses have been statistically linked in a study done in Britain. Findings indicated that artists, writers and poets are 34 times more likely to seek treatment for serious mood disorders than the average person.

“There are a disproportionate number of artists who are literally insane, or at least pushing the edge,” concluded Dr. Kay Jamison, professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles, who conducted the one-year behavioral study in 1982-83.

Prominent British painters, novelists, playwrights, poets and sculptors were included in the study. Over half of them had received medication for mania or depression, Jamison found, while only about six percent of the general population received similar treatment. Of the playwrights in the study, half had undergone psychotherapy for depression and more than a fourth had taken antidepressant drugs for mood disorders. Of the various groups, the poets suffered the severest forms of mental disturbance.

The results of the study will be published next year by Oxford University Press in a book on manic-depressive illnesses.

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