Downtown Stalwart Collective: Unconscious to Close

Collective: Unconscious, a fixture of New York’s alternative theater scene since its founding 13 years ago, has announced that it will permanently close its theater on July 31. On that date, the lease for its 279 Church Street facility will expire and not be renewed, due to a dispute over a “massive plumbing problem” that, according to company member Caterina Bartha, has plagued the building for many months. Bartha says the basement level, which contains one of the theater’s two performance spaces, is afflicted with a chronic, smelly leak, which has gone unaddressed by the landlord. (Phone calls to the landlord for response have not been returned.)

“We had been planning to do this for awhile anyway,” says Bartha. “This situation just forced us to do it sooner.”

Collective’s closure will mean the demise of one of the last physical ties to a now-vanished time and place—the Lower East Side of the ’90s and early ’00s, when the company’s former storefront space on Ludlow Street was surrounded by numerous similar ramshackle venues mostly located in repurposed stores, garages, lofts, and schools. Collective’s former neighbors Todo Con Nada, the Present Company Theatorium, Surf Reality, the Piano Store, House of Candles, Expanded Arts, Luna Lounge, Tonic, and CHARAS/El Bohio have all vanished, mostly due to skyrocketing real estate costs. Other than the Present Company, Collective was the only organization to outlive its uprooting and continue producing, taking its act to its current Tribeca home in a former topless bar in 2004.

Adieu to Church Street: Paul Bargetto, Jennifer Conley Darling (Undergroundzero Festival producer), and Caterina Bartha at Collective: Unconscious
Caitlin Ragione
Adieu to Church Street: Paul Bargetto, Jennifer Conley Darling (Undergroundzero Festival producer), and Caterina Bartha at Collective: Unconscious

“We were one of the last alternative art spaces in New York,” says Bartha. “But like a lot of companies, we’re tired of being in the real-estate management business. Mold remediation is not what artists are trained for. So we’ll continue to operate—we just won’t be a venue anymore. We’ll be a traveling circus and partner with other organizations when we want to produce something.”

Fortunately, according to Bartha, recent funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council for the Arts will help see them through the transition, although the group is hoping to raise $20,000 to underwrite moving and storage costs.

In the meantime, they’ve already got their first partners. The Flea and the Manhattan Children’s Theatre (both of which are located nearby) have stepped in to help Collective through the current crisis, making their White Street spaces available for the 2nd Annual Undergroundzero festival (which runs though August 2). The festival—which Collective says was created to “establish an alternative system of presentation for Independent Theater”—is curated by Paul Bargetto, artistic director of East River Commedia. Noteworthy productions include two plays directed by New York International Fringe Festival cofounder John Clancy, Nigromantia: A Slight Return and The Event; a play about a 703-pound man called Feeder: A Love Story, developed by terraNOVA Collective; and The Apocalypse of John the Rabbit, a shadow-puppet piece by Freddi Price that was a hit at last year’s Burning Man. Also of note are shows by downtown favorites Kevin Draine the Bitter Poet and Pinchbottom Burlesque.

The hot ticket at this year’s festival will likely be Collective’s revival of their most successful production, 1999’s Charlie Victor Romeo, a theater piece built on transcripts of actual cockpit recordings from airplane crashes and near-misses. This version of CVR, which is also slated to appear at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, will be the last show produced in the Collective: Unconscious space (it’s on the ground floor, far from the water damage in the basement). The final performance will be on July 11. And then the cabin door will open, and everyone aboard will make their way calmly toward the designated exits…

 
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