Following our December 9 report about the possible closing of downtown’s venerable Ohio Theatre, we were pleased to read in yesterday’s Times that the theater has worked out a brief extension for its home at 66 Wooster Street. Artistic director Robert Lyons and the building’s new owners, Zar Property NY, have agreed to a one-year lease, though one that contains a mutual opt-out clause at the end of June–meaning that either party could withdraw from the agreement at that point. So for now, then, the theater is guaranteed six months in its longtime Soho location.
“We’ve bought some time,” said Lyons, when we chatted with him earlier today. But with a higher rent, Lyons noted, the theater’s “old business model is over. We have to reinvent the business model.” (Despite its large size and Soho locale, the theater has been a relatively affordable rental for theater companies.)
What the new model will be is not exactly clear yet, but Lyons says that he’s been hearing from people “who would like to see the theater continue.” He’ll be using the time before June to formulate survival plans and look for funders–“the goal is to stay,” he says–but moving may also be a possibility. The downturn in the real estate market could make finding a similar space more of a possibility than it was a few years ago. He’s already heard from one Tribeca real estate broker. “The fact that real estate agents are approaching theaters,” he said, “tells you a lot about the New York market.”
The six-month reprieve is good news for the rest of the shows in the Ohio’s season. The theater is currently hosting Target Margin’s 10 Blocks on the Camino Real, which will be followed by Lyons’s own Red-Haired Thomas in March, then New Georges’ production of Eisa Davis’s Angela’s Mixtape in April and a May staging of Chiori Miyagawa’s I Have Been to Hiroshima Mon Amour. Clubbed Thumb’s annual Summerworks festival is the theater’s June show, hopefully not the Ohio’s final tenant.
Asked about his favorite personal memory in the space, Lyons recalled a moment during its 2006 Havel festival. He found himself standing at the theater’s bar with the writer-turned-Czech president. “I bought Vaclav Havel a beer,” Lyons said, “and he started telling me about the new play he was working on. It was just like hanging out with a downtown playwright.”–Brian Parks