The Living Theatre, a staple of the downtown arts scene since 1947, is still looking to the public to help stay alive. Last week, the company claimed that it needed to raise $24,000 before May 14 or it would be evicted from its current home at 21 Clinton Street, where it has been since 2007. As of Friday, May 11, the theater had managed to gather just under $12,000.
The company says that the money is needed to pay back rent, for both the theater space and founder Judith Malina’s upstairs apartment (which also serves as the theater’s office). The company says it also plans on bringing in a business consultant to develop a five-year plan, eventually turning itself into a “financially sustainable organization.”
Executive Producer Brad Burgess said that the $24,000 will give the group a “couple months” breathing room as they approach wealthier members of the arts community for support. He also said that with the help of former city councilman Alan Gerson’s cultural adviser Paul Nagle (who helped reshape and revitalize the post-9/11 downtown arts scene), they’ll conduct market research to find out the best course of action, if the fundraiser goal is reached. The building’s landlord is Assnco Reality Corporation. The Voice‘s efforts to contact the company for comment have been unsuccessful, and Burgess declines to provide his contact at the company.
A long term plan is vital, it seems. On top of the $33,900 arrears owed since February (according to the New York Times), the agreement going forward between the Living Theatre and the landlord is $8,500 monthly rent. On top of that, the upstairs apartment/office is $5,200 a month. Burgess estimates that the yearly cost of keeping the theater open is around $160,000.
This isn’t the first time that the Living Theatre has faced financial issues. Back in the 1960s, the company moved to London temporarily to escape trouble with the IRS, eventually returning to the U.S. and touring around the country. Burgess believes that most of the legwork in finding potential future supporters has already been done. Once they hit the fundraiser mark, he said, they’ll be able to “get out of this month to month struggle” and present their five-year plan to long-term investors. “People don’t just give you $100,000,” he says with a laugh.
“We have to think about what it means if one the founders of the [Off- and Off-Off Broadway] movement is struggling at the end of her life to survive, and what this means for the rest of us moving forward,” he says about Malina. “We owe it to her to make it happen. We need to make sure that the model of Off-Broadway is success.”