I have a fondness for The Public Theater in New York. I won’t pretend to know it at all well, but I was introduced to is as the hub for Under the Radar, a festival we performed in four years ago and I loved its atmosphere. It is substantial without be overwhelming, it has a slightly faded grandeur that allows it to feel both important and welcoming. It programs a range of exciting work – I saw The Wooster Group’s Hamlet there – and has a fantastic location at 425 Lafayette St., Manhattan. Yesterday I came to realize that these are evidence of the thing that actually makes my like The Public Theater so much – it has heart.
This is an email sent out yesterday by Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. It reaffirms to me that the theatre I believe in is engaged with its community.
Hurricane Sandy dealt our entire region a huge blow this past week, and it will require effort and collaboration from all of us to support those who are suffering the most. I know your thoughts, like mine, are with those of our citizens in the Rockaways and Hoboken, in Staten Island and New Jersey, who are still without power, heat, or homes.
For the next few weeks, we will be using our home at The Public Theater at Astor Place as a collection site for material aid to help those without homes and those in need of immediate assistance. We’re told that water is most urgently needed, in addition to, work gloves, batteries, flashlights, face masks, thick black garbage bags, tarps, cleaning fluids and supplies, band-aids, Advil, Tylenol, baby wipes and diapers. If you bring your items to The Public, either on your way to work, to a show or any other time during the day, we will make sure your much-needed contributions are distributed quickly and efficiently. A collection bin is located right in our main lobby.
Here at The Public Theater, we were shut down for almost a week, from last Sunday afternoon to this past Saturday morning. We had six wonderful men from our Operations department who lived in our building in shifts (Ishmael (Izee) Figueroa, Melvin Barney, Timothy Gayle, Ryan Moore, Harry Colon, Winston Hamington) to protect our historic building. We are immensely grateful for the care they took of our wonderful home. We were incredibly fortunate– our basement stayed bone-dry, and with the exception of a few small leaks in the roof (easily patched), the building was completely unscathed.
We had five shows in various stages of performance, preview or tech when Hurricane Sandy hit– and all five shows continued rehearsing, meeting further uptown where Manhattan still had power, working in temporary rehearsal spaces that were made available to us thanks to the extraordinary support of the theatrical community. We want to especially thank The Pearl Theatre, SITI Company, Second Stage Theatre, Lincoln Center Theater, A.R.T. NY, Signature Theatre, 52ND St. Project, Playroom Theater and Prospect Theater. It was deeply gratifying to know that in a crisis, we could count on the solidarity of our community to hold us up.
I spent the week on my bike (it is always the most reliable form of transportation in the city– this last week, it was the only alternative), coming in from my Brooklyn home over the Brooklyn Bridge, driving through the eerily dark and quiet streets of lower Manhattan, heading to midtown where our shows were in rehearsal, travelling from rehearsal room to rehearsal room, and visiting the artists who were continuing their work in these difficult times. Every time I walked into a room I was struck by the passion and dedication of our artists: their determination to cherish the work they were making, to support one another, and to come together to renew their feeling of being part of a community larger than any one of us. Those were great and inspiring visits, and I am tremendously proud of them all.
The lights came on at 4:58 PM last Friday, and by Saturday we were up and running: six shows on Saturday, seven on Sunday, the newly revitalized lobby full of life and vitality all weekend long, from morning to evening. We gave away all our remaining tickets for free (something we’re pretty good at, we practice all summer), and there was a palpable sense of downtown coming back to life around us. On Sunday night we had a Public Forum in Joe’s Pub at The Public where Anna Deavere Smith and David Simon (creator of “The Wire” and “Treme”) had an inspiring and profound discussion about what responding to a crisis, and specifically responding to a hurricane, can do for a community.
David made a point about New Orleans I loved: he said that after the onslaught of Katrina, almost everything in New Orleans had been broken, washed away, or destroyed: the infrastructure, the banks, the housing. But the one thing that was completely intact was the culture, and nobody who loved New Orleans was willing to let that die. It was the art, the culture that inspired and required all the rebuilding that needed to be done.
As I walked through our lobby this weekend, I was reminded of everything I love about New York, and I was proud that The Public could be at the center of this amazing, unstoppable city.
Thanks to all of our amazing staff who gave so much of themselves this past week; thanks to our elected officials for keeping everyone informed and for pushing to get systems up and running again; thanks to fantastic City workers who are devoting countless hours to mitigating the effects of this storm; thanks to all of you, our fellow citizens, our audience, our community. We are all in this together, and I’m grateful for that.
Those of you who missed performances due to the storm, just get in touch with us at 212.967.7555 and we will be happy to rebook your tickets.