We Can’t Lose Another OnePosted January 15th, 2016 by Sean Williams
As theater people, we’ve become accustomed to the failure rate. It can’t be helped, in the course of our careers as writers or producers or actors, we know that one show is going to do well, another will do poorly, and we can’t know ahead of time which is which. You write something, you pour your heart into it, you hand it off to a brilliant director who assembles a team of perfect, strange artists to pull off their vision, the show opens, and that’s when the vagaries of luck or circumstance hit. A reviewer doesn’t get it, a cell phone goes off, there’s a train closure… whatever it is, the show doesn’t quite work. You lose money, your audience doesn’t get it, you chalk it up to “lessons learned”.
Our response to it is always the same “Yeah, it’s just so hard.” Failure IS an option. When you attempt something audacious, you are risking failure and the risk is often accompanied by… failure! We say to each other all the time, “just focus on the work, let everything else go.” And yes, we have to. The only path to success is to focus on the work, but failure still happens. You still get to the end of a run, or even a season, and realize it *just didn’t reach the audience* the way you’d hoped.
The Secret Theatre is about to close. That is what I’m writing to you about.
Because there are any number of reasons why it is closing. The swiftly changing neighborhood – the very neighborhood that desperately needs a theater in it - is gentrifying quickly and while the landlord at the building that houses The Secret has been incredibly generous, it gets harder and harder every year to justify keeping the space open.
Also Richard Mazda, the owner/operator of The Secret, is a theater guy, an artist, not a businessman. He’s scraped by, raising funds from personal relationships and sinking his own money into the space to keep it open, but he never set up a nonprofit, never designed an aggressive donor model, never reached out to gladhand and cultivate local community support. He wanted to have a theater so we could have a theater and he focused on that. He’s a theater person, so he made plays and figured the rest would work itself out. He has attempted something audacious and risked failure and… We all know what can happen next.
The Secret Theatre is about to close. We hear this news and wince and then say, “It’s hard, it’s so hard, and I don’t know what’s become of New York…” This is a HUGE MISTAKE. We shouldn’t say that, because The Secret is not a production, it’s not a season, it’s not a play or a performance. It is a *space* where theater people can make plays.
The Secret isn’t closing in the same manner that so many other performance spaces have closed, where a hostile landlord is kicking theater people out to make way for a CVS. The Chain Theater, in the same neighborhood, has closed because the owners of the property want a different business in the space. The landlord at The Secret wants the space open, and has spent years being proud of the artistic community, offering extensions on the rent, cutting deals. They have bent over backwards to keep this space available for us, the theater community.
We can’t include the closing of The Secret in the same breath as having a production that fails to take hold, or a show where you dropped your lines, or a bad review. The Secret is a brick-and-mortar building full of lights, chairs and a door, outside of which an audience stands and behind which we make plays. And they are finally creating a nonprofit to apply for public funding, they are finally creating a community infrastructure in LIC to support the space, they are finally putting together a comprehensive and aggressive donor campaign…
But they are a year away from seeing these plans take root. Richard Mazda’s great mistake is that he kept he kept his enthusiasm focused on productions, he wanted to hear about other producers’ plans for reinventing the space for each show, he wanted to create new plays and reimagine old ones. He kept his head down and focused on the art. He’s too much like one of us. Now that he’s moved that laser-like intensity to creating a sustainable financial model, The Secret could be here for years to come.
The Secret Theatre can survive if the theater community can find a way to keep it alive. We have less than a week. Here’s how you can help –
Go here Secret Theater Fundraiser and give what you can and then please pass this link around.
Go here (physically) - Rent Party ! It’s a good old-fashioned rent party. Get a group of friends together and go.
And if it’s purely theater you love, then go here and buy tickets to City Girls and Desperadoes, starring Austin Pendleton. It’s being produced by The Secret, and you will love it.
You don’t want to hear the news two months from now, shake your head andsay, “I don’t know what’s become of New York. I don’t know why we keep losing these spaces.” This space is in jeopardy because it’s run by people with the same priorities as us, and we’ve all come to each other for help. The difference is, we’re not borrowing props now, or asking for rehearsal space, or papering a show. We’re keeping the lights on in one of our homes and without it, we’ve lost something permanent.