Manhattan Rep 3.0
I have always believed that THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON, but when in the midst of personal chaos, or in the middle of what seems like an insurmountable challenge, sometimes it is simply impossible to figure out what that REASON is. And so all NEW AGE justification is simply thrown to the trash. And INTENTION - crazy clear intention, is often all we can hold on to.
Thus was the case of the last nine months of my life, as my partner and love of my life Jen and I, struggled to find a new home, because the building that housed our Off Off Broadway theatre for 11 years was being sold! We were on the way to being thrown out, and if that were to come to pass, and if we couldn't find a new space, Manhattan Rep would simply cease to exist.
We had heard that the building that housed Manhattan Rep was being sold, but there was no time frame for it. Selling a building on the corner of 42nd and 8th Ave, outlined to become a giant new luxury Hotel, is not an overnight process. It takes month, even years, to sort out the details of the sale. We had heard it was held up and we had heard that it was going through for about two years, when we finally emailed the building manager in November 2015 to find out what the scoop was and he wrote back:
We are not renewing any new leases. All tenants must be out by March."
March. We had to be out by March. After 10 years, we had to move. Manhattan Rep on the corner of 42nd and 8th Ave was soon to be a memory. And if Manhattan Rep were to survive, we had to move fast.
So we began the hunt but we had to keep it on the down low. If playwright and producer's knew we were losing our space that might not be conducive for future business. And we needed to keep Manhattan Rep alive!
We immediately contacted a couple brokers and we began the hunt. We also went out on our own, biking all over Manhattan taking down addresses of potential buildings and calling the numbers on any SPACE AVAILABLE sign we would find. Little did we realize how difficult a process this would be.
Since we moved in to 303 West 42nd St. in 2005, commercial real estate prices have almost doubled, plus most building owners do not want foot traffic or any sort of noise, and the concept of a small theatre in their building was totally unacceptable to 99% of the buildings in Manhattan unless the space was ground floor retail, which was WAY WAY out of our budget. Plus now there were added charges - the wackiest being that a tenant was now responsible for a percentage of the building's yearly increase in TAX. What?
Within a week, it was clear to us that the prospect of Manhattan Rep finding a new home was slim to none.
In late October 2011, they opened Times Scare underneath our theatre at 303 West 42nd St on the third floor. When they opened, they BROKE Manhattan Rep. The noise from the Halloween Haunt made it impossible for us a floor above to continue to operate due to the SCREAMS and the banging on the walls by over exuberant ghouls in the Haunt down there. We had 20 plays scheduled to be performed through December, and we had NO theatre.
I have this weird thing, or at least a weird thing in this day and age. If I make a commitment to someone, I will do everything in my power to fulfill that commitment no matter what the circumstances. This was the case in late October 2011. I had made a commitment to 20 plays, and I had no theatre. I had to find a solution. I immediately contacted the building manager and RAILED about the sound that I was told would be non-existent. I had spoke with him on probably 8 occasions before Times Scare opened. And boy, was he wrong. I expressed how he had to help us find a new space. By divine providence, there was a space available directly above us on the 6th floor with basically the same floor plan but it had two walls that needed to be pulled down. He told me we could get that space but it would take about 7 days to pull down the walls. WE WILL TAKE IT! But I had plays going up that week! Luckily, the building manager called in a favor with Roy Arias who had theaters in the next building and we were able to move there the next week. But the following week, they were booked. Luckily, I was able to reschedule some plays to the next week and prayed that we could move our theatre in time.
What happened next was the most unbelievable time of my life! With no money to hire anyone, we had to find some way to move a theatre in a week. I am not a electrician or a carpenter but I was sooooo CLEAR on making this happen. It HAD TO HAPPEN, and I had to find a way.
I know nothing about electric, and originally back in 2005, we had hired an electrician to wire the stage lights, install the dimmer boxes and set all up. I had to find a way to do it myself. So I took a crowbar and goggles and TORE DOWN the ceiling on the 3rd floor and took down each dimmer line and lighting unit IN ONE PIECE. I figured if I could take them all down in one piece, I could simply, rehang them up, up on the 6th floor. So each dimmer line and lighting unit I rolled up into a huge plastic garbage can and simply reinstalled them upstairs in ONE PIECE.
After taking pictures of the dimmer box connections, I hung the dimmer boxes, plugged in all in, AND IT WORKED!! A Miracle!
We rented some theatrical curtains and attached them to the pipes on the ceiling and made a makeshift light board. And with the help of some Manhattan Rep participants we carried the risers up the FIRE ESCAPE and reassembled all. Within a week after the deconstruction of the walls on the 6th floor, we finished. We recreated a makeshift but very usable Manhattan Rep! And not one producer/playwright failed to have their show produced!! It was a Hell of a time, and I didn't sleep for two weeks and so much more happened during this process that warrants a ONE Man show, but the reality was I SAVED OUR FRIGGING THEATRE!!
When it looks like you are going to lose something, often you will realize it's importance to you. When Manhattan Rep looked like it would be BYE BYE, I realized how much it was a PART OF ME, how important it was to me, and to so many playwrights, actors and directors who worked here, and that powered me to somehow make it happen, despite some crazy nutty challenges.
And here it was 4 years later, and I HAD TO SAVE MANHATTAN REP again! But this time around it wasn't about MOVING, it was about finding a new home in a crazy expensive commercial real estate landscape that shunned small theatres, hated foot traffic and the possibility of creative noise. This not only symbolized the death of Manhattan Rep, it symbolized the death of independent theaters, relinquishing many playwright/producers to the trials and tribulations of seasonal THEATRE FESTIVALS. Another independent theatre was about to be evicted.
And it was our theatre, and our creative home.
THIS COULD NOT HAPPEN!
IT WAS TIME TO SAVE MANHATTAN REP ONCE AGAIN!
For the first three weeks, it was one NO after another. We had one broker who called 80 buildings WHO ALL SAID NO TO OUR USAGE. So in addition to biking, we started to walk the streets looking for spaces by talking to Supers in random buildings to see if they had space available. We looked at scores of spaces but NONE would even consider our use case.
Finally one day as I was walking scouring the city, I found a sign offering space at a building on 37th St. I called, explained our use case, and he said it could work for there was a school in the building which had classes at night so our foot traffic was not a problem and neither was our noise for know one else was in the building at night except the school which was floors away from the space that was available! This might be it! I arranged a time to come by and see the space with Jen! This was our first possibility! Manhattan Rep might live!
The next day we arrived at the building, took the elevator to the fourth floor and met with the broker/owner SCHLOMO. And the space was beautiful! Newly renovated with exposed brick walls, duel bathrooms, and gorgeous wood floors. We were told that it was 1500 sq ft. I measured the space meticulously, expressed how lovely the space was, and how I needed to go home, and do some layout magic in my IPad and see if we could fit a small theatre in the layout of this space.
The price point was on the high end of our budget but Damn this was a huge and wonderful possibility!
That night, in a makeshift floor plan I created in the NOTESHELF ap in my IPad I layed out our new theatre. AND IT WOULD WORK!! And it would be gorgeous!!!
The next day I called SCHLOMO and he said he would send over a proposal and then we would submit our financials and go from there.
When the proposal arrived, that's when I realized again what a CRAZY challenge lay ahead of us.
The monthly rent in the proposal was now $385 higher than quoted in person. There was a ridiculously high water charge, a sprinkler charge, and crazy high electric charge and the percentage of the buildings tax increase burden was incredibly high - way above average.
So I calculated the real square footage of the space and it was only 846 sq ft not 1500 sq ft as quoted in person (which we later discovered is common practice, something building owners call LOSS FACTOR - and the average loss factor that covers common areas in buildings should be about 30% tops!) The loss factor in this building was almost 50%!
So I met with SCHLOMO to talk about all, AND THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO ROOM FOR NEGOTIATION...
He was actually an Ass about it....
...so we walked. It was not anywhere near a fair deal.
As a matter of fact, it was downright crooked.
So we were back to square one. But I would not let this temporary setback stop us or even slow us. I would learn from this and get smart. Manhattan Rep would persevere!!!
So we contacted different brokers offering space that might work for us. One of the ways hungry young brokers drum up clients was to post commercial real estate ads on Craigslist. Now you have to be careful about Craigslist for it is SCAM CITY but there are many young and hungry brokers who post daily offering real spaces around the city. Be careful though for often the spaces they post are just Pretty spaces that are now unavailable so they can get you to call.
So we continued to look for weeks and weeks. Christmas was approaching.
One of the brokers we contacted was a really nice gentleman named Nelson and he started taking us out and showing us spaces. One of the first spaces he showed us was an old building right across from Madison Square Garden on 31st St. When we arrived we knew it was all wrong, but we did the lip service and walked with Nelson up THREE FLIGHTS of stairs in a rotting building. When we arrived at the space, Jen’s foot almost fell through the floor! This would definitely not work. (Jen and I still laugh about that space for it was a NIGHTMARE.) After seeing a couple other spaces, Nelson brought us to a building that he said OKed our use case as a theatre. Beautiful building on 35th St., nice open space, it could easily work with a little tweaking work as a theatre space, and the price point was doable. So we decided to put in an offer. Funny! Who knew after the first space with the hole in the floor, we would find something this nice with Nelson!
That night, we put together our “Financials” and information about Manhattan Rep and what we do into a nice neat package, along with an awesome letter we received from our Building manager on 42nd St, saying we were perfect clients, respectful to all and always paid our rent on time if not early, and emailed in an offer. The next day I heard from Nelson that they accepted our offer! We just needed to have a meet and greet at our current theatre space to talk with the building manager of 35th St. about all the details involved with moving into this new space.
Jen and I were freaking out. This looked like it was going to happen. We would move in January 1st with a free month’s rent as we set up and built our new theatre, as we continued to run the programs and shows at Manhattan Rep in January, and then beginning in February 2016 we would start operations at our NEW THEATRE!
It was December 29, Nelson arrived with the 35th St building manager to meet and greet in our theatre. I had set up a table for us to talk on stage, (God, I wish I had filmed this!) We showed them around carefully explaining how all worked and then we sat down to chat. And it was GREAT. We talked about the foot traffic and they were fine with it. We talked about music in plays here and dancing at some of our events, and let’s call him RICK, the building manager OK-ed all. We chatted about the extra costs, water, sprinkler, garbage, electric. And more. And then we shook hands and they left saying they would send the lease over later that day.
It was a miracle! A god dammed miracle! Manhattan Rep had found a new home!!
And then we received the lease.
Now we had planned to send this lease to our lawyer to approve all, but with a single un-legal glance at this document, we realized that it was TOTALLY “F” UP. In the lease, it said, we could have no music, and no dancing, and the monthly rent and the water bill was substantially HIGHER than we had AGREED ON! What?
We immediately contacted the building manager with a heart felt, incredibly specific and clear letter about these concerns that he had OK-ed in person but were not anywhere in the lease. THE RIDER TO THE LEASE actually said we could have no Music or Dancing so this wasn’t just a standard commercial lease, they actually put together a RIDER about music and dancing! This was specifically written for us AFTER our meet and greet! WHAT????
So we received a bizarre letter in response from that building manager (who I now refer to as DICK,) stating that we would have to sound proof the entire space, and that the monthly rent and water fee was originally MIS-SPOKEN and is the higher rate, and a whole bunch of other BS.
I was sick. I'm sorry. I'm old school. I shake your hand and that is an agreement, and I will keep my end of the agreement. But that doesn’t apply in the crazy, screwed up world of New York Commercial Real Estate. No, in that world, almost everybody is a crook/snook trying to suck more cash out of everyone else. Owner’s don’t give a rat’s ass about a tenant as long as they can steal, trick or canoodle as much cash as is humanly possible.
So we walked.
It was a sad, sick, disillusioned walk. This was the world I was dealing with here. I was sick.
"Oh hell, Manhattan Rep is going to lose it’s home!"
Feeling utterly defeated, Jen and I walked over to our current building's management office to pay what we thought would be our last month's rent. We paid our rent, speaking briefly with our building manager THOM, and he asked if we had found a space for he had written us a letter of recommendation. He was an odd bird. Sometimes he was the nicest of guys but at other times, communicating with him was challenging. And his desk was always a mess of papers, books and more, like piles up 2 to 3 feet. We briefly told him our tale of woe and he replied with "Would you like to stay until next December?" Jen and I looked at each other.
"Of course we would!" we responded together.
"But what about the sale of the building?" I piped in.
"What you have been hearing are rumors. It's not happening now."
"But you said March?"
"You can't listen to rumors."
We left relieved, yet somehow unsettled. We didn't have to get out that fast.....maybe? Remember what I said about commercial real estate? What is said....means nothing.
After New Year's, I began the hunt again with not quite so much urgency but the words "What is said...means nothing." kept me motivated. I saw huge lofts in China town, work/live spaces in Soho and Chelsea, basements, and more. But nothing. There was always something not quite right - the price point, the access (we needed 24/7 access), our use case was misunderstood, or the space was too thin. (We needed 19 ft wide at the least to create a theatre.) Even with the possibility of staying until December, we ultimately still had to find a space or Manhattan Repertory Theatre would simply cease to be.
So my ritual was this: Each day I would check Craigslist and email out to one or two brokers about a new space on the market. Most of the time they would get back saying our use case would not be accepted but once or twice a week I would view spaces - but nothing was manifesting.
And then, at the end of April, I went to pay Manhattan Rep's rent and Thom, our building manager, was nowhere to be seen, ...and HIS DESK WAS CLEAN! Nothing - not one old invoice, and not a pending lease to be found. Nothing!
Oh hell! I immediately went to Chobie, the elderly daytime doorman at our building on 42nd St and I asked him what happened to Thom.
"He was let go after 29 years! And they have given the building to their grand children. They plan on totally renovating the building."
"Will they keep us here?"
"They want to turn this building into a money making machine. I am sure firing Thom is their first step to saving money. Their son-in-law is now running things.
"Will they keep us here?"
With a wise sad smile Chobie replied, "What do you think? They want to make money and lots of it. They are not offering any new leases. I am told they are going to totally renovate the entire building floor by floor starting from the top."
I felt that sad sick feeling again in my gut.
"What the hell are we going to do?"
The next day, I called the new building manager and asked what the status of the building was. Nonchalantly he replied with what sounded like a fake English accent, "You will probably have to be out by September at the latest." Our lease was up in September. THIS WAS NOT GOOD.
So I started to get crazy. Each morning I would do the Craigslist thing but I would send out to EVERY new listing even if I knew it wouldn't work for our use case. I needed lots of brokers working for us and I needed to get their attention. We had to move fast.
So we started seeing a myriad of spaces in a crazed frenzy of fear. Often the broker was mistaken (even after I had sent them all our very detailed info) and they wouldn't take our use case and it was simply a waste of time. We put offers in on a number of places where we were told we be accepted only to hear that they didn't want the foot traffic, or the price of the space was really 50% higher than the original ad price and the original ad was a mistake (when they were really just testing the market to see what they could get) or we simply would never hear back from them and when we called they would say they were still working on it. (One building we looked at in late May is STILL "working on it.") During this crazy process, I designed a myriad of theatre spaces only to be told it wasn't going to happen.
So I started going out alone and walking the streets of NYC for hours on end in the crazy summer heat searching for hidden spaces, alternate spaces, businesses on side streets way west who were going out, which I might be able to catch before a broker. I decided I might have a better chance on my own for the building wouldn't have to pay a HUGE broker's fee to the broker and we might be able to get a reduced rent because of it. I found a hidden carriage house, a bizarre hidden loft community, small theaters created in storefronts in scary areas of Manhattan and more. BUT NOTHING WAS MANIFESTING!
By August, I was at my wits end. Jen and I started thinking about alternate ways to continue with Manhattan Rep, but I didn't want to rent a theatre and present a "FESTIVAL." I wanted to continue to be an on-going independent theatre and the creative home for so many artists! We could not let Manhattan Rep die.
So early one Monday morning in mid-August I decided I would go out and FIND OUR THEATRE. I would walk all day, following any lead, I would be crazy bold, and by the END of the day, I would FIND OUR NEW HOME! GOD DAMNIT!!
You have to say something for the power of intention. When one is clear on what they need to create, super clear, and crazy committed to making it happen, it often does.
The rules often don't apply with clear intention, and one often has to step way out of one's comfort zone, but crazy clear intention well shook with passion can create magic, or in this case... a miracle.
I "speed walked" a third of Manhattan on that fateful day, going from 9 am to 7 pm, but by the end of that crazy hot jaunt, I had found our new home.
We had looked at a large space with super high ceilings in the back of a building on West 45th St, that I had found by myself and not through a broker, a couple weeks back, which was priced way too high. In my sweaty travels that day (it was 90 degrees,) I decided I would go back there and see if I could negotiate the price and terms so that it would work for us. I met with the building manager and I went for it. I guess I was super clear for I was able to reduce the rent hundreds and hundreds of dollars and get the "extras" and terms that could work for us. That crazy power of intention!
That night, I plotted out the floor plan for our new theatre in this space and it worked beautifully! Stage space was much bigger, the dressing room was away from the stage so we wouldn't have to worry about noise backstage disturbing the performance, plus the space was in the back of the building and not on an avenue so police sirens would not be a problem anymore, and the neighborhood was an upgrade too, clean, respectable with great restaurants, a park down the block and parking around the corner!
So we put in an offer....and miraculously, they accepted! Then, after some lawyer rewriting of the lease to insure all would work for a theatre space in this building, we signed the lease and gave them a big check. After 9 months, we found our new home! It just didn't make sense. It was a Miracle. We finally found our new creative home and community! Manhattan Rep would live on in this awesome new space!
Today (September 5) Labor Day, 2016, Jen and I gained access to the space, and with blue painters tape, a big tape measure, and ladder in hand, we laid all out on the floor and walls in blue exactly how all would be built, placed, and organized - the new risers, the light booth, the office and concession area, and the dressing room. I felt excited and scared, sad for the change, yet super hopeful about the possibilities of our new theatre space and creative home.
Our intention is to make Manhattan Rep the best theatre in New York City or anywhere for developing and creating new work!
Jen, Roma and I would like to thank all of you who have worked with us for the last 11 years, and we hope you will join us for the next 20 as we create some truly amazing theatre and more!
Never give up on your dreams no matter what "reality" is telling you. In any given moment in time, there is always possibility for positive change!
In the immortal words of Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never, never, never give up!"
Hope to see you at the new Manhattan Rep in October!