The Playgoer: Whither Theatre 80?

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Whither Theatre 80?

"Theatre 80 St. Marks, September 20 2009"
by Melanie, East Village Corner.

Seeing the Pearl Theatre Co's Playboy of the Western World last night (review forthcoming next week) reminded me to catch up on a story I missed last spring.

The Pearl announced back in May that they were leaving their home of 15 years, the old revival movie house, Theatre 80 St. Marks. AND that for this season they were leasing Manhattan Theatre Club's "Stage II" at City Center.

First: interesting news about MTC, that they were renting out one of their three spaces for the entire season. That they gave up their smallest space and one of the original two--and not the continually cursed Biltmore/Friedman Broadway venue--is a sign of how much that organization has changed. I guess they'd still rather gamble on the ticket income of 650 seats at Broadway prices rather than return to their original mission of small new plays in a 150-seater.

But I digress.

It's good news for the Pearl, for sure. A midtown theatre district venue, and a space more conducive to their cozy classics than the oddly shaped Theatre 80 stage, situated in hipster East Village.

But what about Theatre 80? What's its future as a performance venue? Especially at a time when we need smaller (but not too small) performance venues.

The blog Lost City--dedicated to documenting and fighting "the vestiges of Old New York as they are steamrolled under or threatened by the currently ruthless real estate market"--asked that very question at the time and got this response from the longtime owner of the space:
Be assured that the Otway family still owns and runs Theater 80. My mother is well and sends her dearest regards to all.

When we came to Saint Marks Place in 1964, there was not a tree on the block. My father planted the first three trees on this now tree lined promenade. At the age of eleven, I dug out the auditorium with my father and helped pour the concrete. We are not going anywhere. We helped to build this neighborhood one business at a time, and it can be lost one building at a time. We have held out against times when those who are tearing down the neighborhood seem to be winning. But, like many others, we intend to keep the East Village a vibrant arts community.

I am at a loss to understand the quote from Shepard Sobel that he is “… disappointed the East Village is losing a theatrical venue to commercial enterprise..." Theatre 80 has been the jewel of the off-broadway theaters since my father built it, and we opened in the mid 1960s.

Our theater saw the opening of "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown", was the home of the Manhattan Festival Ballet, and was the first full time film revival house. For many years Noche Flamenca has performed to sold out audiences.

I have no idea the meaning or source of this information. As managing agent for the Otway family, owners of Theatre 80, I state categorically, we intend to remain a theater. We have turned down offers for other uses of this theater which would destroy the auditorium.

Please be assured that we welcome offers from theater companies to lease this theater. I can be reached by email at

Best regards
Lorcan Otway
Theatre 80

So, how's that working out?

Well there was indeed a play in there last month, the aptly titled Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side. (Yes the infamous "erection" play.) But it just closed last weekend.

Who's next? Anyone know?

Better yet--anyone want it?


EV Grieve said...

I've been following the story. I did an interview with Lorcan back in early September. He told me the theater was booked for productions in September and October...and he's planning to open a new cafe at the spot.

He's done a terrific job of refurbishing the theater.

Lorcan Otway said...

We have a web page which soon will have the schedule for Theatre 80, I believe it is … it will be up soon. We don’t publish the schedule until there is a deposit check in hand, but we are in final negotiations for two operas, a musical, and several other works, including dance… and the big (you heard it first here…) news, is that we are installing high definition projection with a 12 by 28 foot retractable screen, set far back on the stage, so that the sight lines and image will be a great improvement from my father’s day. We will have film on occasion, though our primary focus will be live theater.
Continued best wishes from the Otway family to those dear patrons who have shown us such love for the past 44 years.
All the best
Lorcan Otway

Lorcan Otway said...

PS… Just an interesting note… the last performance by the Pearl Theatre Company here Vieux Carrie, also contained full frontal erect male nudity… just a coincidence, rather than a trend at Theatre 80, or on NY stages, I assume.

Lorcan Otway said...

PPS... the web address is ... again thanks...