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A Theater Turns Hardship Into Hope

DSC_0745Ian Duncan When 94 St. Marks Place was put up for sale, owners of the basement theater launched a campaign to buy the building. Below, Heidi Grumelot and Erez Ziv of Horsetrade, the theater’s owner.
Heidi Grumelot and Erez Ziv at Under St Marks

It was an e-mail message from the blogger EV Grieve that first alerted the Horse Trade performance group that a building that served as the home to one of its theaters was up for sale. The news was a shock to co-founder Erez Ziv and artistic director Heidi Grumelot — and apparently to the landlord, who, they say, was not expecting the brokers to move so quickly. The asking price was just shy of $6 million.

Grieve asked darkly whether the sale would mean the end for the 45-seat theater, but Mr. Ziv sprang into action and Horse Trade is now running a campaign to buy the building for itself and turn it into a haven for theater people — a sort of off-off Broadway bed and breakfast for companies from around the world. There, actors, performers and writers could collaborate, sharing ideas and hatching new projects.

The plan shows the ambition of Horse Trade, a company with influence across New York’s theater world, but which is also in a precarious position shared by many independent theaters in the neighborhood. In the last few years, a number of venues have closed down, shutting off opportunities for new performers and writers to test ideas. But the East Village shows some signs of health — a 2008 study found it was home to only 14 percent of New York’s independent theaters, but 27 percent of the city’s performances.
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