The Cherry Lane Theatre Company has bounced back on its feet after facing the threat of permanent closure following a $250,000 deficit in 2010. Initiatives such as the Mentor Project, the Founders Project, and the Heritage and Discovery Series have brought in audiences and donors alike to support the nonprofit’s mission to produce diversity inclusive plays and playwrights.
Nathan Yungerberg's Esai's Table is the latest play produced by the Mentor Project, which pairs upcoming urban playwrights with leading dramatists in the industry to workshop and nurture the writer's vision. Janio Marrero and Seri Lawrence, co-Artistic Directors, pair the mentee with a mentor who they feel understands the complexities of the subject they are trying to produce.
“The process of development is tough, so only by producing the most nurturing environment can we expect these young people to succeed” says Marrero.
He estimates the running cost of the Mentor Project is between $225,000 and $250,000, most of which paid for by private donations. When asked if everybody involved gets paid, Marrero said “You have to pay people in order for them to get their next meal and really invest in the creative work.” (emphasis added).
The project started in 1998 under the direction of Angelina Fiordellisi, the founding Artistic Director, as part of an initiative to cultivate an urban artist community. For 2 weeks each, 3 playwrights take over Cherry Lane Theatre’s opening season.
Located in Greenwich Village, Cherry Lane Theatre is situated in a landmark building that houses the longest continuously running Off-Broadway theatre since 1924.
In 2010, “the recession caught up to us a little late, we thought we had money that we didn’t have” says Marrero in regards to the $250,000 deficit. Currently the theatre runs on an operating budget of $800,000 which has broken even for the past three years.
“We are as an institution pioneers. We’re scrappy” says Marrero.
By renting out stages to other theatre groups, the nonprofit makes some extra cash, $7,500 per week for the mainstage, without footing the bill of an entire production.
The rest of the money used for operation comes from a $150,000 yearly endowment, $80,000 from foundations, and more from individuals and investors.
Ticket sales have reached $21,000 in the past year, making is the best ticket selling year the theatre has seen.
Tickets are no longer available for Esai’s Table, as it’s final performance ran last Saturday. The play is performed in the 60 seat studio theatre that is separated from the 179 seat mainstage by a lobby.
Entering the room requires going past doors decorated with a red curtain and down a narrow passage that leads to an all black stage decorated with various items such as pizza boxes, cabinets, a table. Large chalk drawings resembling birds, snakes, dragons, and wolves drape the walls and floor of the stage as well.
The composition of the audience attracted by Cherry Lane’s performances usually depend on what the program of the night is. Plays produced in the Founder’s Project for example tend to draw an older audience, and the opposite is true of the Mentor’s Project. Although, altogether the demographic includes a wide range of people.
To better serve their audience as a whole, the company has an box office worker throughout their daytime operation and also partners up with online technology such as Todaytix to sell tickets. The next production of the Mentor Project, Nollywood Dreams by Jocelyn Bioh, will begin April 25th and run for 11 to 12 performances.
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