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Sandy Pulls Curtain Over N.Y. Art Scene


Among the areas hit hard by Superstorm Sandy were Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Chelsea, home to many of the city's art galleries, jazz clubs, dance venues and off-Broadway theaters. Jeff Lunden spoke with some of those making plans to get back to work now that power has returned.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Lafayette Street in the East Village usually bustles with activity. But Oskar Eustis stood on an empty sidewalk in front of the Public Theater, where he's artistic director. While the power was out for almost a week, he says the Public hardly got the worst of it.

OSKAR EUSTIS: The good news is that in the building we're completely dry. A couple of small leaks in the roof that are taken care of by buckets placed under the hole, and that's it.

LUNDEN: All over downtown, New York arts organizations were reeling from the after effects of the storm. Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce Theater, had to cancel performances of a dance company from Montreal, even as she had to house and feed them.

LINDA SHELTON: Technically, in our agreement with the dance company, this is considered, you know, an act of God. So, we could say, well, we're not going to pay you. But morally, that just wouldn't be right. So, we will still have all of the expenses associated with doing a performance, but we won't have any of the income, which, you know, is going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss for us.

LUNDEN: Shelton says the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Juilliard School opened rehearsal spaces for the Montreal dancers so they could be ready. And the Public Theater's Oskar Eustis says several uptown companies also offered rehearsal space for the five shows he had in production.

EUSTIS: All the theaters have been very generous about giving us space. So, we've kept the casts together, kept some rehearsal going.

LUNDEN: But during the power outage, communications between staffers of the various organizations proved to be challenging. Mary Fulham is managing director of La Mama, an off-off-Broadway complex of three small theaters in the East Village. She met up with a couple of her colleagues at a Brooklyn cafe to figure out how they could help the artists with whom La Mama splits ticket sales.

MARY FULHAM: So, we're meeting here, trying to strategize how we can help, you know, downtown artists in the aftermath of the storm, how we can make up the lost performances to the artists who got canceled because of the storm. And hoping that the equipment isn't damaged and that the buildings are standing strong.

LUNDEN: Getting the word out to the public required some quick thinking, too. The Vineyard Theater, near Union Square, had to postpone the opening of a new play about Richard Nixon called "Checkers." The Vineyard lost its phone and web capacity, says artistic director Doug Aibel.

DOUG AIBEL: I think we've been trying to use social media as best as we can. While it's been difficult to put anything on our website, I think we've been able to put a few updates on our Facebook page and Twitter.

LUNDEN: While all the representatives of the various theaters lamented the loss of income because of the storm, they all say they're trying to keep things in perspective. Again, the Public Theater's Oskar Eustis.

EUSTIS: This is one of those rare moments where it would be churlish for us to complain about the hit we've taken when the hit that so many of our fellow New Yorkers and New Jerseyans have taken is so much worse. We were very, very lucky.

LUNDEN: Power was restored to the Public Theater late Friday and it presented free matinee and evening performances yesterday. The Vineyard Theater will give a matinee of "Checkers" this afternoon. Its opening has been rescheduled for November 8th. La Mama will resume a full schedule next week. The Joyce Theater announced that because subway service has not yet returned to Chelsea, it had to cancel performances of the Montreal Jazz Ballet. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.