Ars Nova taking over the Barrow Street Theatre is phenomenal news.
I would have no problem if EVERY commercial off-Broadway venue similarly goes the nonprofit route. Simply put: making the financials work commercially off-Broadway is in just as much dire straits as doing the same for commercial runs of straight plays on Broadway, which are somewhat related trends.
Though there are of course exceptions few and far between these generalizations — lord knows I’ve seen my fair share of quality work at Barrow Street over the years — for the most part, it’s next to impossible for a conventional show to recoup off-Broadway, let alone turn an actual profit for investors. Since 2014, only one show — Spamilton, a spoof of a certain musical that no doubt benefited from its popularity — made back its money.
Since straight plays on the Great White Way face just as difficult an uphill battle to bring in the moolah, it would be wise for off-Broadway theatres to respond to this depressing economic landscape by transforming as much as possible into full-time incubators, developers, and homes for dramatists, which will hardly be possible if they’re perpetually worried about attracting commercial audiences, who often have mainstream tastes that may be turned off by the level of artistic risk required for evolving the form.
Though Ars Nova is most famous for premiering Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, this venerable institution also produces a bevy of equally radical and dynamic plays, such as last season’s Underground Railroad Game. Plus, reserving Barrow Street for actual productions opens up Ars Nova’s current digs to remain committed to providing up-and-coming artists with much-needed space to hone their unwieldy imaginations. Barrow Street might be a tricky space — its lack of a rake prevents quality sight-lines from most seats — but in Ars Nova’s exceedingly visionary hands, it should become yet another hotspot for the next generation of theatrical revolutionaries.