Theater folks from the Bowery to Avenue B were saddened last week at the news that the Red Room, a black box theater on Fourth Street, will be closing after more than a decade serving the needs of theatrical madmen across New York City. Today, Astor Place Riot spoke to Heidi Grumelot, head of artistic development at Horse Trade Theater, which operates out of the Red Room and the neighboring Kraine and Under St. Marks theaters, about the space's past and her theater's future.
Why is the Red Room going away?
We've been renegotiating our lease since the beginning of January, and our landlord has told us that he wants to repurpose the Red Room space into something besides a theater. We're retaining the Kraine and Under St. Marks, but starting April 1, he's going to be using the Red Room for his own purposes. In response, we're doing a crazy thing called Blaze of Glory to give it a proper send-off. I just sent out an email to all of our past and current residents who've done meaningful work in the Red Room, and within three days I've gotten together an incredible list of performances for March.
I know how important the development work you do in the Red Room is to you—how are you going to replace the space?
We're looking. We're just looking. We've gone to see a few spaces already. Nothing's developed yet. We're definitely serious about where we can continue to afford to do this work. If anybody has space—and I know how silly it sounds to ask that in New York—we're on the hunt right now.
Are you going to stay in the neighborhood?
We've talked about different opportunities uptown or in Brooklyn, but when you think about it, this is where we've always been.
Did your landlord give you any indication why he wants to repurpose the Red Room? Is it just that he wants something more profitable than a Black Box in there?
I think that's the plan. The rent that we're paying is staying the same, but we're down one space. He's trying to get another source of revenue in there.
To put it bluntly, that sucks.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We're calling this Blaze of Glory because this room has so much history. Amazing and beautiful stuff has happened there. Suzan Lori Parks came and did this underground thing, Watch Me Work, which later moved to the Public. Lots of film screenings have happened with celebrities and other notable people. My understanding is that some of the people at UCB, like Asssscat, started at the Red Room. RadioTheatre, all these artists.
It's such a warm space, it's so flexible, it's so intimate, and it's small enough that you can afford to experiment in ways that you really can't in a 99 seat theater. The thing that I've been thinking about since we found out about this is the impact of one little room and what that can do for a community, and just thinking about all the amazing things that have started there. You have to have a room to start stuff.
And there just aren't enough really small, affordable black box spaces, especially in the Village.
I know! The neighborhood is getting a little fancy.
Is this going to be a major financial hit for you?
It's definitely a bit of a hit, yeah. After the trouble we had with Under St. Marks a couple of years ago, it's been clear that you just have to have your own space. Horse Trade has always operated a little different from other theaters around town. We've been successful in sustaining ourselves only on rentals and box office, so losing the Red Room will have real financial impact. But we're launching a new nonprofit called HT Presents, and we have eyes on the future. We have a game plan to build something that isn't at the mercy of the ten year lease cycle of New York City real estate.
What's the plan for the next few months?
The plan is the Kraine and Under St. Marks for now, and everybody should come hang out at the Red Room between now and April. Come and enjoy it while it's still here!