In searching for the effect that Hurricane Sandy has had on local theaters, I've concentrated on those in the path of the storm—near the coast, or in the part of Manhattan that lost power last week. But the storm had other ways of messing with us. Today I spoke to Noel Allain, co-founder and artistic director of the Bushwick Starr, which was wrapping up a critically lauded run of The Debate Society's Blood Play when Sandy came to town. Cut the L train, and Bushwick becomes an island. Did the Starr's audience bridge the gap?
How have things been at the Starr?
Things are good. The L train is back up now. We had a show Monday and Wednesday the week of the storm, and obviously cancelled the show Monday. When everyone started to see how badly the city was being affected, and that the trains were not going to be back up any time soon, we canceled the show Wednesday, and were afraid that was it for the last week of the show. We were pretty disappointed, obviously, but on Thursday we had a conversation about it and looked at the list of ticketholders and said, Hey! Most of these people live in Brooklyn!
We wrote the list, and asked everyone—if we go ahead with the show, will you come? They said they'd be there, and we had a full house. People walked from Carroll Gardens. It was very heartening, especially after everything that had happened for the past few days, to see this support, this enthusiasm, for the show, for coming to the theater. At that point, I felt, oh—this is filling a need.
When we saw that, we decided to have the show the rest of the weekend, and they were all full. Even without the train, we had a great turnout.
Is most of your audience local to Bushwick? Or do people trek in?
They trek in. We're still working on building an audience in the immediate area. The crowd here is mostly visual art, music, parties. You say, oh, come see a play, and they look at you like, oh, why would I do that? It takes time to get people to show up.
What about your cast and crew? Did they have trouble making it in without the L?
They banded together; they found creative solutions. Some people live in Inwood. Our stage manager Liz is in Long Island, and drives in, so that whole week she stayed with the director of the show in Brooklyn. Everyone was under such duress, their lives were already turned upside down, that making the show happen was a welcome challenge.
Until recently, I lived in Williamsburg and my girlfriend lived in Bushwick, and I got used to the L train going out for whole weekends at a time. Are you used to dealing with the L train vanishing?
We're used to living in fear. Shutting it down on the weekends—there's so much weekend business on the L train, it's like, are you fucking kidding me? Knock on wood right now, they've changed things up a little bit, probably because of that public outcry, and started doing work weeknights after 11. On a weeknight, people aren't gonna be staying out all night anyway. I hope they keep that up.
Those shuttle buses were part of why I left Williamsburg.
How can they think they can replace the whole L train with one little shuttle bus? Living where I am, the shuttles actually worked, because they would be empty when you got on. But once it got to the Graham stop, to the Lorimer stop, just forget about it. I just started walking.
Did you get nervous seeing those pictures of the L tunnels completely flooded?
I thought, oh God. How long is this gonna take? When it started running again, God, I felt like a king! Like, the world is open to me! The last couple weeks, you got, more than ever before, a sense of the delicate ecosystem that a city like New York runs on. It was scary. Hopefully, a little bit of a wake-up call to the people who organize this city.
People organize this city?
Somebody does, right? Somebody call those people!