Snow fell on Jamaica last night, and the Black Spectrum Theatre was dark, as it has been ever since Sandy first lapped at the beaches of Long Island. The theater did not flood and its power did not fail, but this local landmark sits on park land, and the one-two punch of hurricane and nor'easter means the parks of Jamaica remain closed.
"It's snowing, you know. Winds are picking up," said Carl Clay last night. "This cuts right in the middle of our workweek."
Filmmaker, producer and writer, Clay founded the theater in 1970. Originally a traveling troop, the company settled down in 1986, to occupy a purpose-built 325-seat theater in Roy Wilkins Park, not far from the heart of Jamaica. Since its beginning, Black Spectrum has showcased the work of emerging and established black artists, reaching out into the underserved local schools to do so. This is the mission statement of dozens of community-based theaters across New York City, but few such like-minded groups have been successful enough to find a permanent home.
Since Sandy's first approach forced the city to close its parks, Black Spectrum's plum location has become an albatross. The pair of storms have forced more than a week of cancellations—abruptly ending the run of Bubba's Fish Market and upending the planned world premiere of Dumas, which was slated for a four day run that has now been pushed back to February.
"While we weren't flooded and no trees fell on our facility," Clay said, "we were hit in in another kind of way, which was just as damaging. With the loss of revenue for these productions that we've put money into and are now unable to recoup right now, it does mess with our cash flow, and our entire schedule."
Like many community-based theaters, a large chunk of Black Spectrum's revenue comes from doing programs in public schools. But ongoing disputes between mayor and teacher's union have held back funds for that kind of programming, forcing the theater to postpone the start of its in-school season to, at the earliest, January. With the loss of that funding, this half of the season was totally dependent on box office revenue that is now not coming in.
"This is literally the beginning of our season, so we're energized, ready to go," Clay said. "It's a little frustrating! We're not defeated or anything like that, but it is damaging."
He and his staff know that things could be much worse. What for some arts groups was a tragedy, to Black Spectrum is a frustration. Although their fall season has been turned upside down, the winds did no damage to the theater's brand new, $100,000 electronic marquee, which is designed to give them visibility beyond the park. The lost revenue from the school programs and the shuttered box office will not cripple the company. After decades in the business, Clay is too cunning to let a storm sink Black Spectrum.
"We're in our 43rd year of operation," he said, "so we know how to prepare.