IRT Theater, New Ohio Theatre Launches Residency Program

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Photo Source: Andrew Smrz

On a quiet stretch of Christopher Street near the Hudson River, the New Ohio Theatre not only found a new home in the historic Greenwich Village Archive Building but a partner in fostering theater companies. With IRT Theater, which shares space in the red-brick building, the downtown Manhattan theater mainstay will, on Oct. 8, launch the Archive Alliance Residency program, which promises to emphasize incubating theater companies instead of specific works.

As part of the two-year residency, up to four independent theater companies will be offered two separate engagements in IRT’s 3B Development Series and a one-week presentation in the New Ohio’s Obie Award–winning Ice Factory summer festival. In the second year of the program, the companies will be given a four-week run in the New Ohio’s main season.

“We aren’t really curating a project per se. We are investing in the company and saying to them, ‘We like who you are and what you are doing,’ ” said the New Ohio artistic director Robert Lyons. “We’re taking a big leap of faith with them. There is a significant commitment on our part, and that is somewhat unique in residencies.... There is a lot of freedom and security for the company; that is what we are trying to provide them.”

The idea for IRT and the New Ohio’s collaboration was born almost a year ago, when Lyons first found himself in the Christopher Street space, which was poised for a massive renovation. The previous incarnation of the New Ohio Theatre, called the Ohio Theatre and before that the Ohio Performance Space, operated for more than 20 years at 66 Wooster St. in SoHo. In 2010 the group lost its lease but eventually, with the help of the city, found a home in the Greenwich Village Archive Building. Shortly after the New Ohio moved in, IRT artistic director and curator Kori Rushton stopped by to welcome Lyons to the neighborhood. As the pair talked, they realized they knew many of the same theater companies. After six months of informal discussions, Lyons and Rushton found themselves in a restaurant across the street from their theaters, formally solidifying the partnership that would become the Archive Alliance Residency.

“There is a naturally complementary relationship,” Lyons said. “We are a presenter organization, and they primarily have residencies and develop works. It clearly lays out the dynamic.”

The first two resident companies are the Mad Ones and CollaborationTown, which both had productions at the New Ohio last season. As the program grows and more companies follow suit, the Archive Alliance Residency may prove beneficial for actors looking to develop their own work or explore new forms.

“The Mad Ones are a group of artists who cross disciplines, so all of the actors in the company are also writers,” said Joe Curnutte, the company’s co–artistic director. “We create work through writing exercises but also ‘writing on our feet’ through structure improvisation.” Co–artistic director Stephanie Wright Thompson added, “What this residency gives us is time—time to let our play emerge organically through these practices and then later, time to tackle the play as actors under the guiding hand of our director.”

While there isn’t a formal application process, Lyons said the best way for a company to get involved in the residency is to bring its work to the attention of the New Ohio or IRT. He encouraged companies to apply to the Ice Factory festival or an IRT program or invite staff to come see a show.