Bed-Stuy Theater Company Plans First Shows Despite Unresolved Venue Issues

By Paul DeBenedetto on September 26, 2013 2:12pm 

 The New Brooklyn Theater hopes to open a new space in the former Slave Theater location, at 1215 Fulton St.
The New Brooklyn Theater hopes to open a new space in the former Slave Theater location, at 1215 Fulton St.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A Brooklyn theater company's neogtiations with the new owners of the Slave Theater are ongoing, but the show will go on.

New Brooklyn Theater, a performing arts group formed in Bed-Stuy in 2012, announced an array of shows during Bed-Stuy Alive!, a weeklong arts festival in October that will celebrate the neighborhood.

One of the group's goals is to provide affordable programming to the area, and they jumped at the chance to work with Bed-Stuy Alive! to put on free shows, said Randall Sawyer, the group's chair.

"It's actually really great for us," Sawyer said. "We want to put on great programming for the borough of Brooklyn, but we also want to ensure it's accessible."

The performances start with a presentation of "The Gift," a spoken-word performance by poet Cherrye J. Davis that references Bed-Stuy's history through shout-outs to street corners and neighborhood institutions, outside of Restoration Plaza on Oct. 12 during the festival's kick-off ceremony.

Other shows will take place throughout the week at the House of Art Gallery, at 408 Marcus Garvey Blvd., including "A Photograph: Lovers in Motion," a play by "For Colored Girls" playwright Ntozake Shange.

"We have alumni of Sundance and Raindance and the American Black Film Festival," Sawyer said.

The entire schedule of performances can be found on the group's website.

New Brooklyn planned to move into the shuttered Slave Theater since its inception, hoping to buy the location outright at auction. However, the building never went to auction and was purchased by the Fulton Halsey Development Group for $2.1 million in March, public records show.

Now the group is working with Fulton Halsey to purchase the space and build a new theater, Sawyer said.

"We're working on architectural plans," Sawyer said. "They've agreed that they think it would be a great thing to do, and we've been in talks with them about the plans of how we will build out the space there."

The Slave Theater, at 1215 Fulton St., has been vacant since 1998, and the former owner, Judge John Phillips, died in 2008.

Phillips' death led to a lengthy court battle between Samuel Boykin, his nephew and the executor of his estate, and Clarence Hardy, Phillips' former partner in the theater.

Although Hardy's suit was dismissed in May, he and son Omar Hardy still show up to the space daily to make improvements to what they see as their property despite its sale.

"We're not hiding or doing anything wrong," the younger Hardy said. "The wrong is being done to us."

The Hardys said their hope is to bring a community theater back to the neighborhood.

Sawyer, who said he's had conversations with the father and son, said New Brooklyn's mission is just that.

"We've reached out with an olive branch," Sawyer said. "As long as the goal is that we still have theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and it's a place for the kids to go, then I'll be happy."

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