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Group Seeks to Bring Live Theater to Vacant Inwood Storefronts

By Carla Zanoni | June 18, 2010 9:42am

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

INWOOD — After regularly passing a glut of empty storefronts in his neighborhood, playwright James Bosley had an idea: Why not turn the vacant spaces into temporary stages for live theater performances?

So Bosley enlisted his 8-year-old daughter as a lookout and taped rogue posters onto the windows of empty storefronts, from WaMu Bank on Dyckman Street to Dick’s Hardware on Broadway and 207th Street. 

“Do you want a theater here?” the 2-foot-tall handwritten paper signs read. “Let us build a theater here.”

“We don’t want to show our work in structures that are institutional arts venues,” said Bosley, who is the artistic director of the UP Theater Company.

Bosley said the empty stores would be a perfect place for his company's “gritty and irreverent” theater from “working class, subway riding playwrights who live uptown."

“There are so many artists, actors and Broadway people here," Bosley said. "We shouldn’t have to go downtown 100 blocks to see a play.”

The handmade signs earned the mark of approval from passerby who scrawled notes like, "We don't need another bank!" and "Great idea there aren't many theaters here!"

Bosley said the posters led to discussion with several store owners and landlords in the area, including the owner of Bread and Yoga studio on West 207th Street, which agreed to let the company use its space for a preview performance on June 24.

Landlords seem interested in the idea that they can benefit from reviving their stale retail space by hosting vibrant plays, while relieving neighborhood residents from the eyesores to which they had long grown accustomed, he said.

But not everyone is sold on the idea.

“It’s not that we’re not that interested. It’s just that it’s not a business model,” said real estate agent Rob Kleinberdt, owner of the New Heights Realty. "I suppose I like the idea more as an Inwood resident than as an Inwood broker," Kleinberdt added.

Bosley is not alone in its effort to bring more art and theater to upper Manhattan. Though less subversive in approach, the uptown arts group called Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) led by Sandra García Betancourt, has also been in successful talks with landlords throughout Washington Heights and Inwood.

The group kicked off its month-long Uptown Arts Stroll in the vacant Manhattan Mini Storage storefront space last month and plans to hold an art exhibition on June 25 in the same space. The group has a deal with the landlord that it can use the space until it is rented, Betancourt said.

“It’s good for the community,” Betancourt said. “All those empty spaces look ugly. It’s a waste of space.”