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Children's Theater Group Uses Fairy Tale to Spotlight Real Estate Battle

By Andrea Swalec | January 26, 2012 3:04pm
The New Acting Company performed
The New Acting Company performed "Snow White" in spring 2011.
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Sara Brown

GREENWICH VILLAGE — An acclaimed children's theater on Sullivan Street that's about to lose its home is turning its plight into art — adapting the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk" into a story about the struggle between commerce and creativity.

The New Acting Company, which has operated out of the nonprofit Children's Aid Society at 219 Sullivan St. for 12 years, is currently using the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk" to address a forced move to make way for condos.

In the classic version of the English folk tale, Jack sells his family's cow for a handful of magic beans after being sent to the marketplace to hawk it for cash.

"In our version, Jack's mother sends him to sell their theater," playwright and East Village resident Kathy Keane said Wednesday. 

The Children's Aid Society's two buildings at 219 Sullivan St. will close in June 2012 to make way for luxury condos.
The Children's Aid Society's two buildings at 219 Sullivan St. will close in June 2012 to make way for luxury condos.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

"Jack's mom is behind on her rent and has just had enough. She decides that the property will make more as a luxury condo [building] than as a theater." 

In the play Keane is creating with New Acting Company artistic director Stephen Michael Rondel, Jack and his mother are "kind of depressed about how everything in their village has become Starbucks and banks," Keane said. 

The closure of the Children's Aid buildings between Bleecker and West Third streets — which spokesman Anthony Ramos confirmed will take place in June — provides the play's real-life inspiration. 

In May, the nonprofit that runs 11 children's programming centers citywide opted to sell the two buildings at 219 Sullivan St. for $33 million to support its work in neighborhoods that are needier than the Village, CEO and president Richard Buery told The New York Times. 

Village parents, including actress Brooke Shields, urged Children's Aid to keep its doors open. Parent Viviana Bromberg even filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit, alleging that closing in order to focus on poorer communities would discriminate against more affluent families. 

Bromberg's lawyer, Luke McGrath, said Thursday that the lawsuit was settled with an agreement that early education classes at Children's Aid would continue through this school year. 

Ramos, however, said Children's Aid had "always intended to continue early education classes through this school year."

Buyer Broad Street Development, which said via a spokeswoman that it is "still in the planning stages" for the properties, will convert the buildings into 60,000 square feet of luxury condos, its principals told Real Estate Weekly in June.

The third Children's Aid building in the Village, at 177 Sullivan St., is on the market now, Ramos said. Early education classes are currently taught there.

Some Children's Aid programming will move to local nonprofit Greenwich House, Ramos said, but information on specific offerings was not immediately available.

Rondel, a 41-year-old Chelsea resident, said his company's version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" will help the community mourn the loss of the Children's Aid buildings and their 100-seat theater. 

"It's very sad," he said. "I created and founded this company, and this is our home." 

The takeaway message of the play, which is partially cast and will open in April, is that art conquers all, Rondel said. 

"We want to give the message to kids and families that they have the power to carry on art," he said. "I want all the kids who walk by here and see the buildings demolished to know that art lives inside of you and wherever you take it, not in individual places." 

The New Acting Company is currently seeking a performance space and is committed to staying in the Village, Rondel said. 

"Even if I have to get a space that's smaller," he said, "I want us to stay here."

"Jack and the Beanstalk" will be performed April 12 through May 6, on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets will be available in advance for $18 each at www.smarttix.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. Tickets will cost $20 each at the door. Children will be charged for admission regardless of age. No infants will be admitted.