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Experimental Theater Finds Permanent Home on Upper West Side

By Nicole Levy | March 30, 2017 4:34pm
 New Stage Theatre founder Ildiko Nemeth, 49, stands in the company's new performance space at 36 W. 106th St.
New Stage Theatre founder Ildiko Nemeth, 49, stands in the company's new performance space at 36 W. 106th St.
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DNAinfo/Nicole Levy

UPPER WEST SIDE — Finally, a theater of her own.

After more than a decade of drifting from performance space to performance space, Hungarian emigré Ildiko Nemeth has found a permanent home for her experimental group — in the basement of a hostel on West 106th Street.

Founded by Nemeth in 2002, the New Stage Theatre Company has performed works by foreign playwrights and artists at Off-Off-Broadway venues Downtown like La MaMa and Theater for the New City, earning accolades from the alternative theater community for its surreal, visually striking productions. 

But in a pricey real estate market where more than 80 small performance spaces have closed over the last 15 years, the group's greatest coup may be finding 1,110 square feet of raw space.

"It’s fantastic, especially in New York, when it seems to me that most of the little theaters are closing and these new big corporate developments are killing [them]," said Nemeth, 49, the company's artistic director. 

This Friday night marks New Stage's inaugural performance in its new subterranean theater — a premier of her new multimedia theater piece based on a Charles Mee play.

The basement at 36 W. 106th St. represents an in-kind donation by theater board member Moish Ziv, who runs the Jazz on the Park Hostel above. 

"I have been very impressed at how much [Nemeth] has achieved with so little," Ziv said in an email, "and for her company to have a home will result in a worthy addition to the art offering in the community."

Nemeth acknowledged that the space has its limitations. It can comfortably seat no more than 50, she estimated, and its low ceilings will inhibit the kinds of multimedia projections she can use in her productions.

"But it’s a great challenge," the director said. "I love the intimacy of it."

Ildiko at work

Nemeth at work in her new performance space (DNAinfo/Nicole Levy)

The space is also very versatile.

With funding from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Nemeth has installed an electrical grid and is constructing a bar near the theater's entrance, but she's keeping her control booth on wheels.

”Whatever configuration the artist would like to achieve can be achieved within this small space," she said.

She plans to develop a wide variety of cultural programming for Upper West Side families by inviting creators — from directors to dancers to designers — to present their work in the venue and by partnering with neighborhood arts groups.

"There are not many theater companies around in the neighborhood, so I think there is a need for families to have a venue that produces family-friendly and more alternative works,” said Nemeth, who lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and 12-year-old son, Marton. (Marton's contributions to his mom's project so far include setting up a Square credit card processing account and designing the tickets.)

This September, the space will host its first-ever New Stage/New Work program, encouraging artists of all different genres to collaborate on original, multidisciplinary productions. The New Stage Theatre will also join forces with the puppet theater company Loco 7 to launch a series of workshops and shows for children.

”Eventually I would love that every week we have something new to offer the neighborhood and beyond," said Nemeth, who will also be fundraising to upgrade her space's technical capacity and hire staffers.

Now that she doesn't have to worry about knocking on other theaters' doors, she can channel her energy into Mee's "Rules," a pastiche piece running through April 30. 

Addressing themes that liberals should find topical, such as totalitarianism and the nature of reality, the performance will "create a chorus of voices and channel this anxiety that many of us feel at different levels," she said.

Tickets are $18 for the general public, $15 for students and seniors.