Let it be known that I, myself, am both a patron, an artist and a friend of the Ohio
Theatre. My theatre company, Anonymous Ensemble, has performed two of its episodes
of TheBest and the original a Wonderland there, earning multiple glowing reviews and a
place of high honor in Soho Think Tank’s vast list of alumni. My heart breaks as much
as anyone who has any connection with the theatre and so this feature is as much an
honorarium as a heartfelt goodbye. I will be following Robert and the Ohio Interrupted
to its new home and I hope very much that you do too.
– Janelle M. Lannan, Anonymous Ensemble, Theasy writer
If you’ve never been to the Ohio Theatre at 66 Wooster Street in Soho, your last chance to do so is about to run out. The last day you’ll EVER get to see anything at this wide-open, beautifully spacious, highly lauded, off-off-Broadway theatre is August 14th. That night will be the final show of this year’s 17th annual (and final) Ice Factory Festival and also the final show of Artistic Director Robert Lyons’, self-penned trilogy. And then, after the last
show ever, hopefully, there will be the biggest most well-attended farewell benefit dance
party any theatre in New York has ever known.
For Robert, this has been a bittersweet journey. After two grueling years battling the new
building owner (barely scraping six month extensions of lease and season) he has finally
accepted the inevitable and started making plans to move on: “We got the final word
about six months ago. Once it became clear that there wasn’t going to be an ongoing
future for the theatre, the extensions allowed us to go out how we wanted to: with a great
season and a great Ice Factory. The extensions also allowed time to sort out a few things
and get my bearings. It’s a kind of relief at this point.”
So now he’s taking Soho Think Tank off to new, exciting, greener and completely
different pastures. The struggle has been exhausting, but he has been doing what he loves rather than dwelling on the good-bye: he’s making theatre. “I love my cast and, I guess, the strategy of doing the last show was very much a conscious effort of spending my last days at the Ohio making theatre instead of leaving theatre, which is what I started doing at the theatre in the first place.”
Robert had been shopping around for a space comparable to the Ohio and found that there just aren’t any spaces quite like it and probably will never be again. So, instead, he started looking for something not like it at all so that the new beginning would invoke change from every angle, instead of inciting comparisons. He connected with an old
friend and colleague, Kevin Cunningham of Three Legged Dog, and his new home, and a new space for Soho Think Tank.
“Kevin and 3LD were going through their own contortions there. They were in transition
too, in essence, reinventing their space and their situation, which was really attractive to
what we were going through as well: sort of an unqualified opportunity here. I always
liked Kevin and what he’s doing there and feel like it’s a really good match. 3LD has
two spaces so there’s room for us.
“You see, the Ohio is like this 100 year old space that will never be found again – so I finally decided to let it go and find a new theatre space that’s clean and new and the opposite of the Ohio.”
What you should know, if you don’t already, is the Ohio Theatre is in an unmatched,
spacious, gutted Manhattan building located on the first floor with beautiful columns
functioning as wing markers with an incredibly high ceiling that’s allowed for aerialists,
three tiered sets, brilliant drapings and, of course, the grid of lights that has lit show after
Robert has been with the Ohio since 1988, but the theatre itself has been in
existence a documented 29 years. “When I came across the theatre and met the guy who
owned the building, we’d go year to year and each year end I’d say, ‘Hey Bill, wanna do
it for another year?’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ No one decides to make a 29 year
commitment for a theatre, but that’s how we got here. Eventually, we stopped needing to
have the conversation and the Ohio Theatre just continued to be a staple in Soho.”
There are a great many different shows that have graced the Ohio’s space and not every
single one of them has been the best New York has seen, but when you’re trying to take risks
and put art together you realize that “not every show is great cause if they were that
would mean you weren’t experimenting.” Anyone who has seen every single show in a
season wouldn’t base their opinion on the Ohio on the one show they didn’t like, but on
the season as a whole. “Your reputation doesn’t ride on every single show, but over time.
“We’ve never really had a really bad season – there’s really a kind of freedom in that by
allowing for the possibility for greatness and also disaster, risks are taken that either pay off
or don’t but it keeps it interesting.
“We talk about the artist a lot and at the end of the day it’s about people who are
interested in seeing work that they aren’t sure what’s going to happen. So they are just as
much a component of the physical space as what’s being produced. I have a great respect
and appreciation and love for people who have been coming to our shows. There is one
guy who’s been to every single Ice Factory show for the last 8 years, I think his name is
Fred. He’s great and just likes the festival.”
Fred’s probably really sad about the last of the festival this August. But the move to 3LD
is promising and new and exciting. “I look forward to that audience following [us] to 3LD.
Soho is its own destination so it’s easy to have audiences come. But the scene here is
changing so drastically. I really like the block 3LD is on [80 Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan] – it’s funky and new and has a character to it that appeals to me.”
“Timing is great. People are saying this is exciting. Exciting and less of a darker end. Of course, August 14th will be an emotional time for certain as will the load out, but until then we’re doing theatre rather than saying goodbye to it – yet.”
There are two last shows in the Ice Factory Festival in the month of August: Mission Drift by the TEAM (August 4th through 7th) and Robert Lyons’ own Nostradamus Predicts the Death of Soho, the third and last installment of his trilogy (August 11th through 14th). You can purchase tickets by going to sohothinktank.org.
Also, the Last Chance Dance, a benefit for Ohio Interrupted will follow the last performance on the 14th at 9:00pm. Tickets are $100 and the dance party promises to be the biggest thing in Soho...maybe ever. Please come say farewell to Manhattan's beautiful downtown theatre in style and brilliance.