After Long Shutdown, Tribeca's Soho Rep Celebrates with a Reopening Night

Soho Rep creative director Sarah Benson and theater supporters celebrate the newly legalized space, made possible by a revised certificate of occupany and $300,000 in added safety measures. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Feb. 07, 2018

Soho Rep filled its 73 seats Monday night, not for a performance but a celebration.

Nearly a year and a half after the tiny Off-Broadway theater was shuttered, the result of costly city code compliance issues, the stage was set, literally, for a new production. The next evening, “Is God Is,” a play by Aleshea Harris, would have its world premiere, and Soho Rep, a cultural pillar in Tribeca for 25 years, would be dark no more.

“I am very happy and proud to throw open the doors of 46 Walker Street with the knowledge that it’s better than ever for both artists and audiences,” Sarah Benson, Soho Rep’s artistic director, told the gathering, many of whom had helped fund the required improvements.

Soho Rep shut down in September 2016 after discovering during lease negotiations that, for years, the space had not met the requirements for its certificate of occupancy.

Alarmed by the news, Julie Menin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the former chair of Community Board 1, took action.

“We have a real mission to cut through bureaucracy and that’s what we did,” recalled Menin, who was on hand for the celebration. “We brought in Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler. He came down to do a walk through with me and was able to figure out what the issue was.”

“That’s how government should work in people’s lives,” she added.

With $300,000 in safety improvements, including a newly installed fireproof wall, ventilation and sprinkler systems and enclosed metal stairs, the theater was brought up to code and approved to reopen. Funding came from the theater’s board, its donors and a matching grant from the Tow Foundation.

Soho Rep, which got its start on Mercer Street in 1975, is known as an incubator of innovative plays by emerging playwrights. One of them is Aleshea Harris, who told the celebrants Monday night that having her “Is God Is” premiered at the theater had once seemed beyond her dreams.

“Soho Rep has existed in my consciousness,” she said, “as an unobtainable utopia for brilliant weirdos.”