Current Renovations Will Harm Snug Harbor’s Music Hall Theatre
Hop on board the Staten Island ferry, take a 30 minute boat ride with some of the best views of Lower Manhattan around and eventually you’ll arrive at the mysterious borough known as “Staten Island”. Trust me, its way better than it sounds. Just 10 minutes down the road from the ferry terminal is one of New York’s best kept secrets; Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Once a home to retired sailors, the campus features gardens, museums and is home to several arts organizations. The campus is looking to step up its arts game but not without concerning many in the theatre community first. Today, Luner on Theatre takes a look at the upcoming renovations to Snug Harbor Cultural Center’s Music Hall and their potential to harm the theater!
The Music Hall (Pictured Right) at Snug Harbor Cultural Center, located in Staten Island is New York City’s second oldest theatre. Built in 1892, just one year after the infamous Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, the building is a Greek Revival Theatre that has seen better days. The building, at one point, fell into disrepair and much of the original architecture and design inside the space was lost. While money was raised and a renovation of the space began, it eventually ran out leaving the theatre in its current state it can be found today; a world of half and half. Lobbies and public ares are renovated and painted while inside the theatre exposed brick walls, a half restored proscenium and rotting ceiling remain.
Rumors have plagued Staten Island and Snug Harbor for years now with talks of a renovation and expansion of The Music Hall potentially being considered. A parking lot, once home to a church now demolished, sits directly next to The Music Hall as a prime location for an expansion. Luner on Theatre has learned that in Summer 2016, Snug Harbor is interested in shutting down The Music Hall for a year, if not more, to begin and complete a renovation of The Music Hall as well as adding an additional building to the campus.
Studio Joseph has been hired by City of New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs to renovate The Music Hall to meet the needs of a standard performing arts center. The City’s Department of Design and Construction is managing the project which actually expands beyond the current building, with an addition being added to The Music Hall as well as a Performance Lawn” and courtyard nearby. Initial design plans and details for the building were announced during the Community Board 1 October meeting. However, following the specific details released regarding the project to modernize the theatre, Luner on Theatre is concerned about the future of The Music Hall.
Pictured right is the purposed addition, in green, to The current Music Hall. Full details for what the addition will contain have not been made public yet besides that it is where the green room will be located. A ground level loading dock is expected to be added to the building as well in addition to dressing rooms. I do know the dressing rooms are aiming to be located in the lower level of the already existing building as space for such exists and currently sits under-utilized. However, a further rendering showing the addition as a more transparent building is where our concern begins. The building seems fairly open, perhaps a little too much, to the public eye.
Wendy Evans Joseph, an architect of Studio Joseph, noted the addition (Seen on the left side of the photo left) will create a “friendly, open feeling” noting specifically that the green room will feature a glass wall allowing outside visitors to view inside to activities happening there. As a theatre professional, the green room is a space for cast and crew only. It is a place where they can get into the zone before the show or unwind after one. It is a safe haven, not a museum exhibit. While I can understand Snug Harbor wanting an additional building that is also pleasing to the eye of those visiting the campus, the organization must step up and recognize the needs of the theatre and the theatre/entertainment professionals who will be using the space. Can you name an artist, entertainer or actor who wants audiences openly peering into their green room before or after a show? If so, please contact me directly.
Following this first detail of concern, Luner on Theatre reached out to Studio Joseph for further design plans or renderings of The Music Hall at Snug Harbor. However, we were turned down being told plans/design could not be made public at this time. Luner on Theatre has done some investigating and it appears that the studio is not necessarily one that works specifically on theaters or performance spaces. This concerns us as the inside of the current Music Hall is also in need of renovation and repair. Basic theatre fixes such as wing space and a fly system are needed while more extensive work such as the sloping stage (which slopes more than 6″ from off stage to center stage) and backstage staircases on the verge of collapse are needed sooner rather than later. How can one expect that to be properly executed by an organization that may not know the first thing about what an artist needs or what a theater requires?
Snug Harbor CEO Lynn Kelly released the following statement following the initial presentation saying;
“Snug Harbor is grateful to our elected officials for their generous support of the expansion of our beloved Music Hall. The expansion will provide much-needed amenities such as dressing rooms, ADA accessibility and critical back-of-house enhancements that will support the growth and expansion of our performing arts program.”
I do wonder if Lynn Kelly (Pictured Right) has reached out to any of the arts organizations or theatre companies that utilize the Music Hall at Snug Harbor for this input. While I can understand how this may create a firestorm of “wish list” items needed or desired for the space, I do wonder if Snug Harbor even went as far as to speak to theatrical professionals on Staten Island or in Manhattan, just a short ferry ride away. Kelly is a well-known name in the NYC arts community being voted to the executive committee board of NYC & Company this past May to helm arts & culture promotion. However, her public lack of enthusiasm, support or plain out political fighting to renovate one of the most historic arts buildings in the city located on a campus she runs is not only disappointing but concerning.
The City of New York, who is funding the renovation and addition, will easily be spending millions of dollars on this project. However, we need to assure those dollars are being spent wisely and at a cost that will not only benefit entertainers on Staten Island but audiences who regularly attend these productions. If we build a space that artists aren’t interested in working in or one audiences aren’t interested in visiting, what have we accomplished? How can we expect an organization who does not show evidence of working in or understanding theaters to renovate one of NYC’s most historic theaters into a performance space of tomorrow? The answer is; it cannot be expected but even more, it should not even be considered.
I am a huge fan of the space at The Music Hall at Snug Harbor. The theatre is sitting with so much potential to be turned into a top-notch performance space. By top-notch, I mean a theatre space that works with the technology of today and tomorrow while honoring its past. I mean, the proscenium of the theatre is home to the story of Orpheus, a mythological Greek poet/musician, commonly known as the “father of songs”. This space is simply beautiful. And it holds so much potential to grow even further with a renovation that would not only honor it’s past and past audiences but also introduce this space to the generation of tomorrow, the audience of tomorrow and the rest of New York City. I want to see this space succeed. I want to see organizations who work here succeed. I want to see Snug Harbor succeed. However, all of that begins when we provide only the best to get the best. Snug Harbor; Please Do Your Best.
Luner on Theatre will keep you updated on the renovation and addition to Snug Harbor’s Music Hall as plans become more public. It was expected that designs and further details regarding the project would be made available to the public very soon. I only hope Snug Harbor listens and considers the opinions of those who not only want to see the best for this organization but the best experience for artists and theatre-goers as well. We know there is an option that not only works for what Snug Harbor desires but what audiences and artists expect. For more information, visit Snug Harbor’s Official Website, Facebook or Twitter. (Copyright Note; Unless noted, we do not own/claim ownership for any photos used in this post) And of course, check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for all your theatre news you don’t only need but want to know and so much more!