In Park Slope, A New Theater 

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Theater can be staged anywhere, of course, and New York theatermakers have only started adapting atmospheric and out-of-the-way locales. For the Ugly Rhino theater troupe, Park Slope's Tea Lounge seemed ideal for its current production, Jeremy J. Kamps’s What It Means to Disappear Here (through May 17). “Danny Sharron, who is directing the play, knew from the start that he wanted to make it an environmental production,” says Rhino cofounder Bryce Norbitz. “When you enter the front door of the Tea Lounge and go down the stairs that lead to the space, you really feel like you’re entering another world. You’re not in Brooklyn anymore—you could be anywhere. And for us, for this play, we want our audiences to feel like they are being transported to a cafe in Cartegena, where the play takes place.”

In July 2010, Ugly Rhino's three founders—Sharron, Norbitz, and Nicole Rosner—put together a three-week festival (or “micro-season,” as they called it) at the now-closed Brooklyn Lyceum. They staged two plays, Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Harold Pinter’s Celebration, and hosted bands and dance parties. “Our goals remain what they were from the very start: to produce exciting nights of theater for Brooklyn audiences in a social format that breaks down any preconceived notions of how theater should function,” Norbitz says. “We believe it should be fun, should involve social elements like drinks and food, and should include live music, dancing, and a festive atmosphere.” At the Brooklyn Lyceum, which is facing foreclosure, the company had found an accommodating host. “Eric Richmond, who owns the space, is an incredibly generous supporter of the arts and was eager to champion our work and give us a home from the very start,” Norbitz says. “Space is a commodity in New York, so it was a dream to have access to such a large and architecturally compelling venue.”

Norbitz believes that barriers between disciplines can and should be broken down. “Producing concerts and parties was always a part of our mission,” he says. “We believe that they can and should exist alongside theater, and that our audience has the attention span for multiple experiences in one evening. Any night of the week, we find ourselves going to concerts or parties as often as we see plays, and we believe there are many people out there who have a similar interest in all three.”

Though they started out with two absurdist classics, Ugly Rhino has now committed itself to producing new work like What It Means To Disappear Here. “There are so many young and talented playwrights in New York that need a home,” Norbitz says. “We felt it was our duty to provide a forum for their voices. Since then we’ve done all new work, whether commissioned or company-written.” Speaking of the Tea Lounge basement cafe, which is called Port Royal, Norbitz says, “We would love to continue working in this space. It’s a gem, really, and we know so many artists that would kill to do work here.”


Photo by Michael Bernstein



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