In the Footprint Revives the Ghosts of Atlantic Yards

11/19/2010 4:00 AM |

But how do you make sure that a gripping news story, a fascinating political story, translates into compelling theater?
Our company specializes in investigative theater, so we work with a quasi-journalistic approach in compiling interviews and research and translating that into a theatrical staging. It's something we've been doing for 10 years. And the Atlantic Yards story works really well actually as a theater story. It's a story that might be read one way in a newspaper article—as a story of numbers and dollars—but in a theater piece it tells the story of the real people who have been involved with, and affected by, this issue. We also try to touch on all sides of the development, acknowledging the many different perspectives that came to bear.

Well you've certainly got enough tension here to fuel a play. That's a crucial element, yes, tension between the main characters? When it comes to the Atlantic Yards, we're talking heated emotions.
Oh, definitely. What makes this story theatrical and why I thought it would be a good theater piece is that once the Atlantic Yards project was rolled out and essentially announced as a done deal, there was a huge groundswell of opposition from people in the neighborhoods. For the most part, ordinary people who just happened to live in this neighborhood suddenly became full-time activists. Daniel Goldstein was a not a politician or a community organizer; he was just a guy who bought a condo and moved in and thought he had planted himself there for life. But then someone from outside the community tried to take all that away and his whole life changed. I'm not sure if you remembered, but the New York Times headline that day was "Goldstein sells out," and it wasn't that at all. It was an eviction. The state took it.

So there certainly is that David vs. Goliath aspect to it all—this strong governor and mayor and borough president and national developer all trying to push this thing through, and kind of a grassroots opposition that had to become increasingly sophisticated very quickly, learning how to fight it both in court and on the street. Add into that the issues of eminent domain and you have all the conflict and drama and complexity you could ever hope for in a play.

Obviously the fact that you're bringing the play back to Fort Greene is ironic and appropriate. I'm sure some of the people who dealt with this in real life will be there in the audience, eager to weigh in. But beyond the struggles of this one neighborhood, it seems as if you're also saying this is a larger Brooklyn vs. Manhattan story. So the Brooklyn venue seems doubly poignant.

I think that's undeniable, that it's a Brooklyn vs. Manhattan issue. This story and controversy never really got the attention or depth in the media that it would have gotten had it happened in Manhattan. Back before we even started this project, there was a time when people were talking about the West Side Stadium. And I think I heard about that issue every single day—about every side of the issue on every single news broadcast. But with Atlantic Yards, you not only have a stadium but 16 skyscrapers too—and still, it's thought of by many as "that thing going on over there in Brooklyn," where at the end of it all maybe we "go over to a basketball game in that place we're really not sure where it is." But this isn't some faraway land; this is the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush. Anyone who knows Brooklyn knows where that is; it's all of five minutes from Manhattan. And yet somehow it was dismissed as different in the public imagination.

So yes, we're happy to tell this Brooklyn story, just a couple blocks from where it's going to happen. And for a night, we can remember what once was here. What was lost.

(photo credit: The Civilians, Carol Rosegg)