“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. Little did he know that one day his plays would be performed in a Lower East Side parking lot. For more than a decade, The Drilling Company has been staging the bard’s plays in parking lots. This year, they are performing “Richard III,” a decision made after the king’s bones were found under a parking lot in Leicester, UK.
Why perform in a parking lot?
“It is a tremendously accessible gathering place in the heart of the city. Like most companies that do Shakespeare, we are following the spirit of Joseph Papp. But putting our own spin on it by placing it in a parking lot, making an urban wrinkle,” says Hamilton Clancy, the company’s producing artistic director.
Performances are free, so “we pass the hat around the audience rather than charge Broadway-style prices,” says Rob Wilson, Clancy’s adviser. Audience members, who are encouraged to bring chairs, sit on rows of plastic chairs placed around the makeshift stage on the concrete.
Performances (which start at 8 PM this year) often pause to let parked cars drive away. Actors come to a halt and the audience picks up its chairs, just like a show would stop for rain in Central Park. On average, 150-200 people attend a performance.
Now the NYDOT is being a spoilsport
This year, the New York Department of Transportation asked the troupe to pay for eight spaces at the parking lot per performance. At $8 for a spot, that works out to $64 a performance, or $1,152 for a total of 18 performances. The city also asked the company to buy automobile liability insurance, so the group paid $2,400 in total. It raised this amount from donations and members.
That’s a steep sum, considering its annual budget obtained by fund-raising, donations, and grants is just $15,750. “We’ve always performed in unused parking spaces. Some nights there are very few cars in the lot. It’s not like we’re taking away business,” says Clancy.
Help is at hand in the form of Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker and mayoral candidate. “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot represents the creative spirit that fuels New York City’s innovation, energy and greatness.”
Her office has contacted the DOT and has “asked them to consider reversing course, and grant the waiver that the group has applied for,” says Quinn’s spokesman, Jamie McShane. In case that doesn’t work out, she has a back-up plan.
Quinn has roped in Jonathan Sheffer, an ex-officio member of Lincoln Center’s board of directors, to pay the bill if the city does not agree. “The city should be doing all that it can to encourage the creation of art at the grass roots level, not hinder it,” he says.
Martin-Smith, who performs Shakespeare in a park, agrees. “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot is a fixture of New York,” he says. “It’s going to stay there and they know that. I really feel that they are taking advantage of a New York City treasure.”