At the outset of the pandemic, prospects looked bleak for the Barrow Group, the 35-year-old Off Broadway theater company known for its actor training programs. It pivoted its existing classes online, and then, in July 2020, vacated the space on West 36th Street that it had leased for 18 years.
But now — as a result of Paycheck Protection Program funding, a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, and a robust appetite for online training and artist development programs that generated over $1.9 million in earned revenue since the beginning of the pandemic — it’s preparing to open a $4 million performing arts center at 520 Eighth Avenue, just around the corner from its old space, in April.
“Our brokers were able to negotiate a way-below market deal,” Robert Yu Serrell, the company’s executive director, said of the new space; the company entered into a 15-year lease in November, with two five-year options to renew. “It’s actually less than what we were paying at our former space, and we’ve got more space and more security,” he said, referring to the building’s security system.
The Barrow Group, which has grown from offering 70 classes a year in 2010 to 661 online and in-person workshops since April 2020, was searching for a bigger space even before the pandemic, said Lee Brock, who founded the theater in 1986 with her co-artistic director and now husband, Seth Barrish.
The new 13,155-square-foot-space — just over 3,000 square feet larger than the previous building — will feature a 60-seat theater, five sound-attenuated studios, offices and a community gathering space. Phased renovations are expected to begin this month.
The company, which counts Anne Hathaway, Tony Hale and Noah Schnapp (“Stranger Things”) among the actors who have completed its training programs, has an annual budget of approximately $1.6 million. It has served more than 5,200 actors, writers and directors since the start of the pandemic, Serrell said.
In the near future, its focus will remain on developmental programming and training, Barrish said, with a plan to eventually produce shows commercially as well. Some of the theater’s recent productions have included “Awake” by K. Lorrel Manning, a series of nine short plays that tackled topics like homophobia, police violence and immigration; and a revival of Martin Moran’s “The Tricky Part,” a memoir of sexual abuse that the New York Times critic Ben Brantley called “beautiful and harrowing.”
“That will be Phase Two,” Barrish said. “When we get work that we feel wants to be shared commercially, we’ll do so. As to when we’ll have that project and when we’ll rent a theater, I’m not sure yet.” (The 60-seat theater, he said, is meant as a space for developmental work, not commercial productions.)
The Barrow Group has raised about $2.5 million for the two-phase, $4 million renovation project, the first phase of which will cost about $800,000, Serrell said.