Shakespeare in the dark? Summer play in doubt Downtown

Downtown Express file photo by Milo Hess /Downtown Express inset photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic Downtowner Billie Andersson, artistic director of Shakespeare Downtown, hopes to put on “Romeo and Juliet” this summer in Castle Clinton.

Downtown Express file photo by Milo Hess /Downtown Express inset photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic Downtowner Billie Andersson, artistic director of Shakespeare Downtown, hopes to put on “Romeo and Juliet” this summer in Castle Clinton.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  Billie Andersson has tried everything and everyone — foundations, corporations, and government agencies — to get enough money together to put on “Romeo and Juliet” at Castle Clinton this summer.

billieAndersson, artistic director for the new company and non-profit Shakespeare Downtown, is now trying a crowd-funding site, Indiegogo (Shakespeare Downtown at Castle Clinton), to raise the funds.

She needs to raise $35,000 by the end of this month (she’s just under $5,000) to put on the classic Shakespeare play in historic Castle Clinton, which has served at times as a fort, entertainment and cultural facility, immigration center and an aquarium, or postpone it to next year.

“We will do everything that we can to raise the money,” she said during a recent interview at a Seaport restaurant near her home. “The worst case is that we’ll have to do it the following year. It’s not like I’m going to abandon it.”

It had appeared for months that the project was set for this summer.

Hope Cohen, chief operating officer for the Battery Conservancy, said in an email last week  that the conservancy is delighted that Shakespeare Downtown will offer “Romeo and Juliet” at Castle Clinton.

But the National Park Service, which oversees Castle Clinton, is still negotiating with Andersson about the permit to use it, Liam Strain, acting chief of operations and visitor services for the National Park Service for Manhattan sites, said by phone last week.

The Castle, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places, normally closes at 5 p.m., when the ticket booth for the Statue of Liberty ferry closes.

Several months ago, Andersson went before Community Board 1, which supports the performances, and to the Downtown Alliance, which has written a letter of support.

In the spring of 2012, the idea to perform “Romeo and Juliet” at Castle Clinton struck her while taking a walk.

She said that she knew it would be a lot of work, but didn’t know how difficult fundraising would be. She spent the summer reading books about writing proposals and wrote to the Bloomberg administration. She realized Shakespeare Downtown should be a non-profit, which required a lawyer and dealing with the I.R.S.

She started cold-calling foundations and submitting proposals to government departments and to corporations.

“As a new organization you cannot get funding,” she said.

Some organizations want to see a two-year track record, others want to know what demographics will be targeted and others require that every artist be paid, she said. All the actors and technical staff are donating their services, said Andersson, who will play Juliet.

The $35,000 is needed for audio rentals for mikes so the actors can be heard, lighting, security, a generator, costumes, chairs and insurance.

“There’s no other way to do the play in a space like that. It is a huge undertaking — it’s for 600 people a night,” she said.

If everything goes well and the money is raised, the free performances would begin June 2 and run until June 27, Tuesday to Saturday, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Shakespeare Downtown grew out of productions that she and her husband, Geoffrey Horne, had staged at the theater connected to the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Horne has been teaching Shakespeare for 30 years, she said. The company is a family affair, with Horne the director, Andersson the artistic director and her sister, Amy Goossens, the designer.

Her intention, she said, was to start a New York institution, similar to Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, which puts on Shakespeare in the Park every summer in Central Park. She and her husband have been living in the Seaport for over ten years and she sees Shakespeare Downtown as a cultural addition to Lower Manhattan.

“If it takes me another year to build faith in this, I’ll do it — no matter what,” she said. “I don’t want people to lose heart. Whatever happens, it’s not going to be it didn’t work, but rather that it’s going to take longer.”

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