The first two decades of The Gallery Players’ history set the tone of determination, resourcefulness, and dedication to professional-level productions that continues to be the trademark of the company to this day. In 1967 founder Bruce Wyatt relocated from New Orleans to Brooklyn, bringing the name and concept of his New Orleans theater organization, The Gallery Players, with him. The Gallery Players’ Brooklyn incarnation first was introduced in Flatbush, and one year later they relocated to the St. Paul’s Church at St. John’s Place and 7th Avenue in Park Slope, the neighborhood that has been its home since. 1974 saw another move, this time to the Old First Church at Carroll Street and 7th Avenue. In 1978 The Gallery Players became an Equity Showcase house, inviting professional actors to use the Gallery performances as an opportunity to display and hone their skills. The Gallery Players remained at the Old First Church until 1984, at which time they moved again, this time to the Berkeley-Carroll School, before a period of two years during which the group had no home. True to their spirit, this did not deter the troupe from performing, and such productions as the musical They’re Playing Our Song continued to be mounted at the St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Community Center on 7th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues, now the Kingsboro Temple.
1989-1990 was The Gallery Players’ first season at 199 Fourteenth Street in Park Slope, the venue that came to be the group’s permanent home. This debut season saw productions of Man of La Mancha, Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, The Dining Room, Nuts, The Boys Next Door, and a double bill of Christopher Durang’s one-act plays The Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. Initially concentrating on “barebones’ presentations, by the time of their pivotal production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a full stage had been installed.
There’s a saying heard often at rehearsals: “Good things happen to people who work at The Gallery Players”, and a partial list of the many actors, directors, producers, designers, and technical staff who got their start at The Gallery Players through the years goes far in proving this. Among the alumni of The Gallery Players who have gone on to prominent careers in New York, Hollywood, and elsewhere are: Harvey Fierstein, a founding member of The Gallery Players and star of the smash Broadway musical Hairspray and winner of Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical for Hairspray, Best Play and Best Actor for his play Torch Song Trilogy, and for his book for the hit musical La Cage aux Folles; director John Rando, Tony Award winner for his direction of the Broadway hit musical Urinetown; Nick Francone, Assistant Set Designer for Broadway’s Wicked; respected New York actor, director and educator Ray Virta; actor and cellist Fred Rose (Broadway’s Company, Cabaret,, The Phantom of the Opera); Jennifer Barnhart (Avenue Q); Deidre Goodwin (star of Broadway’s A Chorus Line, both film and stage versions of Chicago); Broadway funnyman Seth Rudetsky; Garrett Long, Drama Desk- and Drama League-nominated actress for her performance in the original production of The Spitfire Grill; Manoel Felciano, Tony Award nominee for Broadway’s Sweeney Todd; Brian Charles Rooney (The Threepenny Opera); amongst many others. Celebrities such as Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Terrence McNally, Thomas Gibson, Rue McClanahan, Rupert Holmes, James Rado, Annie Golden, Michael Butler, Lorraine Serabian, AndrÃ© De Shields, and many others have showed their support by attending performances at The Gallery Players.
Premieres and First New York Revivals
Over 156 plays and musicals have received their World Premiere productions at The Gallery Players. Among the notable new works premiered as part of The Gallery Players’ mainstage season are a stage adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (the prequel to Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings); Spoon River: The Musical, an adaptation of Spoon River Anthology by Kevin Jeffers; Women In Tune, an original musical which subsequently transferred to Off-Broadway and went on to play Los Angeles; Merry-Go-Roundelay, an original musical by Richard Engquist, author of Elizabeth and Essex and Kuni-Leml, which transferred to New York Stageworks; and the East-coast premiere of Animal Fair, a play by the late Clark Gesner, author of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and a devoted friend and supporter of The Gallery Players. Other original works produced by The Gallery Players include Ivan the Fool (1970), Nehemiah Hotep’s Raisin Farm (1974), Sign on the Dotted Line (1975), The Navel Observatory (1975), An Eagle Flies (1976), The Brooklyn Town Musicians (1977), The Man from Porlock (1982), War and Peace (1982), The Brooklyn Dodgers Suit (1982), Coronation Day (1983), Ladies in Waiting (1987), Life Upon the (Wicked) Stage (1987), and Doorknob Therapy: The Musical Cure (1994). Over 140 plays have been given their World Premiere productions as part of The Gallery Players’ Black Box New Play Festival. Leading up to the full productions, the Black Box Festival provides a workshop environment for playwrights, in collaboration with directors, actors, and producers, facilitating readings of the new works and assisting the playwrights with the revising and expanding of their new plays. Nationally-produced playwrights such as Joe Lauinger and Staci Swedeen have established on-going relationships with the Festival, utilizing it as an incubator for their new works every year since its inception in 1997.
Even before the Black Box Festival, however, the producing of new works always has been an essential aspect of The Gallery Players’ work. The “Directions” and “Playwright Focus” series, funded primarily by the Brooklyn Arts and Culture Association (BACA), focused on Brooklyn playwrights and directors and fostered local talent, and many past mainstage seasons have included at least one new play. The “Barebones” series is comprised of performances which put the spotlight on the work of actors and directors by using the minimum of sets and stage lighting.
The Gallery Players also is known for producing the first New York revivals of cutting-edge work first seen in Broadway and Off-Broadway venues, among them Terrence McNally’s Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams (January 2007), The Full Monty, Love! Valour! Compassion!, The Lisbon Traviata, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink; Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins; Blake Edwards, Leslie Bricusse, and Henry Mancini’s Victor Victoria (May 2007); Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s Side Show; Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins; and Joe DiPietro’s Over The River and Through The Woods. These first New York revivals allow the city’s theater-going public a second chance to see works which often did not last long on Broadway. Some productions proved so popular that The Gallery Players was invited to bring them across the river to Manhattan, among them The Boyfriend, which played Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall as part of the “Hats Off To Brooklyn!” celebration; and Love! Valour! Compassion!, which played PACE University at the invitation of the University’s Department of Performing Arts.
Outreach, Support & Recognition
Community service is a vital part of The Gallery Players’ mission. Special performances of each production are given for an invited audience from homeless shelters. The Gallery Players also has offered the use of its auditorium space to The Silas B. Dutcher School, P.S. 124, in Park Slope, for school events and performances, and The Gallery Players has donated its facility to other theatrical organizations such as Park Slope’s Puppetworks, Inc. and the InRoad Theatre Company. As an integral part of the Park Slope Family Neighborhood Center, the management association of 199 14th Street, The Gallery Players works in close cooperation with its fellow PSNFC constituents, including the Park Slope Geriatric Day Care Center, and Project Reach Youth, other organizations housed at 199 Fourteenth Street.
In the summer of 2005, The Gallery Players began The Peanut Gallery, a musical theater performance workshop for kids and teens. Administered by Board member Dominic Cuskern and taught by educator Ben Tostado and other guest teachers, The Peanut Gallery is a series of 1-week long “adventure camps” getting kids to sing and dance and develop an appreciation for the performing arts. Through The Peanut Gallery program, The Gallery Players actively is pursuing its mission to instill the love of theater in future generations, and strong relationships with local schools, parents, and children have been developed. Freestyle Repertory Theatre’s zany improv show “TheatreSports” took up residency at The Gallery Players in the 2006-2007 season, entertaining families and school groups on Saturday mornings and introducing a new generation to the fun of live performance. In July 2007, The Gallery Players co-produced a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with AmeriKick featuring teen actors and martial arts choreography.
The Gallery Players also has utilized its resources to assist playwrights and other theater artists by offering financial and production assistance. This investment in theatrical endeavors other than their own is indicative of the Players’ awareness and concern for the continuation of quality theater in Brooklyn and beyond.
A large number of The Gallery Players’ season subscribers and donors are from the Park Slope neighborhood and the other New York City boroughs, but many are from as far away as New Jersey and Connecticut. Significant among the donors are theater artists and professionals who recognize the importance of supporting performing arts of all kinds. The Gallery Players has received grants, past and present, from organizations such as Park Slope Civic Council, the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Brooklyn Arts Council, and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation.
Among the many awards The Gallery Players has received is one particularly meaningful to the organization: the OOBR (Off-Off-Broadway Review) Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2000. Other awards earned by Gallery productions include “OOBR Best of Season” awards for The Pirates of Penzance, Noises Off, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In the spring of 2004, The Gallery Players was honored by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats for the theater’s outstanding contribution to the community. The Gallery Players had the great honor of receiving the 2007 NY Innovative Theater Award for “Best Production of a Musical” for its production of Urinetown in the first year the Awards permitted Brooklyn-area nominations.