At the start of the pandemic, the outlook looked bleak for the Barrow Group, the 35-year-old Off Broadway theater company known for its actor training programs. He pivoted his existing classes online, then, in July 2020, moved out of the West 36th Street space he had rented for 18 years.
But now – thanks to funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, a grant for operators of closed sites and a strong appetite for online training and artist development programs that have generated more than 1.9 million dollars in revenue earned since the pandemic began — he is preparing to open a $4 million performing arts center at 520 Eighth Avenue, just around the corner from his former space, in April.
“Our brokers were able to negotiate a deal that was well below the market,” Robert Yu Serrell, the company’s chief executive, said of the new space; the company entered into a 15-year lease in November, with two five-year renewal options. “It’s actually less than what we were paying for in our old space, and we have more space and more security,” he said, referring to the building’s security system.
The Barrow Group, which has grown from 70 classes a year in 2010 to 661 online and in-person workshops since April 2020, was looking 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 include a 60-seat theater, five soundproof studios, offices and 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 pandemic began, Serrell said.
For the near future, its focus will remain on development programming and training, Barrish said, with a plan to eventually produce shows for commercial use as well. Some of the theater’s recent productions include K. Lorrel Manning’s “Awake,” a series of nine short plays that tackle topics like homophobia, police brutality and immigration; and a cover of Martin Moran’s “The Tricky Part,” a memoir of sexual abuse that New York Times critic Ben Brantley called “beautiful and heartbreaking.”
“It will be phase two,” Barrish said. “When we receive work that we think wants to be shared commercially, we will. As for when we will have this project and when we will rent a theater, I am not sure yet. (The 60-seat theater, he said, is intended as a development workspace, not commercial productions.)
The Barrow Group has raised about $2.5 million for the $4 million, two-phase renovation project, the first phase of which will cost about $800,000, Serrell said.